In a multicultural society that is normally careful to deal even-handedly with minority groups of differing ethnic or faith backgrounds, yoga and yoga organisations have at times been tarnished with the label “cult” by sections of the media aided and abetted by voices that are far from impartial and objective. As a Dru Yoga teacher of many years, I offer the following observations in the hope of bringing some balance to a topic that is all too often presented in a far from balanced way.
The word “cult” means literally “a group of people who share a common belief or faith.” It is the same root that gives us the word “culture” and “multicultural” but of course in recent years its popular meaning has moved far from its origins to the one so beloved by sections of the media, and in particular the tabloid press.
There’s no doubt that as stories go, cults are up there with philandering politicians and celebrity “kiss and tells” as far as sales of newspapers go.
Over the years, there have been quite a few yoga schools and organisations that have found themselves on the wrong end of a cult newspaper article. I think that there are a number of reasons that perfectly legitimate organisations have suffered this fate.
Firstly, as any serious student of yoga knows, yoga, whilst having its roots in Hinduism, makes no demands of its practitioners to follow any particular faith or belief system. It deals with the metaphysical and spiritual whilst not enjoying the protection afforded to a religion. Yoga deals with principles that enhance human life and elevate consciousness in a way that is spiritual but that leaves it open to misunderstanding and misinterpretation by a secular observer.
Secondly, our tabloid press, have when it suits them, formed an alliance of convenience with what sociologists call “cult watching groups.” These groups, who claim to be objective and impartial, purport to protect society from organisations that they themselves define as cults. In reality, these cult watching groups are sometimes underpinned by a Christian fundamentalist motive which is intolerant of any expression of faith or spirituality that does not fit into their world view.
As a practitioner or Dru Yoga over many years, I have seen so many people’s health and well being improve by a surprisingly modest amount of yoga practice. Yoga encourages a flexible and healthy body and mind. It’s rather ironic that a society that prides itself on its tolerance and multicultural credentials should allow the very linguistic root of its multicultural nature to be used to exploit something as positive as yoga for commercial and narrow-minded objectives.