Why Lineage Matters In Yoga

The passing of yogic knowledge from teacher to student is something of a sacred undertaking. It is as a very precious jewel, one that will never die as a book in a fire, because it is so carefully transferred from living vessel to living vessel. What you read in yoga books is only meant to compliment what you learn from your teacher, never to replace personal instruction. The historical web of teaching lineage branches out like arteries of a common heart. We are each our own branch as either teacher, student, or both. Presently, our modern western culture promotes a social divide which we hardly notice, but are sorely suffering from. A vital source of natural learning was removed from our lives while we were busy searching for an institution that would offer us a certificate, a degree, or some other proof that we know more than the other guy competing for the same job. Look around you. How many of your elders would you consider an integral part of your daily life? Retirement communities and nursing homes have replaced the family hearth as the dwelling place of our eldest citizens. The most experienced students of life are absent in our cultural classroom as a whole. This deficit parallels in our western yoga communities. So where are we getting our information? To whom are we entrusting our education? How do we know that the information they are passing on to us is pure,  free of  personal interpretation or miscommunication?

The truth is, no one who teaches yoga can be entirely impartial. We love our students. We endeavor to give them the healing and liberating gift that yoga has been for us. But intertwined in that gift is our own experience and perception, the shaping and molding influence our own teachers have had on us. Aha! Now the matter of lineage becomes very clearly relevant.

The teacher directly above your branch was/is a student of someone. Whose? Have you given that much thought? How does your yoga teacher help you to grow your practice? Are you getting stronger abs or stronger focus? The two don’t have to be mutually exclusive, but ask yourself if what you’re gaining from your teacher is asana practice or the foundational knowledge of all 8 limbs of yoga. If you’re looking for the whole shebang, then you might want to know the primary source of the stream of knowledge that flows from your guru to you. Who is your guru’s guru? And once you know that, why not look up his guru? If you’re reading this from anywhere in the western world, and you practice Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga, there is a surprisingly short chain of lineage back to the one teacher who’s responsible for passing on all we westerners know about yoga, the beloved Sri Tirumalai Krishnamacharya.

I won’t list a bunch of names and years here to help you trace your personal yoga family tree. It is not the purpose of this post to present a history lesson. Rather, it’s purpose is to inspire you to seek the knowledge for yourself. Just as you take your asana practice a little further by attempting a new pose, try deepening your yoga practice off the mat by investing some time considering the source of your yoga education. Just giving it your attention may lead your practice in more purposeful and fulfilling directions.

*Thanks for entertaining my ideas! I’m honored that you came here to read my ramblings! If you’d like to hear more in person, please attend my classes. Currently I teach a 90 minute “Subtle Body Energetic Flow” every Friday morning at 9 AM at Second Heart Yoga (44th St and Thomas Rd, Phoenix, AZ). Check my Facebook page or Twitter to see where you can catch me subbing. I hope to add a few more regular weekly classes to my weekly schedule soon. I’ll keep you posted!