What replaces authority when the authority is no longer absolute?
In today’s episode, Dr. Theo Wildcroft talks about the identities and labels we attach to ourselves and our yoga practice and how we all benefit from moving from traditional linear models and towards more inclusive and horizontally organized networks.
Theo Wildcroft, PhD is a yoga teacher, writer and researcher working at the forefront of the movement for trauma sensitivity and inclusion with the yoga culture. As an academic scholar, Theo’s research of post-lineage yoga offers significant insight and guidance for teachers and students in building sustainable relationships outside the traditional hierarchical structures.
When I first heard the phrase, Post-Lineage Yoga, it resonated and yet, I had no idea where it had originated. After a little more research, I found Theo on Facebook and she invited me to learn more by doing exactly what she recommends through her work and research: dialogue.
And through our conversations, I did indeed learn so much. Theo helped shed some light on questions that have been weighing heavy … like, where are we headed as a yoga community? And what does the path forward look like?
Rather than linear models we are so used to following, Theo recommends a more horizontally connected model. In other words, instead of only looking up for answers, we also give weight to our own personal experience as well as checking in with others – outside our bubble – and using these conversations to keep checking in and adjusting as necessary.
The Ashtanga Dispatch Podcast is edited and hosted by Peg Mulqueen along with Meghan Powell. Music by Marc Pilley.
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To anyone running a training for yoga teachers or interested in hosting more meaningful conversations within their community – I highly recommend reaching out to Theo and inviting her to come teach and help facilitate.
I guess increasing numbers of people have heard about the term ‘post-lineage yoga’, but not all of those people are aware about where it’s coming from … it comes out of my PhD thesis – and I didn’t set out to describe something global. I set out describe something quite small in that I was investigating kind of alternative yoga communities.
My supervisors were really trying to help me figure out what was specific that I wanted to talk about about these communities. What was the untold story basically of these communities. So I would say, for example, “Oh these are people who suffered abuse in lineages and they’ve come together with other teachers and practitioners to talk about it.”
And they’d say, “Oh so they’re anti-lineage!” No no no no no, that’s not anti-lineage!
What I was really trying to encapsulate was … the point at which you go beyond the fact that what your teacher taught you is enough.
So there comes a point where the things that you’ve been taught and the things that you find on the mat aren’t enough on their own. Not for everyone, but for some people.
Outside the Bubble
For those people then, they start to look beyond to other sources of inspiration to kind of ratify the explorations that they’re already in many ways. So they want to check that, basically that they’re not basically not completely weird. They want to know what they’re doing and they still hanging out with yoga teachers and practitioners from from other schools and the lineages of our environment.
This in reality is something that most yoga teachers, I think, do a lot of. You go to workshops, you go to conferences, and you take online seminars with cool people you come across … and so I think it’s a fairly widespread thing.
But what I wanted to talk about was the communities that support this process happening. And to do that. I was focusing on to this one little subculture, small groups of hippies in fields are in southwest of the UK, hanging out together. And the ways in which that community of peers was helping them all navigate that process basically.
So that’s why I say that really post-lineage yoga is for me about more than just moving beyond the lineage is also about what replaces the authority when it no longer becomes absolute.
Rhizomatic Networks: Trees vs. Dandelions
I love dandelions. And the idea with dandelions is that they are rhizomes. And a rhizome doesn’t have one deep root or one series of deep roots. It has relatively shallow roots that go in all directions and that connect.
So there’s not really any such thing as an individual dandelion because that dandelion will be connected to lots of others. And if you pull it up, but you need half an inch of root behind you, you’ll get 50 more dandelions because they keep spreading.
We’re so used to the idea of the yoga history is being a tree, like a tree of knowledge. And all the schools of yoga are on a tree. Each of the very wonderful schools and lineages are kind of one branch on that tree, and each practitioner or teacher is kind of a leaf, right?
And overall, it looks really resilient. And of course it’s not actually that resilience to talk on its own, because the reality is that most trees are only healthy because of their interaction with rhizomatic network.
In this case fungal network – the mycelium that lives under the ground. And the other thing about a lot of rhizomatic networks is that they’re invisible. So you go into the forest and you see all the trees, but what you don’t see is the fungus beneath that actually keeps them all healthy – all of these horizontal networks and connections that go from tree to tree to tree.
So this idea of rhizomatic learning is the fact that the most sustainable networks are the ones in which the power is distributed.
Learning from Each Other
I think that the ways in which people who’ve been there before as in other lineages and other schools can just be so helpful.
You know, sometimes the pushback people have about trying different styles and different ways of working, is this whole metaphor about digging one well rather than lots of shallow holes? And I think that’s really interesting because for me – the practice IS the well.
I’m talking to a lot of Ashtanga Yoga practitioners and teachers these days, trying to figure out how they come to terms with what’s going on for them. And those of us who’ve been through other other things with other lineages won’t have exactly the same experiences … but you know, we have wisdom to share about what it’s like five years/ten years down the road. What it’s like to really assess your practices and ways of working as a result.
There’s no reason for Ashtanga Yoga teachers or anybody else to reinvent the wheel of what consent might look like, or what adjustment might look like, so on and so forth, when there’s a lot of people who already have been doing it for a very long time. But just outside of your bubble – there outside of your little tree.
So there’s this thing that seems to happen where people continue just to ask within their own lineages. They keep looking to senior teachers. If senior teachers had the solution – they would have found it by now, you know? They would’ve figured it out.
That’s not to say, Oh, let’s get rid of Ashtanga yoga or Satchidananda yoga or any of the other schools that had these problems. What we’re saying, is that maybe by coming together with practitioners from other lineages and schools – maybe there’s things we can learn from each other.
Identities and Labels
It’s about what our identities and the labels we give ourselves. And I think that in particular if you’re a long long term practitioner, so much of what you’re finding on the mat are these deeply personal, really spiritual experiences of creating and recreating identities. It’s a lot of work.
The other side of what my research is about is- what are we actually doing on the mat? And I think one of the things we are doing on the mat, over and over again, is finding out who we want to be and who we can be.
And so it’s very easy for a transference to occur wherein the identities that we find become attached to the practices that we do … So, who are we if we are no longer the person that does this thing.
And I think that’s where – if we can keep connecting ourselves to the question of what is my yoga now, like what is my yoga right now? And the clearer we can be about what our yoga is today, in this moment, the easier it is not to get stuck with practices and labels.
Because you know, if you’re an Ashtanga practitioner doing Ashtanga for 20 years and you then become a Yin yoga practitioner, it doesn’t mean you’re no longer on the path. Surely it just means that the path is changed for you, right?
Purity + Pollution
It’s a very human thing to do, to want these practices to be ancient and in some way and long-standing. And preferably exotic as well. Preferably coming from a time and a place that’s far away and completely pure – having not been polluted by the modern world other contemporary world.
And that’s the other thing that people find very difficult – to be confronted with the evidence that maybe yoga has always been a practice that’s been influenced by politics of many many times and that it reflects that context, whatever that context was.
Whether that was a colonial context or a hierarchical, kind of patriarchal context, or whether it’s just you know, neoliberalism right? If you’re attached to it, you want to think of it as something pure.
Is Goat Yoga, Yoga?
The assumption is that if you don’t have structure – like if we don’t have the lineage or some kind of bureaucracy that tells us what yoga should be – that without these formal structures, that it’s anything goes. It’s just each individual and their own mat doing their own thing.
Which is really fascinating to me because everything I talked about is about relationships … yoga teachers coming together and figuring out together, the boundaries of what the practice is. The endless conversations about whether goat yoga is yoga or beer yoga is yoga, whether this can be yoga or that can be yoga – all of these conversations are part of us figuring out together, what the boundaries of our practices are.
In my experience, yoga teachers are actually really consistent on their answers to those questions. Surprisingly consistent. We tend to come up with the same answers. It’s just those answers are constantly evolving.
But if you ask 20 yoga teachers from around the world whether goat yoga is yoga, most of them will say probably not. And all of them will generally say, beer yoga is a bad thing. So the answers are really consistent.
But yet you say to people, we can cope without these structures and they say, “Oh well, then it will be anything goes and everybody does their own thing.” But that’s not what happens. That is literally not what happens.
Murmurations of the Flock
A murmuration is what happens when bird, a flock of birds, particularly starlings, move through the air. You’ll see these beautiful images of Starlings moving together and shuttles of fish do the same thing. And other animals do the same thing.
A murmuration is what you get when you get a collective that’s moving together, but they’re moving as a group of individuals.
A murmuration is governed by 3 principles:
- Each individual is doing their own thing. They have their own desire, their own own desire of where they want to be. But they’re constrained by two other principles …
- You can’t be too far from the other people in the group or the other starlings in the flock or the fish in the shuttle. Because otherwise that eagle or that shark.
- But you can’t be too close to the other beings in your little group because otherwise you’ll bump into each other and it’s a bit comfortable.
So there’s a minimum and a maximum distance that you maintain from the other people within your the beings, within your little group. And in that gap between the minimum and the maximum, is where the individual desire for movement comes.
And as a result the shuttle or flock as a whole, moves through the sky or the through the ocean in these amazing patterns.
Now – when yoga teachers hang out with other yoga teachers, one of the questions they’re always asking each other is, Is this yoga or is that yoga?
Because if I set up a yoga class and I suddenly decide that everyone needs to be doing four hours solid of breath of fire and then take Ayahuasca or something. I am not going to survive on within the yoga community as a whole. I am going to be ostracized. I am going to be right on the edge. And probably the sharks in the form of legal intervention, are going to arrive, right? Somebody’s going to come and take me out.
But if I set up in the studio or the village hall right next door to you, doing exactly the same thing that you’re doing as a yoga teacher with exactly the same practice – there’s a problem, right? We’re too close.
So as a teacher, I’m constantly trying to be just individual enough, follow my own heart, my own path, my own teaching – but not too far out from other teachers.
I’m constantly checking in on what’s going on in the world around me … so that’s constantly having conversations about whether goat yoga is yoga or beer yoga is yoga and where am I in a relationship to all of these things?
So within the culture of yoga, the more it’s able to communicate horizontally, outside of these structures, outside of these bubbles – the more that we are able to move like murmurations into the future of yoga.
One of the things that’s cool about it is that it only works with proximity. If you’re not hanging out with other yoga folk.
And if you’re not having all of these informal conversations – you’ve got no way of telling where you’re going. You’re flying blind – literally.
So the best thing that the yoga bureaucracies that we have can do for us, is actually not to give us a whole lot of standards for us to live up to and another lot of exams to pass – what could really do it is as many opportunities as possible to be in a relationship and conversation with each other.
Who’s Not at the Table?
of course the problem with that they now happen informally is it means that people have differential access to them.
So if you are in a rural area, it’s harder for you to have those connections. If you’re from a marginalized population, you know, it’s more difficult to discuss those issues that are specific to that population.
If you’re the only queer yoga teacher or the only yoga teacher of color within your informal group … It’s very difficult for you to then have conversations about some of the issues you might face as a result.
So generally speaking – as ever the most vulnerable amongst us are the ones who have the least access to these kinds of support. And that now it just exacerbates the power issues that we have.
It’s about that wonderful phrase: Who’s not in the room, right? Who’s not in the room? Who’s not in the room with you? Who’s not able to have those conversations? Whether they’re online or in-person? And who’s struggling as a result?
Links + Further Reading
- Patterns of Authority and Practice Relationships in ‘Post-Lineage Yoga’ – Theodora Wildcroft, Presented for the degree of: Doctor of Philosophy
- Find Theo on Facebook >> here
- Invite Theo to come speak at your studio >> here