Harmful Yoga: The latest dangerous New Religious Movement?

New Religious Movements


Eastern Yogic traditions are gaining popularity in Western society, with more yoga studios and places for yogic practices emerging daily. The rapid influx and manipulation of these traditional practices, has resulted in a widespread movement of this ancient knowledge, now seemingly coinciding with the new age movement. Although many of these practices have been altered to a point of inconsistency and separation to the origins, they still claim to provide the benefits, healing and spirituality as the original tradition. However, with western society still differing in values and beliefs from eastern traditions the knowledge, protocols and discipline associated may have been lost in the whirlwind of popularity and synthesized western umbrella practices.

Bikram yoga has already gained a reputation in the west for being one of the more physically challenging types of yoga practice. Bikram founder Bikram Choudhury and Los Angeles hot yoga movement father now has a sexual harassment lawsuit filed against him for causing injury and emotional abuse through his teachings (http://lat.ms/XKwhaT). Choudhury is described as anything but the stereotypical yoga master with a love for material possessions and name dropping. Choudhury promotes himself to possess a charisma and connection to the mysterious that makes him an ideal candidate for a new religious movement leader.

Could this lawsuit against Choudhury for his misuse of authority and trust be the first of many to come in the North American world of yoga practice? It is known that more patients than ever before are requiring physiotherapy and other corrective measures due to injuries caused through misguided instruction by the teacher and lack of self discipline and body knowledge on the part of the student. Is it not the responsibility of the student (member) to be accountable for their own actions and how far they allow their instructor (leader) to push them? This case is highly reflective of many other New Religious Movements and the relationship between leader and member, or teacher and student. Where is one to draw the line with conflicting interests, trust and responsibility within these groups?

-RM 341


6 thoughts on “Harmful Yoga: The latest dangerous New Religious Movement?

  1. To refer to a new religious movement as ‘harmful’ or ‘dangerous’ as a result of the actions of a select few individuals seems a bit extreme in my opinion. New religious movements tend to be ostracized and demonized by popular opinion whereas their core messages and benefits are often overlooked. Although the actions of Bikram Choudhury are deplorable its not exactly fair to view the movement itself as deplorable. Whenever people are put in positions of power there will be abuse of power whether it be minute or on a grand scale; religions are not exempt from this unfortunate fact. The abuse of power is found in almost every religious movement, it is our responsibility to look at the religion as a whole to determine it’s safety and benefits.

    -DdS 341

    • I’ve heard plenty of negative feedback surrounding Bikram yoga, and yoga in general. Most yoga classes are indeed Westernized and lose touch with the original, more spiritual or religious-based message it was meant for. The harmful nature that is associated with these kinds of movements comes from the sole interpretations of the individuals. This includes the teachers and the students. The teacher in this case, Bikram Choudhury, gave a bad name to both his practice and yoga in general. Although modern interpretations of the yoga trend in the West may collapse into itself due to such behaviour as Bikram displayed, yoga itself is much too old a spiritual practice to cease to be.

  2. I think this is an interesting thought. As stated, Bikram Choudhury is giving his practice a bad name. But to me that seems unimportant. The key here is based in the original conception of Yoga, which is positive action in mind and body. Do these modern Yoga movements seem to focus on positive action in the body more than in the mind, or vice-versa? Every experience I’ve had in a Yoga studio tells me that it is the first. The movement for genuine mental action has been replaced with a different, New Age lexicon. Countless times have I been told to “feel the tension in my spleen dissipate”, or any other example of senseless advice that attempts to sound appropriately spiritual, but rings truly hollow.

    So, does the commercialization and westernization of Yoga behave as it assumes Yoga should? And if so, does that not make it hollow? I find it unsurprising that the physical aspects of the practice have changed as well to cater to a new social sphere, with new cultural figures in charge.

  3. People seem to blame others for their misfortunes and in this case personal injury. The instructors cannot feel what the students feel, so it is the students responsibility to know their limits and not exceed them, even if they are told to. The fact that this new religion is harmful is a bit much, especially since it is one person being charged, that seems like a pretty big generalization.

  4. It seems that a charismatic figure such as Choudhury is a prime candidate as a leader of a new religious movement. Of course, whether a group of yoga students and their instructor could be considered a new religious movement is questionable, but certain factors could lead to making a strong case for this assumption. One such factor is the students devotion to their leader, as you have observed. If people are putting so much trust in Choudhury that they are hurting themselves, or allowing themselves to be hurt or harassed, this would go a long way toward identifying the group as a new religious movement. Another factor which could be considered is the group’s devotion to Choudhury in other areas of life, such as a belief system.

  5. Yoga promotes wellness, harmony, peace and meditation, so that the founder of the bikhram style yoga has a sexual harassment lawsuit against him is exceptionally surprising. It does not sound as though Chouduy embodies what yoga is designed to teach whatsoever. I found it very interesting that you compared the student, instructor relationship in yoga to that of the member leader relationships in cults. It is very easy to push oneself at the direction of an instructor farther than perhaps the body is comfortable with. In yoga this may not always result in something too detrimental however when it comes to the mind and mental abuse, it can be extremely dangerous.

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