Judith Lasater once told me that a lineage is three generations of teachers back from you.
My spiritual teacher’s name was Lee Lozowick. His guru was Yogi Ramsuratkumar. His master was Swami Papa Ramdas. My first influential asana teacher was Manouso Manos. His teacher was BKS Iyengar. BKS Iyengar’s guru was Krishnamacharya. Later in my asana journey I met Desiree Rumbaugh who introduced me to John Friend who studied with Ramanand Patel, George Purvis and Donna Holleman, all of whom studied with BKS Iyengar. (This name sonly a few of the senior Iyengar teachers who helped him along the way, ) Even later in my asana studies, I met some amazing Bikram yoga teachers like Afton Carraway, Gianna Purcell, Kathy Durham and Mardy Chen. They studied a lot with Emmy Cleaves and Mary Jarvis, all of whom who studied with Bikram Choudhury.
I hear a lot about lineage these days, both positively and negatively. If you were to google some of the teachers on the afore mentioned lists you could go down a rabbit hole through which, at the very least, you would find unconventional behavior and with certainty, in some cases, scandal and abuse. (And I must be sure to note that many of the people on the list are doing their work in the world free of scandal or abuse allegations and while they may have had the occasional conflict with a student here or there, these people are of the highest integrity and deepest humility.)
The fact that so many of my teachers are complicated characters makes the topic of lineage a bit uncomfortable for me at times. Even considering the difficulties associated with these teachers, I had an excellent yoga education for which I am grateful. I was one of the lucky ones for whom the scandals and abuses did not cause much harm.
Others, clearly, were not so lucky.
In the aftermath of the scandals associated with Anusara yoga, I quickly learned the depth and breadth of varied experiences that existed within our community. Some people practiced for years in a community that was healing for them. Others members of the same community were practicing under significantly traumatic circumstances. I have endeavored to make space in my own heart to hold the complexity of this wide spectrum of experience.
I have watched similar challenges play out in the Bikram, Ashtanga Vinyasa and Iyengar yoga communities as they have taken their turns walking through the muddy waters of abuse allegations, legal investigations, licensing issues, interpersonal complications and professional devastation. I don’t have too many smart things to say about these challenges. I can, however, offer some heart-felt validation for how hard it is claim one’s own experience as it is within a community— good or bad— and to honor, respect and make room for another’s experience to be 180 degrees different from one’s own.
As far as lineage goes, I find strength in remembering that I am distinct from my teachers. My offering as a teacher is informed by the positive aspects of the lineages of which I have been part as much as it is informed by the things I have seen go haywire. For instance, one reason I haven’t created a “style” of yoga with a structured process of certification is that I have never wanted my students to be beholden to me or to be at the mercy of my possible future lapses in judgement.
And, I have seen enough to know that anyone can fall. Anyone.
And, all of us stumble. Some of us, repeatedly.
I also find strength in the recognition that lineage flows both ways. A host of smart, dedicated, successful, and sincere practitioners generously refer to me as their teacher. My students are from different walks of life, live in a varied types of bodies, are different ages and have skill sets, expertise and experiences beyond my own.
From online relationships to up-close-and-personal relationships, my students inspire me with hope for the practice and for what is possible within imperfect learning communities who endeavor to grow more conscious together. My students have helped me grow into who I am today— both in and out of the yoga room. And, in the same way that I am different from my teachers, my students are different from me and create programs, trainings, and offerings of their own--some of which resemble what they learned from me and some of which do not.
As I see it today, lineage also flows outward as well as up and down. It flows between our friends, fellow seekers, and colleagues with whom we are intimate and through whom God's grace manifests as support, understanding and the occasional swift kick-in-the-ass.
If you are one of the lucky ones for whom lineage feels like a blessing today, say a prayer of thanksgiving. However, it is not necessarily unlucky if the lineage of which you were a part is no longer fertile soil in which you can grow or if the environment that once nurtured you grew toxic. Perhaps the disillusionment is its own brand of luck as it will invite you into a new domain of spiritual authority and personal agency. Two of the best things that happened to me were meeting Lee and his death. Meeting him helped me find a current of Grace to which I could connect and his passing helped me understand that this Grace lived in me all along.
And so, if you can not name your teacher’s teacher teacher, or you don't want to name them, you are not outside the field of graceful opportunities that yoga has to offer you. Lineage is not a commodity to be leveraged in the marketplace, nor is lineage an essential prerequisite for growth on the path personally or professionally. If you find yourself in a stream of teachings that is carrying you along to a deeper awareness of the power of Life itself, then trust the current you are on to carry you where you need to go. Live, practice and teach from the assurance that life is unfolding— at least at a deep level— in the only way it can today.
Keep the faith.
Oh, and here is Locket.
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"There is a light that shines beyond all things on Earth, beyond us all, beyond the heaven, beyond the highest, the very highest heavens. This is the light that shines in our heart."