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  • Writer's picturelifexploratrice

Sects and Yoga: a reality?

We think of cults as something that only exists in the newspapers, which often talk about them in a clumsy way, having little knowledge of the field of self-exploration/Yoga. Are cults real? Can this concern you?

What is a cult?

I think there's a lot of misunderstanding. As a result, we associate several concepts in our heads with the term 'cult'. We hear: 'Yoga? Spirituality?' and then we put it in "the potential cult category". But sects as we understand them in France, i.e. a denunciation of an unhealthy activity, correspond to something very specific.

A cult can be run by one or more people. The larger the group, the more destructive its hold on the people concerned. However, even with one person maintaining the sect, this can already have a significant destructive effect. Because it's not what you think it is. Sects are not written on the front of a place that houses them.

For the most part, they pass on universal knowledge, so you might not be fooled straight away.

A sect does not need to hold any particular religious or spiritual beliefs to be one.

We've heard a lot about cults that espouse beliefs that are outside the mainstream of society. But a proportion (I'd like to say a large proportion, but I don't have any figures to give) of sects may not be directly linked to the texts or subjects studied, but to the way in which they are studied and interpreted. You may then hear Yoga principles such as reconnection with oneself, letting go, which are both relevant to cultivate and may resonate within you and, before you realise it, you may find yourself in an organisation that uses these concepts for toxic, controlling purposes.


A cult is perhaps not as easily identifiable as you might think, because what makes it a cult is its great capacity for manipulation. Everyone can be emotionally and psychically manipulated. It is better to not think you're immune to this, or too intelligent or sceptical to find yourself in a toxic situation. You can encounter them in the workplace, at home and in your private life.

The definition of a cult is not based on its spiritual nature, but on its toxic nature.

What does toxic mean? We're talking about an insidious way of upsetting your perception of yourself, of making you feel bad about yourself (guilt-tripping), of manipulating you so that it becomes increasingly difficult for you to discern the alarming nature of the situation you're in. Psychological and emotional manipulation takes away your ability to think clearly for yourself. The people who are quickest to avoid this or get out of it are not intellectuals; on the contrary, they are people with strong intuition and self-respect.

Near you, in your neighbourhood

Cults have no location. Although it is ideal to have a place isolated from everything in order to manipulate better. They will seek to isolate you, emotionally and psychologically, even if you are not physically alone. This may involve manipulating you into eradicating your friends and family, telling you that they are useless, ignorant or an obstacle to you. To manipulate, they'll try to make you as dependent as possible so that you stay "on the straight and narrow path" - which is what the cult is - at all levels.

It could be the association, the studio or the weekly neighbourhood meeting. Sound out the atmosphere. In sects, to manipulate (often unconsciously) they will tell you what is good and what is bad. They will insinuate that you are not this or that or too much of this or that, they will imply that they know more about you than you do, in a condescending way. There are bound to be things that ring alarm bells inside you, so let's not ignore them. Find out more about this place, are there any reviews? Can you contact some of the students? Can you visit first and meet the people and observe them? Did they make you feel bad about yourself? Have they questioned your integrity? How do they behave with others and with each other? Is there toxic judgement? Implied good and bad behaviour? Is there an underlying tension? Often the joy shown in this context is only superficial; to be within a sect you experience a lot of anger, sadness and fear.

A cult manipulates through words and emotions, but their actions are often close to immorality. Fear and questioning are very effective tools for them. With principles of echelons, of top brass and newcomers, of favourites and least favourites, it's a way of manipulating more effectively. There's bound to be a whole organisational stratagem to help you get caught up in their madness. Because I think it's madness, as much for the pain it causes others as for the pain in those who create it.

A sect can be created and maintained by one or more men (often one person) but also by one or more women. Sex has nothing to do with it.

A cult is not necessarily associated with financial manipulation. People think that for an organisation to be defined as a cult it must automatically involve financial abuse. No. A cult can ask for little or no money. It remains a cult. Depending on the desire of the toxic leader, money may or may not be involved.

You are now perhaps better informed on the subject so as not to automatically associate spirituality/self-exploration with a cult, to be aware that it is a very popular medium (for good reasons) and that since the dawn of time it has been abused in large numbers, sometimes in your country and sometimes in your town or neighbourhood. You also know that money is not a determining factor, although it can be a characteristic. You've seen that anyone can fall victim to this because it's toxicity, the same mechanism of tocixity that you can experience at work or in your more intimate circle. You should also be aware that the term is used in this way in France (although it does not have an exact definition) but that in other countries it can mean something else. For example, the term can be found in ancient texts relating to Yoga in India, but used with a different meaning that does not refer to these devastating manipulations.

Words have different meanings in different contexts, so let's keep that in mind and, if I must finish with some inspiring words: our discernment is a tool that must never be sacrificed. A powerful tool in conjunction with intuition and intellect, we can allow ourselves to hear the alarms of the body and mind. We also have the ability to withstand any life test. We are always free to make our own choices and actions.

As a Yoga guide, I've had to leave some of the places where I taught because of toxic elements. I'm alert, and at the same time confident, because I'm very connected to my intuition and my ability to make decisions. I've also been a witness to and been aware of some very borderline retreats. However, at the same time, I've taught and teach in fabulous places where the question doesn't arise, and fortunately that's the majority of cases in the field! In my sessions I emphasise each person's freedom and discernment. Teaching fear has no place in Yoga, and neither do judgements that belittle. A yoga session, with an inspiring teacher, is a gentle moment where you reconnect with yourself, a time for sharing and discovery, when everyone is respected and knows they are in control of their own well-being.


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