Theo is a yoga teacher, writer, Barefoot Body guest tutor, and scholar working for a more sustainable relationship between our many selves, the communities that hold us, and the world that nourishes us.
Her research considers the democratisation of yoga post-lineage, and the many different ways yoga communities are responding to concerns about safety in practice.
She’s a lover of vulnerable people, of wild things and wild places, and of the simple miracle of life itself.
We're lucky enough to host her for two events in Cambridge this November, and she's even agreed to answer a few of our questions...
How did yoga find you?
I think my first class was when I was a teenager at university, which I went to a few times, but didn’t take that seriously. I did that for years, just popping along to a local class or doing a little home practice.
I had various other practices that I explored too – martial arts, ecstatic dance, meditation of various kinds, and so on. And then I just realised one day that out of all the practices I did over the years, the one I came back to again and again was yoga, so I thought I should probably explore why that is. I didn’t stop the other explorations, but the focus of my daily practice became yoga.
And then my first proper teacher was a retired chemist called Colin, in a tiny group class of Hatha Yoga. Pretty classic, really.
How would you describe your yoga practice and how has it evolved over the years?
My own practice has evolved a lot. I moved on from the gentle Hatha Yoga with Colin to a couple of years of Ashtanga, and then my first teacher training was in Anusara.
So for a few years my practice was physically intense, and involved a lot of exploring my hypermobility, while trying to stay safe and get strong. In the end though I started to get really tired, and I needed to do more with less, and be more intuitive.
I started training with and hanging out with teachers like Uma Dinsmore-Tuli, Angela Farmer – all these radical, mostly female teachers, and also with a lot of bhakti practitioners. That’s my sangha now, the radicals and the bhaktas!
So these days my practice is much shorter, and it can involve all sorts of elements, depending on the day.
What’s the most valuable lesson yoga has taught you?
At the risk of being cosmic about it, I think there’s an experience that I associate with yoga, a coming home to yourself that is sometimes comfortable, sometimes not, that’s hard to describe as a lesson.
It’s more of a way of being than a concept.
If you could write a new definition for yoga, what would it say?
I wouldn’t. I mean, I think it makes more sense to talk about diverse yogas – yoga of medieval India, yoga for competitive exercise, yoga for self-healing, yoga for divine communion, and so on.
But for my thesis I did have to come up with a definition of what I was researching. The definition I offered there was less ‘this is what yoga is or should be’, more ‘when I say yoga in this thesis, this is what I am talking about’.
It’s pretty academic, so forgive the technical terms, but I think it shows how difficult it can be to define yoga even when we can agree on what it looks like.
“A regular routine that includes self-conscious, ritualised movement focused on somatic experience, set within subcultures of practice that are linked to diverse beliefs and engaged in complex relationships with the religions and cultures of the Indian sub-continent.”
What’s your philosophy for living?
I’m not sure that I have one, but I’m fascinated when other people do. I guess that’s why I’m the researcher!
Who or what are the most inspiring influences in your life?
On a day to day basis, I’m always inspired by the unheard stories – the people finding meaning in the most difficult, even cruel of circumstances. Our capacity to do that as sentient beings is unending and incredible.
I like to think that part of my job, my path, is to amplify those voices, to recognise the dignity in those who have been treated with so little respect.
What do you think the future of yoga holds?
Change. Always change.
And if we’re talking specifically about yoga here as we know it, globalised yoga, I think we’re seeing a reckoning and a growing up.
We’re at a point where we’re ready to really start talking about where the teaching goes wrong, where inequality stains what we do despite our best efforts, where relationships of care become abusive, deliberately or not, and how we can do better.
Hopefully without too much interference or influence from commercial and bureaucratic forces.
Tell us something about you that we wouldn’t know...
There could be a lot of answers to that! I spent the first few years of my life living on the former worker’s estate at Bourneville, Birmingham, where my parents bought their first house. Chocolate runs in my veins.
If you could recommend one yoga-related book or resource for the Barefoot Body community, what would it be?
You can’t expect me to pick just one! I’m going to cheat and give you three books that I’ve been reading only this month:
Donna Farhi and Leila Stuart’s Pathways to a Centred Body to focus on biomechanics
Jivana Heyman’s Accessible Yoga to focus on justice issues, and
Suzanne Newcombe’s Yoga In Britain to be up to date with research.
What are we not talking about enough in the yoga community?
Who doesn’t get to access the practice, how we handle abreactions and abuse, how we create sustainability in our communities of practice, and how we reconcile what we do with an increasingly anxious population, rising inequality, and a warming planet.
And I think we don’t talk about these issues enough because there are no easy answers, and we’ve become accustomed to being people with answers.
Theo Wildcroft is hosting two events in Cambridge for Barefoot Body in November 2019. The first is a talk on "Post-Lineage Yoga" at Espresso Library on Friday evening 8th November. The second is a day-long workshop for yoga teachers on "Connection, Service & Relationship" on Saturday 9th November, where we'll be exploring practical ways to create community in our yoga spaces.