Dhyana Masla I Yoga Teacher I Stanton St Yoga + Bhakti Center
"Authenticity is this ability to stay connected to your center, regardless of the world around you....staying connected to the deepest truths that you’ve known, that your teachers have shared with you...the ability to trust that in all circumstances fearlessly."
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Alachua, Florida.
How would you describe that place and its people?
I grew up in a really spiritual community that’s kind of the heart of the area. It’s a farm community. I actually lived more in the little town. About 20 minutes away there’s a college town, and so that’s where we always went out for coffee and hung out. And then 20 minutes in the other direction is the most beautiful, crystal clear water springs: that was my refuge, my sanctuary. I’d go at least 5 times a week…just swimming down the rivers. There’s a lot of hillbillies, a lot of diversity. Also a lot of sweet spiritually seeking people. It's really community oriented.
What were your parents like?
My parents divorced when I was two, but they always did a really great job at working together to make sure we had a strong family sense. My father was always into yoga and Ayurveda. I think he’s only yelled at me once in my life. He’s so gentle. He’s the epitome of trust…everything that happens in your life, there’s an arrangement made by god.
And my mom is the opposite, but in the best way. She’s super passionate. Her heart is unbelievable. My mom’s ability to love just blows me away, and her motto in life is “Feel what you feel.” And my dad is like “Oh, the feelings change.”
I think the balance of those two has taught me and my sister so much. Trust what’s there, but also don’t neglect the feelings, know the things that happen in this world are also real, and we can engage with that. So I feel like with my dad, the biggest lesson is how to trust – how to surrender. And with my mom it’s how to love – how to be in a relationship.
Did you know what you wanted to be when you grew up?
Up until college, I wanted to be a doctor. Just the ability to help people – to heal people. And actually, I think I saw how skewed the western medical system was. Just spending time in a hospital and seeing the food they’re eating and seeing how impersonal their relationship with their doctor is. And knowing how it’s really love and relationships that heal. Western medicine is so amazing for so many reasons, but if you can bring in the heart, the healing can be powerful. I was just always drawn to the healing arts and the integration of east and west.
How long have you been practicing yoga?
I started practicing when I was really young because my dad is a yoga teacher. But I never liked it growing up. I just thought it was boring and something he wanted us to do, but we never wanted to do…just kind of rebellion.
But then when I was 15, I took my first yoga class that I actually liked. I think I actually liked it because the teacher told me I was flexible. I felt really encouraged, like, “Wow, I’m really flexible.” And I just kept going back to her class every week. A couple years later, I was in massage school and everyone kept telling me, “You have no knots.” And I was always saying, “It’s because I do yoga, I do yoga.” And everything just kept bringing me back to that path.
When did you know you wanted to leave home?
I always thought that as soon as I turned 18, I’d leaved my house. And when I was 18, I went on a road trip that transformed my life and opened up the world to me. It was this spontaneous, super incredible, open up to the magic type of adventure – timeless, spaceless, just far out cross country road trip. It rocked my world and showed me there’s a whole world out there.
One of my favorite places we stopped in was Colorado. On the roadtrip I remember my sister calling me and saying, “Dhyana, look at this school. It’s in Colorado, and it’s an amazing school.” I looked it up, and it immediately blew my mind. It’s a school that I felt like the whole process of the education was just as fulfilling as the end result. And it was clear I wanted to move to Colorado.
What was the school like?
It’s an incredible education they offer there – so deeply experiential. It’s a Buddhist based college called Naropa University. It’s an impersonal philosophy in their relationship to god, and I was raised in a really personal approach to cultivating a relationship with god, and so, it was definitely a pivotal point in my spiritual reality. At first, everything I’d known to be truth, dissolved. Totally crumbled. And then it was rebuilding everything with the foundation of my truth, my heart. From that rebuilding, that cultivating, came a re-connection to my roots, my lineage.
That’s also when I was still thinking I’d become a doctor, and during that time I was taking yoga classes at my college and they were rocking my world. It was the first time I had the experience of yoga being way more than a physical practice. It blew my mind how it was transforming my entire life. I remember it being the hardest decision I’d ever made because it felt like a fork in the road…getting a major in yoga or moving towards the medical science. It was a really hard decision! And so I ended up changing my major and diving into yoga.
How did you make your way to New York?
After college, my sister and I lived in Boulder. We weren’t even teaching yoga in Boulder. We were traveling around the world teaching retreats, and we started teaching teacher trainings. A friend of a friend heard about us in New York, who had a bed and breakfast. They had a vision of having a yoga studio here. So they heard about us and set up a meeting, and they told us they wanted us to move out here and open up a studio with them.
It was pretty far out – if you knew me before New York City, it’s the last place I’d ever want to live. It was another really hard decision. I was in a relationship in Boulder, I loved Boulder, I had a life there. It was a totally free life – traveling, doing retreats, no responsibility. But I just felt like this was the next step in my life. I could resist it for so long, but it was the inevitable next thing I was going to be doing. I never would have thought I’d move to New York City. But again, it felt like a calling to come here and do this.
When creating the space of Stanton Street Yoga, what was your vision for it?
Something that we see a lot of in the States is yoga being perceived as just a physical exercise simply because people don’t know, don’t have access to the deeper information. We feel so blessed to have been raised in a community, in a culture that offers what seems like such a flawless science of yoga, that you can really access the deepest aspects of your heart and your relationship to what is eternal.
So what we hope to offer at Stanton Street Yoga is yes, the physical practice which can bring us good health, real connection to nature and the environment.
The second is breath practice, pranayama, that can connect our mind to our body. In New York City your mind is so active. You can be doing one thing, but your mind is in a thousand other places. So the simple act of getting your mind present, in your body - it’s such an important practice for New Yorkers. It can transform somebody’s life.
The third thing is spiritual truth. A deeper knowledge that everybody is actually seeking. A lot of yoga studios these days don’t offer that. They offer the physical practice and the breath. We hope to offer the more spiritual, timeless, ancient truths of yoga. There’s so much of it. And that connects our mind with our soul. We can begin to focus our mind on something sacred – our real self, something deeper than the ever-changing world around us.
And the fourth step is Bhakti, which is connecting the soul to god. And still, a lot of yoga studios can connect the body to nature. They do the poses, they do the breath. They even can offer some sacred study, but Bhakti is the fourth step. There’s just a few yoga studios in the city that can offer an actual path to connect the soul to the divine. I think everybody in the world is seeking that connection to the divine. Something bigger than themselves. Not everybody knows that, but as soon as they can come into an environment where they feel supported to move towards that, the feedback is like “Wow, I’m home.” We can provide support to help you dive deeper into your truth. And not by yourself, but in a community, which makes it such a more fulfilling experience for people.
How would you describe your classes?
I always like to start with a little food for thought. That’s the little piece that can take us beyond the physical practice. So as we’re moving through the physical practice, I keep bringing in these reminders to connect deeper in some way, so at the end it actually feels like you just went on a journey…so that this one hour of your day is actually this microcosm to how you’re living your entire life. And you can take the mindfulness or the presence or the thoughtfulness, whatever it is you’ve cultivated, throughout that hour into the rest of your day.
I really believe that anything you want to cultivate, you have to practice. If you’re rock climbing, you just have to climb. Or if you want to become a swimmer, you just have to swim. It’s the same way if you want to cultivate certain qualities. If you want to be more loving, then this one hour on our yoga mat, we’re just going to practice breathing that quality in every move. And then, inevitably in our life, when things get challenging, you’re like, “Oh yeah, I’ve done this before. I know how to deal with this.” So it’s really developing these certain qualities, these values that make us better human beings..more loving, centered, peaceful. That’s what transforms the world actually. It’s people that embody these qualities.
What’s been the greatest challenge teaching yoga?
I haven’t met many challenges with the students here, in that they’re open and accepting. It’s mostly my own willingness to offer it. Growing up and being in such a spiritual tradition -- in high school not wanting people to see me as like this yoga kid or this Bhakti yogi...there’s still that conditioning. Like, is it okay if I chant in class? Are people going to be okay with this? Are they going to come back? And so I think it’s my ability to step into a fearlessness of trusting that people want this, people need this.
Do you have any advice for someone who’d like to become a yoga teacher?
Find a really good teacher. Find somebody that you feel embodies something that you want. Find someone that you feel has a connection to god. The whole purpose of yoga actually is to link mind, body, and spirit with god. And so on the yogic path, to become a real yoga teacher, it’s finding a teacher that can actually help you connect to god. But there aren’t so many real gurus these days.
Really study with them. Commit. I think it’s a scary thing in the western world to commit to something. Through commitment, so much happens. It’s a lifestyle. So much growth comes from commitment...so it’s deeper than just the shapes and the poses...so you can actually give your gift to the world by your offering of yoga classes that transform lives. And lead them towards the only thing that’s really important.
You live for a little bit of time and then you pass away. That money we’ve cultivated, the degrees we have…at the end of our lives, what does that really matter? We’re not going to keep any of it. Yoga gives us the opportunity to connect with the deepest aspect of our self. It doesn’t die when the body dies. It’s actually the only important thing to begin to cultivate in our life – that compassion, that love for something eternal. I mean, it’s powerful. It’s scary. It’s everything. Because you really begin to see through a different lens.
Who is your main teacher?
My main teacher is Radhanath Swami. He is a living, breathing example of compassion. His life is an example of selfless service. He has the ability to share the essence of what seems like all spiritual traditions in a way that is flawless. He speaks to the heart of every person he meets. And in our tradition, it’s really important to find a teacher that’s actually connected to a lineage. So it’s not that he made up his own truth, his own lineage and now he’s sharing it – he’s actually simply sharing what his teacher gave him. And so on, and so on. So, it’s a lineage that goes back thousands of years that’s moving through these teachers in the most authentic and beautiful way. So Radhanath Swami for me is just an example of that timeless truth moving through his pure soul and continues to inspire me with his stories, his teachings.
And in my house it’s me, my fiancé, my sister and her fiancé. And the two guys are best friends. So, we sit down twice a week for an hour each time and connect. One of them is more about house duties, the business and all the projects we’re working on. One is just about our personal life, what it is we’re working through. Just time to share and get feedback and listen to each other.
And then, of course, my mom and my dad. My mom I talk to everyday. My dad I talk to twice a week.
What does living authentically mean to you?
I feel like yoga has this ability to connect us to an inner stability. So even if you’re on your yoga mat, it’s noticing maybe someone next to you falls or maybe there are sounds outside the room. How do we get drawn out of our center? What are the different ways in our life we get drawn out of our center? Maybe by someone else saying something or doing something or the association of this certain person that brings out these tendencies, and you’re like “That so wasn’t me! Why did I say that? Why did I do that?” And so I feel like authenticity is this ability to stay connected to your center, regardless of the world around you. Staying connected to the deepest truths that you’ve known, that your teachers have shared with you. The ability to trust that in all circumstances fearlessly.
Where do you see yourself in five years?
Living part-time in New York City. This studio and the Bhakti center have pieces of my heart now. So we’re really dedicated to these projects and watching them grow. We just took responsibility for the Bhakti Center studio a month ago. It’ll probably take a solid two years to set the foundation for that. Hopefully in the next five years we’ll have a retreat center in nature that people can also have a sanctuary to receive ayurvedic treatments or a retreat to dive deeper into spiritual life…yoga immersions and trainings in nature which will feed their souls.