Rachel Johnson

Yoga has become a hot cultish mess

Ommm… are you in the lotus position? Then I’ll begin.

The studio was literally Hades, four industrial heaters blasting in each corner. We were crouching on our knees, sweat dripping, foreheads to the floor. It was a weekday morning. Then our instructor said the six words I can never unhear.

‘Flower your anus to the sky,’ he ordered all the middle-aged WFH men in shorts and yummy mummies in crop tops in this crunchy-granola bit of north-west London. He jutted his rock-hard buns heavenwards as an exemplar of the uttana shishosana pose or, as I prefer to call it, ‘kneeling’.

When did the lines blur and yoga become a hot cultish mess of sex and spirituality?

Even though I’d pre-paid for a package of yoga lessons to save money, I struck my antimicrobial, biodegradable mat and cried: ‘No more!’ This was the last time I would park to pay and be told to be ‘thankful for my instrument’. Everyone talks in yoga-speak as if this side-plank is your true vocation, and everything else you do a trivial side hustle.

So this is my question: since when did the lines blur and yoga become a hot cultish mess of sex and spirituality rather than a free and easy way to get a flatter tummy, which is frankly all I ever wanted from ‘my practice’?

The intersection between yoga and abuse, with many so-called gurus masquerading as predators, is long established. If you want evidence, google Rachel Brathen, aka Yoga Girl, who has been harvesting stories from hundreds of victims of self-styled ‘gurus’. There’s also this summer’s news that several police forces are investigating multiple cases of abuse reported to the Yoga Teachers Union. ‘Cases range from sexual assault during assists going through to senior teachers having serial coercive relationships with people they are responsible for teaching, grooming and all the way up to rape,’ said Clair Yates of the YTU last month.

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