Emma here. I recently wrote a lineage acknowledgement for The Branches, because there are many ways in which we have participated in the cultural appropriation and exploitation of Yoga. Much like a land acknowledgement, a lineage acknowledgement is a first step towards recognizing the harm done and committing to doing better.
Read that first sentence again. …there are many ways in which we, The Branches, have participated in the cultural appropriation and exploitation of Yoga.
If you’re getting defensive, for me or The Branches, or on your own behalf, I encourage you to pause, take a breath, and keep reading. I’m not saying we are bad and wrong for doing this. I’m saying that we have learned more and are now committed to doing better.
Goat yoga, for example. We did goat yoga a few years ago, and while it was cute to see some goats running around in a field, it also had the effect of trivializing the purpose of the practice. Goats are great, and we can go hang out with them if we want. But we don’t need to mash together goats and Yoga. Because Yoga is more than poses; it is a holistic Indigenous wisdom tradition, and it is our job to hold that with more integrity.
I invite you to read our Lineage Acknowledgement below to get a sense of context and history, and how we are now approaching Yoga.
We hope these efforts resonate with you and invite you more deeply into the practice of Yoga.
Lineage Acknowledgement for The Branches
Offering Historical Context
This lineage acknowledgement is one small step towards recognizing the impacts and working towards reparations for the harm caused to the people and wisdom traditions of India by the violent and exploitative means of colonization, capitalism and white supremacy. It is an attempt to provide some context for the yoga that we practice at The Branches, and the ways we are working to relearn and more deeply understand our relationship to yoga. Any attempts to summarize history will always leave out large swaths of context and information, so please read the following summary with an awareness of that.
Yogic practices began to emerge on the subcontinent of India from 800 BCE – 200 CE, as part of a cultural shift towards an individual exploration of spirituality and fate. Texts from that time period include Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras and the Bhagavad Gita, which share different approaches to yoga practices and paths. These texts do not detail physical poses, but outline ethics, meditative or devotional practices. Some of the physical poses of yoga that we might see in contemporary yoga classes today began to emerge after 1100 CE, when systemization of a number of yogic practices (including fasting, cleansing, mudras, chanting, meditation on the subtle body, and physical poses) began to be recorded and codified. Many of these practices were actively suppressed during the violent and destructive British colonization of India, in an attempt to destroy Indigenous wisdom and culture.
A number of yogic practices were revived by Indian Independence activists in the 1930s, who were hoping to reconnect Indians with their cultural heritage. The physical poses, often known as hatha yoga, began to be taught more widely across India and around the world, in some places fusing with other physical fitness trends. Hatha yoga (with a focus on asana, or physical postures) has since developed into a multi-billion dollar aspect of the fitness industry, however most of the industry is in large part extracted from its original cultural context(s) and wisdom traditions.
The North American yoga industry primarily focuses on one aspect of yoga; asana; a Sanskrit word which can be translated as “seat”. Asanas were originally the seated poses for meditation, but later evolved to include more complex physical shapes. Asana is one of eight limbs of Yoga as outlined in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, the other 7 limbs spanning ethics, breath practices, and deepening levels of concentration and meditative contemplation. It should be noted that there are many texts and traditions that outline other limbs or systems of yoga, but Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras is the most widely known text in North American contexts.
What We Practice at The Branches
At The Branches our tagline is “Yoga & movement, rooted in community”. We included the word “movement” intentionally, as not all of the movement we teach is yoga asana. Some of it is strength or mobility training, some comes from other modalities like the Tensegrity Repair Series or the Axis Syllabus, and some of it is from the creative minds of our teachers. We include these other modalities as we find them helpful explorations alongside the practice of yoga asana.
The yoga we focus on in our drop-in classes is yoga asana, the physical postures of yoga. We aim to empower people to feel stronger, more comfortable and more at ease in their bodies as a result of a yoga asana and movement practice. We know that asana is not the whole of yoga and we believe that it is a helpful practice for our disembodied culture to re-connect with the intricacies of the body, on the way to re-connecting with the intricacies of the mind and heart.
We consider the other limbs of yoga to be beyond the scope of a 60-75 minute drop-in class, and believe that these other limbs require different learning containers; courses or workshops and longer term relationships with teachers or lineage holders. We explore the history, philosophy and other limbs of yoga in our 250-hour YTT, and encourage our graduates to pursue a lifelong relationship with the many forms of Yoga.
Most of our teachers learned yoga from white, North American teachers. We are currently working on re-learning and re-understanding Yoga through the lens of decolonizing and reparations, and are working to include a wider range of voices and perspectives in our studio and YTT teaching staff.
We believe that the process of yoga is lifelong, and its aim is to decrease or relieve suffering. To that end, we connect our practice of yoga with our larger values of social justice. We believe that this commitment to social justice is at the root of much of Yoga; Ishvara Pranidhana is one of the niyamas in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, which can be understood as devotion to the ethical ideal of a person. We dedicate ourselves to ethical action for the greater good and hold this as a piece of our yoga practice.
Connections & Continued Learning
We’d like to introduce you to some of the wonderful South Asian, Desi, and South Asian Diaspora teachers we have worked with in the past or are currently learning from. We invite you to learn from them too:
Jyoti Solanki-Davie is a Kitchener-local who is a Registered Massage Therapist, Yoga practitioner and author. She was a guest speaker in our 2019 and 2021 YTT programs. We are grateful to have learned a great deal through conversations with Jyoti. We have her to credit for inspiring us to create this page – thank you Jyoti for calling us in to better contextualize our relationship to the whole of yoga and share that on our website. Jyoti has an awesome Ayurveda and Yoga Colouring Workbook that can be found on her website here.
Shwetha & Manu Subramanya are guest faculty in our 2019, 2021 and 2022 Yoga Teacher Trainings. Both of Shwetha and Manu were immersed into a culture of shlokas and mantras from their childhoods in India. They formally studied Sanskrit from high school. Their specific interest in Sanskrit are in subhashitas (proverbs), hymns and the ancient texts of science. In our YTT, they teach intro to Sanskrit together, and Shwetha teaches yoga philosophy and yoga asana. Shwetha has also taught a course for the general public through The Branches, sharing the Ashtangas of yoga, and we hope to have her teach more courses in the future.
Tejal Patel (she/her/hers) is a first-generation Indian American yoga teacher, writer, podcaster, and community organizer. We first learned from Tejal in her Om & Namaste workshop and from her podcast, and we are thrilled that she is a new guest faculty in our 2022 YTT. Tejal advocates for yoga through a social justice lens and educates and empowers individuals and groups around the world to do the same. You can learn more from Tejal at:
Tejal Yoga where virtual yoga & meditation classes are led by South Asian teachers who honor and embody the authentic roots of yoga.
Yoga is Dead where they bring critical conversations about race, power, privilege, body politics, harassment, fair pay, veganism, ahimsa, and gatekeeping to the forefront through our podcast and signature training on cultural appropriation: Act Against Appropropriation, and now through our e-book out now The Original Godmothers of Yoga.
@abcdyogi, an inclusive community that facilitates healing and connection through storytelling, conversation, performance, art, song, dance, writing, and retreat led by South Asian community offered to a global audience.
Rabia Meghani is an Ayurvedic Practitioner, Yoga Therapist and Researcher. She is a new guest faculty in our 2022 YTT sharing ayurveda from a decolonizing lens. Rabia’s formal education is in public health and epidemiology. Merging her knowledge of disease and the ancient science of Yoga and Ayurveda, Rabia aims to modernize eastern healing teachings and make them accessible to the masses while honoring the roots of the science. Her passion lies in harmonizing western medicine with eastern healing methodologies.
Indu Vashist is a historian, yoga teacher and the executive director of the South Asian Visual Arts Centre in Toronto. Indu will be joining us as a guest faculty for our 2022 YTT program sharing about the history of yoga both on the Indian continent and as it has evolved in North America. We highly recommend this podcast with Indu on Mindful Strength.
Susanna Barkataki’s work and activism uplifting yoga and social justice has deeply influenced our approach at The Branches. We read her book Embrace Yoga’s Roots in our book club and it is a key text in our YTT.