Notes on Lineage in Regards to Monday’s “Yoga Body” Post

Here are a few comments relating to Monday’s “Yoga Body” post with some thoughts of our own in regards to said comments. Henceforthwith we go onwaywardwith!

From the Facebook:

“[Y]oga has always been – evolving. Good evolution needs to be in contact with yoga’s roots, but it cannot thrive if it puts ‘lineage’ ahead of the emergent moment.”

Lineage is a tricky thing. This is especially true when read in light of the concept of “evolutionary lineage,” which basically defines “lineage” (what distinct spiritual traditions often read as “fixed”) as the very act of “evolution” (which most people read as “in flux”). In reality, however, to be a part of lineage is to be evolving. Think “family tree” and you’re on the right track.


So, while it’s true The Babarazzi pokes fun at the way in which commercial yoga culture runs screaming naked through the streets every time someone farts a fart that sounds like, “Hmmm… maybe what commercial yoga culture is presenting as yoga isn’t actually yoga at all, and here’s a library of texts that support this,” we also feel that people obsessing over being a part of a “lineage” to be equally a summer bummer. ‘Cause, really, what else is there?


Not to mention, as soon as you use the “my yoga is part of a lineage and yours isn’t” argument, you’ve pretty much thrown every card you have on the table along with all your sexy silk panties. I mean, let’s face it. You’re pretty much left with no recourse when your debate partner points to your “sticky mat” on their way to the juice bar.

That said, lineage’s are cool and if you align yourself with one, you’re pretty much the star of the yoga potluck, and probably gonna score some digits tonight.

dfrenk:D wrote:

“As far as I’m concerned, [20th century yoga is] just a modality, which makes it no more nor less authentic than, say, sitting in a smashan drinking blood from a skull, or huddling around a fire sacrificing ghee.

The word “authentic” is significant here. Authenticity by definition refers to the ability to locate a thing’s undisputed origin. In that sense, yes, I agree. Both “heliyoga” and $20,000 spiritual cubes are totally authentic.

Now, what did Matthew have to say?

“Folks relax more into practice when they can contemplate the fact that most lineages contain more improvisation and uncertainty and competing objectives than they let on.”

Let’s talk about relaxation for a minute. In my experience, people “relax” when their interpretation of reality is confirmed. If wishing yoga was a clusterfuck free-for-all of dada-esque ribaldry, than, sure, you’re gonna relax if someone tells you that’s exactly how it is. If, however, you’re on your fifth day of constipation ’cause the food at the ashram you donated your life savings to sucks, and it’s been six years since you’ve seen a woman in a bikini, you best hope someone doesn’t come along and tell you you’ve just been Punk’d by Ashton Kutcher. Otherwise, you will find yourself on the wrong end of the relaxation stick.


Meaning: relaxation without a previous peeling away of hitherto unchecked secret “Please tell me I will never die” thoughts is really just a sleeping pill. Don’t get me wrong. Happy thoughts are a necessary evol for social beings in a so-called civilized world. Personally, I LOVE it when I’m about to go to sleep and someone whispers in my ear, “You are the coolest person in the room and everyone knows it.”


  1. Folks *can* relax when their perspectives are confirmed. Or the confirmation allows them to autoerotically fire that little twinge of self-justification, which is often a bulwark against terror. My experience with psychic/cognitive/physical relaxation is that it most usually follows the evaporation of a perspective, which I think you’re getting at with “relaxation without a previous peeling away of hitherto unchecked secret “Please tell me I will never die” thoughts is really just a sleeping pill.”

    • Totally. That’s the distinction I was making between two slightly (very?) different forms of relaxation. One relaxes *into* self-confirmation (the “I’m on the right track” relaxation), the other relaxes by the very evaporation of self (the “unstruck sound” of dissolving projection). Or sumptin’ like dat.

  2. Maha Garuda

    When was the last time you stood in front of the mirror and said “Perfecto”?
    Likewise, lineage is an oasis for the weary. There is no place to lay our heads.

  3. Me too. The tension seems to be between a strong sense of entitlement by those that want to continue to use the word yoga based on it’s historical place within the great Indian intellectual traditions and those that just want a bad excuse to do something vaguely weird or exotic.

    Products, services, ideas and organisations are all vying to be put in the same basket: tea, rope swings, oblong pieces of colored vinyl and aerobics. Babs – you are not in the business of distributing a definition are you? No. But I do pick up here and there that there is still some form of common sense operating here as to what can and cannot be yoga – and if there is – no one is seriously interested in talking about that …(silence)

    I notice you wisely stop short of ever saying something can’t ever be called yoga – but your whole project is premised on the idea that there are some important limits we have to acknowledge if yoga is to continue to make any sense to us at all?

    Most people I think get that Singleton has mostly succeeded at writing an interesting book (and no – it’s not ‘fun’ as you said) but failed at reliably tracing where we are now back to what we might recognize as credible provenance.

    But what is very curious to me is not so much: What is Yoga? or Is this Yoga? but Why would someone want anything they’re doing to be called yoga? ..and here you’re right on the money… yeah …and it must be mostly about the money?

    Jim Mallinson might be interested in going right back to before the word, Hinduism was first coined to try and help us out, but that Kickstarter thing I don’t think is really going to have any impact because it’s just beefed up Orientalism isn’t it? The Greeks wrote about Gymnosophism and ever since the earliest accounts countless mystics have been put in a dishonourable category of chancers, charlatans and miscreants but questions like, What is yoga? and What are we meant to be doing? persist.

    FYI: The ‘yoga studio’ Jim is where people go to worry about everything from whether they were physically agile enough to participate and the state of their Chakras to the ecological impact of their yoga mat and whether this curriculum will count as CPD points.

    Your word ‘traditional’ with yoga is just a RETRONYM that admits the history is getting away from us. If you go to an event like the Yoga Journal Conference you will see the OM symbol emblazoned on everything from exercise equipment to clothing as well as numerous Sanskrit concepts and artwork featuring Hindu and Buddhist iconography.

    The idea that yoga is ancient, Indian, exotic, spiritual and so on and so forth still seems to attract the attention and money of folk that probably know better, but also don’t.

  4. jorge

    I think Matthew has a really interesting blog recently on this subject too if I’m remembering right. Having been involved in a “lineage” form of yoga for the last couple of years, its been super interesting to watch my own process and ideas that come up around what that means and how I engage with it. It gave me a good laugh to read the part about scoring some digits with your lineage badge too, I’ve probably thrown that card down more than once….and there’s certainly a level of entitlement that comes from aligning yourself with “authentic” yoga as a way to differentiate yourself from JF and co.

    I guess what really interests me with lineage model is the underlying transmission that you get with it. Whether that’s real or imagined is another debate I suppose, but it always has been there for me much more than with other teachers or practices I’ve tried. There’s no better way to explain it then by saying the practice or information seems to seep in to you rather than get processed by your mind, subtle but strong. Using less brain power is always much appreciated by this little peanut head anyway. It definitely takes a bit of faith in the process and I would imagine if you’re not already open to it its probably tougher to get it anyway. There’s also other elements at play with it too, depending on your karmic inclinations some a particular lineage may or may not pull you in and that’s what the whole process is about, right? You’ve been here before, you’ve done this before. Evolution of a practice is obviously bound to happen for better or worse depending on who you ask, so lineage can also be the sacred cow that needs a good tipping here and there. But there is something that comes through the process of lineage passing that I personally just don’t often see in other more independent teachers and forms. Maybe its a maturity of collective knowledge and experience that is missing.

    What is truly an “authentic” lineage though? ….ugh. Might be easier to figure out how to reanimate corpses in the smashan than find a clear answer to that one. We all have our opinions though huh? I can make fun of my friend for signing up for a personal transformation internship with Elena Brower, but how do I ACTUALLY know she’s as full of shit as I think she is? Maybe my rejection of her ilk and their narcissistic attempts to turn yoga in to a way to shield yourself from real life and hide out in a bubble of happy happy good times blind privilege is really my own shield of self destruction and despair? For that matter, I don’t even know that my dude Krishnamacharya would think my idea of following the yogic path was a fucking joke. Actually, I’m pretty sure he would….sorry Kris, i’ll try harder, swear. The only “truth”, I feel comfortable enough saying about yoga anymore is that it seems best to find a practice that encourages self-reflection and the continual destructive re-creation of who and what you think you are. Never stop and never get too comfortable, the layers are ever deeper and harder to find.

    Ultimately all we can do is try to find what’s most authentic to us individually, which is what I think this website does a good job of coming back to even when its pushing buttons pretty hard in one direction or another. Well, that and also asking yoga peeps to please not be douchey, for everybody’s sake just please don’t.

  5. jorge

    ok, actualy, this is the only yoga truth… should be ruining your life.


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