In September I was in the lucky place to get an interview with one of my biggest yoga inspirations: Dylan Werner. It was an incredibly interesting talk over a yummy breakfast. Dylan doesn’t just have an impressive asana practice, he is a genuinely kind person with lots of knowledge on the yoga scriptures (plus he gives some of the best hugs ever). Since the interview became very long I decided to split it in two posts. In the first part you will find all kinds of yoga questions, in the second part I asked him more random questions (if you could be an animal, which one would you be?). Read on if you want to know Dylans thoughts on being a yoga newbie, meditation, his most important teacher, the importance of yoga scriptures and what he would do if he weren’t teaching yoga!
Which advice would you give people who want to get into yoga and have no idea where to start?
Dylan: The question here is: What kind of yoga are they looking to start? Are they looking to create a physical fitness practice? Is that why they’re coming to yoga? I don’t think it’s wrong to come to yoga for the physical part, that’s why I started, that’s why most people start. It’s like a gateway to discovering something bigger, but without knowing what that gateway is leading to. When it comes to the physical practice it depends on what the physical needs are of the body. Do you want a really hard practice? Go to Power Vinyasa. If you like to breathe really hard and swing your hair around and move your energy and feel wild then take a Kundalini class.
If my first yoga class were a yin class I wouldn’t have been like “Oh I want to come back to this”, I would have thought, “This is really boring”, because I didn’t know what the goal of yoga was. Some people come in knowing what they want, they want this deeper spiritual practice, and they don’t even want to touch a physical practice at all. Eventually I think you should, because the truth is they’re all connected and they all live and exist within each other. If yoga is about union and connection you first have to understand the connection to yourself. Because if you’re disconnected to yourself, how can you be connected to anything else? So the easiest answer is: Go to a yoga class but take a class that will suit your personality.
It’s one of the questions I get asked the most when people write me “I want to start yoga, what should I do?” And I think: “How do I know? I don’t know what you should do! Walk into a yoga class, go on YouTube, there’s like a million yoga videos on YouTube – try them all out! No one knows what they’re doing when they start anyway. So go on YouTube.
Me: But if yoga newbies go on YouTube and see your Forest Falls video…
Dylan: Well that’s only one aspect of yoga. And you can’t look at the physical practice and see the yoga that’s actually happening. Whether it’s in a crazy one-arm handstand, reclined hero pose or seated meditation, you get to see the outside but you can’t watch what’s happening inside. Yoga is an internal practice that is only felt through practice. The outside physical practice is only there to take us deeper to the internal. You can spectate on yoga, but you have to practice yoga to understand.
I do think having a teacher is important. I don’t think everyone needs a guru. I don’t know how much I believe in the guru philosophy anymore, especially with all the controversy that is coming out with some of these famous “gurus”. There are some amazing people that are actually gurus and there are some people claiming to be gurus that are taking advantage of their students. As yoga is evolving I don’t think the need to have a guru is the same as it was back in the early years of yoga. I think it’s important for anyone starting out to find a teacher or several teachers that can help you on your yoga journey. Cause when you are just starting out you can’t see all the paths, you just see this one, so you become very narrow minded and one sided and when you see people on a different path, you think… “Oh that’s not yoga” when at the end of the day they all lead to the same place. Having a teacher who is a little closer to the top, who can look down and see all the different paths will really help open up your eyes to the fact that there’s multiple ways to practice yoga.
Who is your most important teacher? Do you have one?
Dylan: I do have a most important teacher, at least one that has guided me the most and I was really lucky to find him because it happened just by chance. Actually I was just training with him and have trained with him a couple of times this year. His name is Shane-Christopher Perkins; he’s from Virginia but lives in Mexico now, leading teacher trainings. It was because of him, when I did my teacher training with him, that I realized I wanted to be a yoga teacher. It was nothing that he did or said but when I first met him, he looked at me with nothing but love. There was no judgment, it didn’t matter who I was or where I was coming from. There was just this connection of love, he saw me as him or him as me, and there was no separation. It inspired me to do the same. There are certain people in the world that you run across and when you meet them you know that there’s something different about them that has nothing to do with what they know, it’s something about them. We talk about is everything that has to do with love and connection, creating space and opening, understanding nature, surrendering and pushing. It’s never about what the physical practice is; it’s just a pathway to connection.
Do you have a meditation practice?
Dylan: Well is meditation only sitting in one spot with the eyes closed? That’s what people think meditation is. How do you define meditation?
Me: Being still in both body and mind.
Dylan: How do you create stillness?
Me: Through breath.
Dylan: Which is movement.
Me: That’s true.
Dylan: How do you calm the mind?
Me: With the breath.
Dylan: Which is movement. We use the breath to slow down. But anybody who tries to meditate realizes you can’t control the mind.
Me: But I don’t think that’s the point.
Dylan: I’ve been studying “yogás citta-vrtti-nirodhah” (the second verse of the yoga sutra) and trying to understand all the different translations of what it means. The common translations of this sutra basically read: “Yoga is the stopping of the fluctuations of the mind.” Generally something that has to do with ceasing, stopping, controlling the way that the mind vibrates and fluctuates. Vrttis – one of the translations is “modification”. What modifies the mind are emotions, thoughts, anger, happiness, these are the vrttis. Who you are… If it can be taken away from you then it’s not apart of who you are. If it can be taken away, how is that you? What is constantly making the mind move is not necessarily you, they are just things like emotions that come and go. And nirodhah, “cessation” or “removal”… Well the mind or mind stuff (citta) is something that is always thinking. That’s the purpose of the mind. To stop the purpose of the mind is impossibility. Even if you say, “I’m not thinking” you are still thinking. There is a saying: Trying to meditate is like trying to smooth water with your hands. The more that you try the worse that it gets.
Joseph Campbell talks about the mind being a body of water, like a lake. And “reality” is everything that happens above the water while our mind is the surface of the water. The vrttis would be any of the distractions, a lot of it is ego, these things that cause the ripples on the water like leaves and wind, it’s our ego, our emotions, all these things that distract us or change us. So when you look into the water, what you see is a reflection but it is a distorted reflection of reality. And this is where we live.
Meditation is finding stillness, not for the sake of just being still. If you do anything you have to understand what the point is. Why do we want to be still? Why do we want to let the thoughts come to rest? When all the things stop, the water becomes smooth, no fluctuations, it’s completely still and clear. So when you look into the water all you see is the reflection of the truth. Meditation is basically coming to this point of understanding of living in truth. One effective way to do that is to sit there, close the eyes, breath and allow you to come to rest. Another way is to challenge yourself in the most physical manner to bring yourself to the presence so the only thing you could experience is what is happening right now.
Before I started yoga I was a skydiver and I was looking to be present. I found my meditation in jumping out of planes. But once that became routine, my mind went to other places. When I found yoga I was still skydiving, but all of a sudden I had an intention behind what I was doing. To be present, to allow this laying to rest, or allowing to be or in the flow. Everything in nature moves in flow, moves in harmony. The stillness is moving. The stillness is constantly changing. Even if there is no movement at all.
Original yogis who started to meditate, I don’t think they all meditated with their eyes closed. This is what I did when I was on my vision quest: When you sit there in nature, you look out and lose the separation of what separates you from nature and you look to see how the outer nature of your surroundings reflect your inner nature. And then you understand what it means to be in that flow, what it means to settle in, to surrender to that. Meditation is a practice of surrendering to the now, that’s all it is. It can look like anything, but you are surrendering to the now. So however you do that becomes your meditation practice.
How important do you think the yoga scriptures are for a modern practitioner?
Dylan: How important is the Bible to Christians? (laughs).. I don’t know, pretty important, right? When the sutras were written, they were taught verbally and spread verbally. That’s why they’re in such short form. The sutras had to all be memorized be the student. They were meant to be a reference or a doorway to the full teaching of the sutra. So you have this doorway, but through the door is everything. When they were taught, everyone would memorize all the sutras and through the memorization you would learn the meaning. Now you have so many different translations of all the sutras, but there is only one practice of yoga. There are a lot of people saying, “Oh this is yang yoga, raja yoga, bhakti yoga…” They are all yoga, just different paths that lead to the same place.
The sutras, the texts are doorways of understanding. They have a lot of importance. What’s important is the understanding behind it and what it means to you. So it’s something that inspires thought and helps to point you in the direction of connection. That’s all the whole yoga path is, about this connection, how to live in harmony. Whether that comes out as the yamas and the niyamas. They are just pathways to live in harmony. You find the same way to live in harmony if you go to the 10 commandments or read through buddhist texts, or hindu texts or muslim texts. They all have the same goal. As long as you understand what that is, it’s a tool. And the sharper the tool is the more useful the tool is. So yes they are important but how you use them is more important.
What would you do if you weren’t teaching yoga?
Dylan: I wouldn’t not be teaching, if I weren’t teaching yoga, I would teach yoga.
Thank you Dylan for the wonderful interview and dear readers thank you for reading so far – stay tuned for the funny random questions part!