Experience: my yoga class turned out to be a cult
After a few months, I realised I wasn’t seeing my friends and family as much as I used to. The organisation didn’t like it
I was 22 when I moved to a different US city and needed a new yoga studio. I discovered a place that believed in eastern mysticism – perfect for an open-minded spiritualist, which was how I saw myself at the time.
I walked in and a young woman was very excited to see me. She paid attention to my every word, making me feel cared about. I then met with a “master”, who informed me I was in very poor energetic health and needed to sign up right away. The classes were quirky. We’d do 40 minutes of exercise and meditation to a mix of new age flute music and Michael Jackson. It was far less pretentious than the yoga studios I had visited before. I decided to join for the haggled price of $100 (£79) a month.
During my second class, the teacher gave me a healing massage, rubbing my chest with both hands. I started to cry. A friend had killed herself a few weeks before and I was probably more emotionally raw than I realised.
As I got better at yoga, the masters told me I had potential. Within a month, my master had personally requested that I attend a weekend retreat the organisation was hosting in the Arizona desert, where about 400 people spent time doing yoga. I’d have to pay my airfare, plus fees to the organisation.
The retreat was fancy: lots of rich Californians in a huge house with a pool, gardens and many outhouses. We were well fed. I made close friends from around the world, forging deep bonds with other members, some sexually charged. I had a good time.
After that, I attended two more retreats. At one, the leader addressed the crowd in the manner of a minister giving a sermon. (There was even a special chair that only he could sit on.) Before he was introduced on the opening night, the crowd was whipped into a frenzy as loud dance music played; a rock star entrance.