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What is post-lineage yoga?

Theodora Wildcroft spoke about post lineage in a blog post back in 2019 that states, “Post-lineage, as its name suggests, is a change not in the content of yoga, but in how it is shared. What it does not mean is anti-lineage, or non-lineage, and it certainly doesn’t mean anti-tradition. Briefly put, post-lineage yoga is a description of the authority processes that govern the teaching of yoga—how you decide what you’re sharing with others is authentic and safe, and how it relates to the teaching of yoga in the past, and the teaching of yoga around the world.

Post-lineage yoga describes a shift that many yoga teachers and practitioners go through—they might start out only learning from one teacher, and never questioning their authority. But at some point, many look beyond the lineage teachings to expand their understanding of how yoga works in practice. They might or might not maintain a strong respect for their original teachers, but they might read books from other lineages, or be fascinated by the latest neuroscience research, or share a practice with peers or go to workshops with other teachers. So why is thinking about the term post-lineage yoga important? Partly it’s a way of recognising the contribution of saṅghas (communities), as well as guru-śiṣya (teacher-student) relationships, to the sharing of yoga. But the last couple of decades have also seen many aspects of authority in yoga communities come under scrutiny. Whether it’s new evidence challenging the health claims in Iyengar’s Light on Yoga (Broad 2012), or the uncovering of abuse by apparently enlightened teachers (Remski 2019), or new historical evidence concerning the development of āsana practice (Birch 2013, Mallinson and Singleton 2017), many yoga practitioners now feel they need more than established yoga hierarchies to justify how they practice and teach.” For full article:

I think it’s important that when we talk about “post-lineage” yoga, we don’t throw out respect for tradition and history and teachers that gave us this tradition – that borders on the same cultural appropriation of yoga that we have begun to “decolonize”.

Returning from a yoga therapy conference, I hear too many people talk about “post lineage” while stepping into the same framework of “the West does it better” that is demeaning and disrespectful of the tradition of Yoga.

Modern science and research are important and vital to our ability to use the tools of yoga as therapists with our clients across a spectrum of individuals from different backgrounds and with different abilities. But we must be careful not to reframe yoga as if we, as Westerners (no matter your racial or ethnic background, b/c I’ve seen people from all walks of life do this) have just discovered it, or discovered some new facet of it that makes it more vital. I sat in one class over the weekend and as the teacher described the so-called “differences” between her style of yoga and “regular yoga” I could see a picture of white Europeans arriving on the shores of this continent and “discovering America”. It made me feel very uncomfortable. To be fair, I don’t think the teacher was aware of how her words landed. And, it’s possible nobody else picked up on it, I don’t know. I do know that when I first started practicing yoga – what kept me out of studios for years was, in part, cost, and in part I didn’t want to learn “this white person’s yoga” or “that person’s yoga”. This is all marketing and consumerism. I wanted to learn Real Yoga. Whatever that was – I was determined to find it here. I ended up studying in the Iyengar tradition first – but still through a filtered Westerner’s interpretation of his teachings. Iyengar actually passed away a year after I completed my second 200-hour teacher training. I completed two 200-hour trainings before I went on to continue my studies with Joseph LePage at Kripalu and earn my 500 hours and 1000 hour Yoga Therapy certification. At Kripalu I was introduced to, and influenced by, many other wise teachers from different traditions. And, it is through Joseph’s Integrative Yoga therapy program that I met Dr. Ananda Balayogi Bhavanani – the son of Dr. Gitananda Giri, who carries on his father’s tradition. I have spent the past almost 2 years studying in this tradition and it has opened my eyes to many of the reasons why we do the things we do in Yoga – it has filled in holes and gaps that I did not realize were there in what I was taught before. Because it grounds the practice of yoga in Sanatana Dharma, the ancient tradition from which it grew.

Studying yoga without a firm understanding of Sanskrit or a teacher who can guide you with culture and context is really just stealing without understanding… and while you might reap some benefits through physical exercise or even practicing mindfulness or different kinds of meditation – you will reap so much more when the 8 limbs of yoga are all understood and respected in their entirety. The old saying, “You don’t know what you don’t know” is appropriate here. The more I learn and come to understand about yoga, through studying and through actual practice, the more I realize there is still to learn. Swami Gitananda’s Step by Step program itself is such a wealth of knowledge that I could retake that course over and over again and continue to learn from it as my understanding grows deeper.

So, if you are a student of yoga, please find a teacher that respects and honors the tradition, and if you are a true teacher or as I prefer to think of it – a “sharer” of yoga, please keep uncovering the layers that are there – please keep diving deeper into the greater understanding of this rich tradition, honoring its roots. And please be careful how you market yourself and your teaching of yoga.

*For further reading, another perspective on decolonizing yoga by Angie Follensbee Hall: *Photo of Ganesh by Mohnish Landge on Unsplash

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