Sleeping in Savasana

My yoga journey

Cult of Yoga part II

on July 2, 2015

I’m enjoying reading about yoga cults and thought I’d give a quick update on some things that I’ve found.

Firstly I wanted to read more and think about what a cult is.

The Oxford English Dictionary definition is;


Pronunciation: /kʌlt/

Definition of cult in English:


1A system of religious veneration and devotion directed towards a particular figure or object: the cult of St Olaf

1.1A relatively small group of people having religious beliefs or practices regarded by others as strange or as imposing excessive control over members: a network of Satan-worshipping cults


1.2A misplaced or excessive admiration for a particular thing: the cult of the pursuit of money as an end in itself


2A person or thing that is popular or fashionable among a particular group or section of society: the series has become a bit of a cult in the UK

[AS MODIFIER]: a cult film

I like that the definition also has misplaced admiration as part of it. Wikipedia have a good article about the history of cults and the different definitions.

Next I thought about yoga and how the definition of cult could fit into yoga in general, without looking into any actual religious bodies or ‘proper cults’ that may use yoga as a means to recruit members.

Think about Ashtanga yoga and the practice of Mysore. Below are the some of the rituals of Mysore practice;

  • You shall practice the same sequence of movements five days a week first thing in the morning.
  • You shall take part in a lead practice every Friday with the rest of your community.
  • You shall not practice on Saturday’s or moon days. This is ‘forbidden’.
  • You shall chant the same words before and after each practice.
  • You shall not eat after 6pm to be a ‘good’ yogi.
  • You shall continue to practice even if ill or injured -not all studios but I’m aware of at least one that says to keep coming to class if injured.

We’ve got chanting in a language that most participants won’t understand, sleep deprivation, social exclusions (can’t eat out or stay out late if you can’t eat past 6pm and need to be up at 5.30am to practice), rituals that don’t make sense to outsiders.

If you look at it in those terms, a Mysore practitioner could be considered to be a member of a cult. Plus I’ve met some Mysore practitioners who think that they are ‘better’ than other yoga practitioners and look down on any other style of yoga.  I don’t think it’s a dangerous ‘cult’ to be part of but it’s something that those with addictive personality types need to be aware of.  Another thing to be aware of is those who have eating disorders, I can see that practicing this type of strict yoga routine and intensity could be dangerous for many who have an existing problem.

Next I’m going to look at how ‘proper’ cults use yoga to recruit.

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