Cult Dynamics in Yoga and Buddhism: Recognition, Recovery, Resilience

Fridays at 4pm ET (+5 for the UK, +16 for AUS/NZ)
May 1 – June 19, 2020

It’s now clear that institutional abuse in global modern yoga and Buddhist communities is not an aberration. It’s common. The list of compromised organizations is relentless, and growing. Can we learn from this, and begin to build community resilience for the times to come?

This eight-class series will platform survivors’ voices, introduce accessible cult dynamics resources, and elevate critical thinking as a tool of spiritual inquiry — all with the goal of liberating our communities from toxic power dynamics.

Each webinar is 2 hours long, allowing for Q&A. If you miss the live webinar, you’ll be able to catch the replay, which will be available indefinitely. Registrants will be invited to a Google Classroom, where further questions and discussion can unfold, and where all references and links will be posted.

This course offers a total of 20 programming hours for 150 CAD.* 

*NB [March 14, 2020]: Due to COVID-19 disruptions, closures, and income loss hitting the yoga profession hard, this course fee is SUGGESTED. If the cost is beyond your means at this time because of the pandemic or any other reason, we can negotiate a fee reduction. Please email me at [email protected], and we’ll work out what works for you. One hitch in the discount process is that you will need to register for the full amount up front, because Stripe does not at this time offer variable pricing or discount codes. However, I can refund the agreed-upon discount on the same day. 

YA CEU category: “Yoga Philosophy, Lifestyle and Ethics.” Certificates will be issued upon completion to those who request.

Recommended texts (no-cost resources will also be provided):

Cult Dynamics in Yoga and Buddhism: Recognition, Recovery, Resilience

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Class Breakdown

Sample Slides

May 1, 2020

The Cultic Landscape, Its Patterns, and PRISM

It’s now clear that institutional abuse in global modern yoga and Buddhist communities is not an aberration. It’s common. The list of compromised organizations is relentless, and growing. What can we learn from this? The language of cult analysis begins to provide a way of connecting the dots: of seeing that groups that marketed themselves as elite and unique from each other share common attributes and predictable patterns. This seminar will conclude with a basic hygiene tool developed in PAAIC. The PRISM method can help foster safety through critical thinking as yoga students and professionals approach this landscape of towering heights and deep shadows.

Sample Slides

May 8, 2020

Cult Definitions and Readings

Cult analysis provides rich and evocative tools for examining the qualities of group experience. In this seminar we’ll look at the most common and useful definitions and resources available that promote recognition, recovery, and resilience, and help orient ourselves for future learning. We’ll also look at the pros and cons of using these tools in private and public settings if our aim is to nurture community health.

Sample Slides

May 15, 2020

Social Control Mechanisms in Yoga and Buddhism

The practices of any group can betray their promise, and act to enforce compliance to the leader or the group. Clothing, naming, and dietary changes can isolate members from birth families and former social circles. Getting up at 4am to invoke trance states can debilitate the capacity to question and be enormously suggestive. Cults will also demand that you see and think of the leaders in very particular ways. However, the practices taught by high-demand groups aren’t inherently coercive. The trick is to find where the practices cross the threshold between “Wow! here’s a new thing that I love to do and which seems to help me with X condition” to “Um, here’s this thing I must do every day because, um, I forget, but I’m a little scared to stop.” Beyond that threshold, the practices may perform the function of psychosocial control.

Sample Slides

May 22, 2020

Attachment Theory: Alexandra Stein

Alexandra Stein has pioneered the application of attachment theory to cult dynamics. What’s so brilliant about this is that it takes a framework that almost almost every psychotherapist in the world uses to explore interpersonal relationships — and scales it up to group dynamics. Briefly: Stein shows that the main task of the high-demand group is to re-wire the recruit’s attachment patterning towards the disorganized end of the spectrum, where they sink into an acute state of arousal amidst the contradiction of needing to devote themselves to the person who is abusing them. She shows how surrendering to the tension of this conflict can seem to provide deep relief, even euphoria. In this seminar we’ll explore Stein’s research and the troubling proximity of euphoric and dissociative states, which, when conflated by an abusive group, can become a powerful mechanism of control. We’ll also look at how nurturing healthier attachment strategies can be helpful in personal recovery, and when attempting to help a friend or family member.

Sample Slides

May 29, 2020

Leaders, Enablers, Bystanders, Beneficiaries

Who are these abusive leaders? How did they become who they are? There are no easy answers to these questions, because cult leaders don’t generally offer themselves up for psychological assessment. But the theories of Daniel Shaw (“traumatic narcissism”) and Len Oakes (“prophetic charisma”) shed some light, and we’ll look into them. Just as importantly, we’ll explore the “networks of complicity” that surround leaders, which feature active enablers, passive bystanders, and those who benefit socially or financially from abuse as it becomes institutionalized.

Sample Slides

Coming soon

June 5, 2020

Close to Home: Cult Dynamics on the Local Level

The dynamics we’re exploring in this course don’t have to be large-scale and well-organized in order to be deeply harmful. In this seminar we’ll explore several unpublished accounts of cult mechanisms at play in intimate environments: independent studios, location trainings, and in the sphere of seemingly independent travelling teachers. What do we do when the cultic is close to home?

Sample Slides

June 12, 2020

Best Practices: Personal and Group Hygiene

In PAAIC I outline 8 Best Practices for community health. We’ll explore the value of “Assessing situational vulnerability” etc., using reflection questions to personalize and contextualize learning. Questions include:
Have you ever felt a compelling charge or sense of enthralment in relation to an authority figure or group you’ve just encountered and know little about? How did that feeling influence your behavior?

Can you remember a period of time when the compelling figure or group seemed to be all-good? What did it feel like when a more complex picture emerged?

Have you ever experienced a confusing, “double” feeling in relation to a teacher, group leader, or group? This might feel like both wanting and not wanting some kind of attention or contact at the same time. How did you handle that feeling? Did you do anything that surprised you in response to it?

Can you think of an interesting or charismatic teacher who has moved you emotionally with their speaking skill, but if you were asked to summarize or paraphrase their message, you’d be stumped?

Sample Slides

June 19, 2020

Reporting, Accountability, Policy

Although many cult leaders and their lieutenants engage in illegal activities (assault and fraud being foremost) most of the things that the groups surrounding them do to control and abuse members are perfectly legal. How do we shed light on toxic social dynamics? In this concluding seminar, we’ll look at the barriers and opportunities in journalism and self-publishing, and study how both the Shambhala and Sivananda organizations crowd-sourced community investigation efforts (and whether/how these have been effective). We’ll also look at the powers and limitations of trade organizations like Yoga Alliance.