International Cultic Studies Association: Upcoming Events

ICSA International Cultic Studies Association

ICSA International Cultic Studies Association

Founded in 1979, the International Cultic Studies Association (ICSA) is a global network of people concerned about psychological manipulation and abuse in cultic or high-demand groups, alternative movements, and other environments. ICSA is tax-exempt, supports civil liberties, and is not affiliated with any religious or commercial organizations.

ICSA is unique in how it brings together former group members, families, helping professionals and researchers.

We highly recommend ICSA. See our sister site,, for details.

International Cultic Studies Association

Upcoming Events

Recovery Workshop for Former Group Members (July 31 - August 2, 2015) - Colorado Springs, Colorado

Organized by Carol Giambalvo, a thought reform consultant, these workshops are for former group members only, not family or friends (ICSA has other events for these persons. ICSA also has a special workshop for former group members who were born or raised in high-demand groups.)
ICSA Recovery Workshops: The Colorado Model

High-Control Groups: Helping Former Members and Families (November 6-8, 2015) - Santa Fe, New Mexico

This conference will focus on the needs of former group members and families and will include a training track for mental health professionals.

Surviving and Moving On After a High-Demand Group Experience: A Workshop for Second-Generation Former Members (April 15-17, 2016) - Chester, CT

As increasing numbers of people born or raised in cultic movements have reached adulthood, the International Cultic Studies Association has developed a program that addresses their special needs. Two articles describe this program: (1) Lessons Learned from SGAs About Resiliency and Recovery (Leona Furnari and Rosanne Henry) and (2) My Perspective of Rosanne Henry and Leona Furnari’s Presentation to the Annual SGA Workshop (Patrick Rardin) describe this program. There is also a video on ICSA's YouTube channel: "Born or Raised in Cultic Groups" with Lorna Goldberg and Leona Furnari.

Meeting annually since 2006, this workshop addresses the needs of SGAs (Second Generation Adults) through presentations by specialists and former members, including discussions in which attendees may participate according to their comfort levels. Special attention is paid to the need of SGAs for privacy, reflection, and working at their own pace.

Call for Papers: ICSA Annual Conference (June 30 - July 2, 2016; preconference workshops on June 29th) - Dallas Texas

The International Cultic Studies Association (ICSA) is conducting its 2016 Annual International Conference jointly with Info-Secte/Info-Cult of Montreal in Dallas, Texas. The conference will take place from June 30 through July 2, 2016 (preconference workshops on Wednesday June 29). The conference will address the needs and interests of ICSA’s four main constituencies: former group members, families, helping professionals, and researchers.

Full story: International Cultic Studies Association: Upcoming Events

Anti-gay bakery owners must pay $135.000 to lesbian couple



The Christian owners of the Sweetcakes by Melissa bakery in Gresham, Oregon who denied service to a same-sex couple must pay $135,000 in damages, the state's Bureau of Labor and Industries has ruled.

The bakery refused to bake a wedding cake cake for lesbian couple Laurel and Rachel Bowman-Cryer in January 2013.

In April this year, a judge ruled that the bakery had discriminated against the couple and suggested damages of $135,000. Now, the Bureau of Labor and Industries has affirmed that amount, ordering Sweet Cakes to pay it.
Sweet Cake by Melissa
Bakery owners Aaron and Melissa Klein said their refusal to bake for the lesbian couple was prompted by their religious beliefs regarding marriage.

The case has been cited in the national debate over religious freedom and discrimination against gays.

The couple intends to appeal the decision.

Last April crowdfunding site GoFundMe shut down the couple's campaign because it involved formal charges.

The Kleins will still receive the $109,000 donated to the fund before it was shut down.

Meanwhile, Samaritan’s Purse has established a fund to help people who face financial distress and are punished for their sincerely held religious beliefs, convictions, and conscience.

Full story: Anti-gay bakery owners must pay $135.000 to lesbian couple

Polygamous FLDS cult erects wall around meetinghouse



The insular Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS) is building a "fortress-type" wall around its meeting house in Colorado City, Arizona.

Private investigator Sam Brower, who has observed the cult for many years, says he has no doubt that the wall is being erected on the express orders of FLDS leader Warren Jeffs.

Jeffs, whom followers believe to be a prophet who speaks for God, is serving a sentence of life plus 20 years in a Texas prison after he was found guilty of taking underage girls as his wives in what were claimed to be 'spiritual marriages.'

While his brother, Lyle, and other leaders in the cult take care of day to day business, Warren Jeffs continues to rule his followers with an iron fist.

Theologically, the FLDS is considered to be a cult of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS, commonly known as the Mormon Church) -- which itself is, also theologically, a cult of Christianity.

It is the best known among many such groups, most of which separated from the church over the issue of polygamy.

Interestingly, for the most part, the doctrines and practices of Mormon Fundamentalists are closer to those of the original Mormon Church than are the doctrines and practices of today's Mormon Church.

Sociologically the FLDS is also consider a cult. The movement has been in the news for ousting young boys, for reassigning the wives and children of excommunicated men to men who are for the time being still in good standing, for forcing girls into underage marriages, for other forms of child abuse, and a range of other issues.

Full story: Polygamous FLDS cult erects wall around meetinghouse

‘Tis the Season… Advent and the Yoga Yamas

November 4, 2013 by  
Filed under Hatha Yoga

Before the Halloween candy was eaten, we were plunged into “the season.” You know the one I’m talking about—the blur of festivities that is Thanksgiving, Hanukah, Christmas and New Years, all rolled into one. The pressure started November 1—or sooner if you let those premature retail Christmas trees that popped up at the end of the summer get to you. Kudos to rebel retailer Nordstrom, who closed Thanksgiving day and eschewed Christmas decorations until today. Odd that this common sense, one-holiday-at-a-time approach is a complete anomaly in today’s consumption-crazed society.

Even if you’ve managed to stay away from the stores today, I bet you’re feeling the pressure to buy even from your inbox. I know I am. It seems as if the whole world is on sale, and we are missing out if we don’t start snapping up the bargains.

There is no better time to use your yoga to maintain a sense of peace that really should define this season of gratitude, hope and rebirth. This task will require using your yoga on and off your mat. It is not enough to cultivate calm for that hour of asana practice. To embody the real spirit of the season, you’ll need to grab a yama or niyama or two from yoga’s philosophic underpinnings.

Here are some you might consider trying out this holiday season. See how they work for you. Do they help you distance yourself from the materialism that threatens to rob us of the sacred nature of this seasonal turning point marked by the Winter Solstice? Do they keep you more balanced? Just by looking within for these answers, you are practicing the niyama of svadhyaya or self-study.

Niyama of Santosha (contentment)… This time of year, especially, our culture shouts, “More, more, more!” while our hearts are yearning for a slower pace, whispering, “Enough…enough…enough.” We can use our asana, pranayama and our meditation to consciously cultivate an inner sense of contentment—a deep knowing that we already have enough and we already are enough. This can help us resist the desire to overdo and to overbuy.

Niyama of Tapas (austerity)… Austerity gets a bad rap in our modern, pampered world. We are, it turns out, a bit spoiled. Austerity, though, is not asking us to take a vow of poverty. This yama, which is particularly balancing to our Western consumer-oriented culture, simply asks us to look honestly at our needs and our wants. To learn the difference and proceed mindfully as we meet the needs and consider the wants of our heart and of those around us. There is often a better way to spread holiday joy than by buying a material gift. Those crayoned hand-made coupons for unlimited hugs and kisses that our kids make us are a perfect example of this!

Yama of Asteya (non-covetousness)… Too often we are motivated by our desire to have what others possess. We do this because we are operating under two common false assumptions. First, we believe that what people have makes them who they are. And second, we buy into the myth that what you see on the outside—the store-bought trappings of life—is actually reflective of who people are inside. Bringing our awareness to these fallacies can help us joyfully accept our own reality, with its many blessings, this season.

Keeping your yogic mindset in tact during the coming weeks is a sure way to enhance your holiday celebrations and to spread the love to those around you. It’s not easy, and we won’t do it perfectly, but that’s why we call it a yoga practice, right?

Monette Chilson is a yoga practitioner and writer who contributes to Yoga Journal, writes regularly for Om Times and pens a monthly column for the Texas Yoga Association newsletter. Her search for the sacred reveals itself in her writings on her blog and her first book, Sophia Rising: Awakening Your Sacred Wisdom Through Yoga. She blogs at

Take Your Practice Out of Your Comfort Zone This Summer

July 10, 2013 by  
Filed under Christian yoga, Hatha Yoga

yoga in the summer on the beach
Summer. It’s that time of year when rules and dress codes relax. Even decades beyond school age, we feel as though the disciplinarians that normally keep us in line are looking the other way for a few months. As adults, we are often kept on that well-worn, responsible path by our own inner voice—its timbre a collection of tones and inflections collected over our lifetime. Some kind and loving. Some not so much.

This season offers you the opportunity to give your unhelpful inner teachers a well-deserved vacation. Bid them good-bye, and take your practice in a new direction. If your inner teachers are telling you that you aren’t strong enough, prove them wrong by practicing a strengthening pose every single day. Flip up into handstand and watch them gape, amazed. After three months of this, you will be strong.

Does one of those teachers tell you that your never be a back-bender and you better stick to your forward-bending forte? I have one who says that. Find a backbend—starting as gently and propped as needed—and prove to yourself that you can open your heart without sending yourself spiraling out of control.

Pick a pose that bothers you and explore why that might be. You just might discover something about your inner self that is being reflected back at you through your physical body.

Sophia Rising BookThis summer, stop internalizing the world around you. Spend some time in the yogic niyama of self-study (svadhyaya).  In my book, Sophia Rising: Awakening Your Sacred Wisdom Through Yoga, I describe it like this:

“Leave behind the belief that to study means to seek external knowledge and claim it for our own. Limiting the search for truth to outside sources—books, the Internet, sermons, lectures, others’ opinions—can be dangerous territory. The most important study we can ever do is internal. It is also precisely the work that we often try to avoid. It is so much easier to absorb from the environment than to explore the landscape of the soul.”
p. 51).

Christians contemplatives will find this idea congruous with Thomas Merton’s translation of Moses’ mandate to “go sit in your cell, and your cell will teach you everything.”

This summer, become an explorer of your own soul’s landscape. Meander, and push your edge. Strive for new heights, then honor your discoveries with some restorative poses. Find out what you’ve been avoiding, and find the strength to face it. That work will remain with you long after the lazy days of summer have given way to the dictates of the rest of the year. And you might even find that some of those inner teachers softened their criticism over the summer break!

MonetteIn addition to serving as the feature writer for the Texas Yoga Association’s newsletter, Monette Chilson is long-time yoga practitioner whose writing has appeared in Yoga Journal, Integral Yoga Magazine, Christian Yoga Magazine and Om Times. Her first book, Sophia Rising: Awakening Your Sacred Wisdom Through Yoga, was released this month by Bright Sky Press and is available at all online book retailers. She blogs at

The Bhagavad Gita: A Christian Perspective

February 6, 2013 by  
Filed under Bhagavad Gita

Christians who practice yoga read the ancient Bhagavad Gita with new eyes but also with questions. In the midst of a great battle, Arjuna and his friend, Lord Krishna, stop to discuss the meaning and purpose of human life.[/caption]
“The point, old friend – and this is very important – is to do your worldly duty, but do it without any attachment to it or desire for its fruits. Keep your mind always on the Divine (Atma, the Self). Make it as automatic as your breath or heartbeat. This is the way to reach the supreme goal, which is to merge into God.”
— Bhagavad Gita, Karma Yoga, 19 (Translator: Jack Hawley)

My interest in the Bhagavad Gita came from my admiration of Mohandas Gandhi. I had heard that it was an influential text in the development of his spiritual life, and from that moment on wanted a chance to read it. And it is no wonder it caught and captured Gandhi’s attention, for the Gita’s ancient wisdom is as relevant now as it was in the days it was written. Native to the peoples of the Indus Valley, it is claimed by some to be up to 5000 years old. It is part of a larger epic narrative called the Mahabharata, and contains about 700 verses. The Gita is difficult to translate because it contains so many terms that are easily understood within the context of Hindu culture, but are alien to the West. In fact, although the Gita itself is only traditionally 18 chapters in length, the common practice when translating it into English is to expound upon the text so much that volumes are added.

By pure chance (or God-incidence), I happened upon a translation by Jack Hawley. He wanted the West to have an experience of the Gita in a way that was accessible to them, without lengthening the text and losing its depth and feel. This was an incredible way to get my first taste of the compelling narrative, and it found its way instantly into my heart.

The Gita takes place in the middle of a battlefield, with both lines of soldiers facing each other, just moments before the fighting begins. Prince Arjuna, who represents the forces of good, is between the two lines in his chariot and looking over the foes drawn up against him. In those forces, he spots some of his own family members, former friends, and admired teachers. He begins to despair, thinking that he would rather die than kill all these people whom he loves so dearly. He slumps down in his chariot despondently, and looks to his chariot driver and dear old friend for advice.

What the prince does not know is that his driver happens to be Krishna, god incarnate. When Krishna sees that Arjuna has humbled himself to become his student, he begins to reveal the secrets of the universe, the meaning of life, and the ways of god himself. His monologue takes up the majority of the text.

A Christian reader is quickly amazed by the parallels found between Krishna’s description of the Hindu godhead, Brahman, and Christianity’s one true God. God (also called the Atma) is:
• The source and sustainer of all created things
• Eternal (goes on forever and has always been)
• Existence itself; pure consciousness (spirit)
• Unchanging, indestructible and immutable
• Everywhere
• Beyond time
• Unmanifested (invisible)
• Unknowable, as his ways and being are infinite
• Continually sacrificing to and serving all of creation selflessly
• Love itself

The end goal of humanity, namely unity with god, is also the same as the Christian one (called theosis). And how does one reach that goal? The path is beset with the same dangers as found in Christianity. As Christians, it is easy to fall into the error of trying to work our way to heaven. The Christian who truly understands the nature of grace knows that it is in surrender to God’s will and allowing God to work through you that you are brought closer to Christlikeness. The intentions of our hearts determine whether our works are burned up or produce fruit (1 Cor 3).
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Christian Yoga and John Paul II’s Theology of the Body

According to rabbinic tradition, the first commandment God gives Adam and Eve in the Garden is to have sex: Pru vehravu, “be fruitful and multiply.” It’s little wonder then that Christian theology has pondered for centuries the place that human sexuality and bodily existence have in God’s plan for the universe. On the one hand, anyone familiar with the Jewish testament knows that sexual attraction (and sexual sin) permeate virtually every book. What’s more, two centuries of crusading secularism has exaggerated Christian pruddery in the early centuries of Christianity and in the Middle Ages.

On the other hand, it’s also true that the monastic movement that led to so many cultural and educational achievements in the West did tend to emphasize the negative aspects of human sexuality and bodily existence — if only because vowed celibate monks and nuns inevitably saw sexual feelings as temptations to be avoided at all costs.

Into this tangled history stepped the late pope John Paul II. Raised by his widowed father in Poland during the nightmare of World War II, Karol Wotylwa was a working man, athlete and actor before he became a Catholic priest and a philosopher. His experience with young married couples during his early years as a pastor — combined with his in-depth study of early 20th century phenomenologists — allowed the young priest to see the sexual embrace and life in the body in an entirely new way: as quite literally a way to God.

When he was elected pope, John Paul delivered a remarkable series of 129 lectures during his Wednesday audiences on what has become known as the Theology of the Body (TOTB) — a very traditional, very radical teaching on human embodiment and sexual attraction that papal biographer George Weigel has described as “a kind of theological time bomb” that will have dramatic consequences …perhaps in the twenty-first century” (Witness to Hope, 343).

John Paul’s argument, in essence, is that both secular libertines and Christian pruddery have missed the point. Human beings are radically, essentially physical. Human beings are not “ghosts in a machine,” as Descartes described it.

In a dramatic way, the entire Christian understanding of the incarnation means that Christians are and must be “pro-sex” and must celebrate the body generally. I would even say that Christians take the body at least as seriously as the devotees of most religions, including even Hinduism. The doctrine of the bodily resurrection reflects the Christian belief that we are our bodies — that if we are to survive death then it must be a physical survival. A disembodied spirit would not be a human being.

In the Baghavad Gita, Krishna teaches Arjuna the exact opposite of the Christian view of our essentially bodily natures:

As a man discards his threadbare robes and puts on new, so the Spirit throws off its worn-out bodies and puts on new ones… The Spirit in man is imperishable.

While Christianity agrees with the Gita (and with yoga!) that there is an imperishable, immortal essence of the human being, which, for lack of a better word, the west has traditionally called the “soul,” it does not agree that the physical body is merely incidental to that essence — something that can be “thrown off” for a new one.

Rather, in the Christian view, we are embodied spirits or spiritual bodies — and thus it is our bodies themselves that are (or will be) immortal. Thus, the Christian hope is even more absurdly optimistic than people give us credit for: We actually believe that we will live forever… in glorified “resurrection” bodies, not as disembodied spirits. I’ve never been the least scandalized by those radical yogis who claim that yoga can lead to physical immortality of a sort or at least extreme longevity: it seems perfectly plausible to me given the Christian revelation.

That is why St. Paul tells the (male) Corinthians that they should take good care of their bodies and not defile themselves with prostitutes — and why Christian practitioners of yoga celebrate the body and do what we can to maintain good health. That is also why Pope John Paul II, in his teachings on the Theology of the Body, emphasized how incarnate human beings come to God in and through their bodies — and that sex, far from being inherently sinful, is actually a way to God. In John Paul’s teaching, sex (for non-celibate “householders”) is a sacrament (a “sign”) of divine presence because it is the preeminent example of that spiritual intimacy that is the birthright of all human beings.

10 Ways Meditation Can Change Your Life

November 11, 2012 by  
Filed under Health Benefits, Meditation

Many people see meditation as something that is ‘new age’ or ‘alternative.’ Nothing could be further from the truth. Meditation, which has become more and more popular in recent years, is actually a lost art form, which has been practiced for thousands and thousands of years. So, how can the lost art of meditation improve your life?

1.Through meditation, you can build confidence. The best way to build confidence with meditation is through guided meditation, which means that you use a recording to lead you through the meditation process. While this is happening, the recorded messages are actually building up your self confidence. It’s absolutely amazing.

2.With meditation, you can seriously increase your energy and your strength.
Because stress has so many profound effects on us mentally and physically, when we use meditation to eliminate or better control stress, we almost instantly have more energy – because our minds aren’t weighed down with problems, and more strength, because stress can literally affect your immune system, which affects everything else.

3.Meditation has proven to reduce stress, and many find that they experience less instances of stress when they practice meditation on a regular basis. It’s a proven tension reliever.

4.Meditation helps to keep you in a positive frame of mind, by actually increasing the levels of serotonin produced by the brain.
This will alleviate headaches, tension, depression, and numerous other problems, and give you a great sense of well-being as well.

5.With regular meditation, your blood pressure will remain normal.
This is largely due to the stress relief that meditation provides, but there is also an impact on how blood moves through the body, and how the blood vessels react in such a positive way to meditation. So, in this sense, the result of normal blood pressure has both mental and physical origins.

6.Through regular meditation, you will find that you are better able to focus, that your memory is better, and that your mind simply ‘feels’ stronger and better able to handle the trials of everyday life.

7.Meditation helps you to reach a higher plane, where you are able to see things much clearer. No matter what problems you may have, when you meditate, solutions for those problems simply become clearer in your mind, and then you are able to take action to clear away the problems.

8.Studies have shown that meditation helps you to lose weight. Those who diet and exercise, in an effort to lose weight find that they get greater results faster, and with permanent results, when they throw regular meditation into the mix. Stress has always been a hindrance to losing weight, which is probably why meditation does indeed help.

9.Other studies have also shown that meditation lowers the risk of heart disease. The research done at the Georgia Prevention Institute found that the blood vessel lining was better able to relax in subjects who included meditation on a regular basis. This relaxation of the blood vessel lining can be achieved with medication as well, which is how heart disease patients are currently treated.

10.People who start out the day with fifteen to thirty minutes of meditation find that they statistically have a better, happier day.
They are able to handle anything that comes up with ease, with no stress – or at the very least minimal short term stress, and move easily from task to task, with complete focus.

The numerous mental and physical benefits of meditation should be enough to convince everyone that meditation is one of the elements of a healthy, happy, peaceful life. Unfortunately, there are many people who feel that they are too busy to learn meditation, much less to practice it. The good news is that meditation isn’t at all hard to learn – and if you really take a look at the benefits, the real question should be how can you afford not to make time for daily – or at least weekly – meditation?

Yoga and the Cross

November 9, 2012 by  
Filed under Hatha Yoga

yoga for christians

This morning during my Vinyasa Flow yoga class, once again the chain to the cross I wear on my neck got caught on my chin as I went into downward dog, an inverted pose. As I progressed through the rest of vinyasa, I realized I was distracted and I lost focus on my practice. My mind was instead fixated on why I continue to wear an adornment that always gets in the way during yoga. I wondered if it had something to do with wearing a symbol of my chosen faith while engaged in a spiritual practice of another.

As a progressive Christian, I find no contradiction in practicing yoga and honoring its ancient spiritual traditions. Chanting in Sanskrit and giving myself fully to meditation does not deter me from my Christian faith. Indeed, what I appreciate about yoga is that it is a physical spiritual practice. To me, yoga is a form of worship, even if I am a Christian rather than Hindu or Buddhist. My friend Alex Souto, a yogi and founder of Yogactivism, as well as a United Methodist minister, describes yoga as “full body prayer.”

So, if I am not conflicted, why wouldn’t I simply remove my cross before yoga class, especially since it continues to hinder me? Certainly, I would never wear heavy, bulky earrings that would threaten to fall off or catch on my clothing. Nor would I wear rings that would compromise a posture or my safety. Could “forgetting” to remove my cross before yoga be an unconscious act of resistance? Was I really worried that in leaving my cross at home I would be leaving my faith as well?

I don’t feel taking off my cross would make me disloyal to Christ. In reality, removing my cross for yoga would be practical. Yet, I almost always wear my cross. During a “procedure” some years ago I had to take it off and I remember thinking, “If ever I needed reassurance close to my heart…” I sleep and swim wearing my cross and I even wear it with other necklaces. At one point, I would only wear gold earrings to match the gold chain and cross. (I’ve since become more relaxed, in a large part due to yoga.)

The cross I wear is a symbol of my faith and it does bring me comfort. Yet, cross or not, I am a Christian. Not wearing my cross during yoga would allow me to practice without distraction (as well as prevent me from someday snapping the chain). Still, more importantly, when I put my cross back on after class, I have an opportunity to reaffirm my faith.

Has Yoga Strayed Too Far From Its Hindu Roots?

April 6, 2011 by  
Filed under Hatha Yoga, Spirituality

For centuries in India, yoga has been a practice rooted in the Hindu faith. Today, it is a massively popular fitness tradition in the United States, part of a wellness lifestyle for some 15 million Americans. And some Hindus are not happy with the way yoga is treated in the US. The Hindu American Foundation claims the tradition has strayed too far from its Hindu roots and has launched a campaign called ‘Take Back Yoga.’ In Tell Me More’s weekly “Faith Matters” conversation, guest host Farai Chideya puts the question, “who owns yoga?” to Sheetal Shah of the Hindu American Foundation, and Virginia Cowen, a yoga instructor and body trainer.

Now it’s time for “Faith Matters,” the part of the program when we talk about matters of spirituality.

Today, a practice that has its roots in India but has become part of a health and wellness lifestyle for some 15 million Americans: yoga. Yoga has been practiced as part of the Hindu faith for centuries. But in the U.S. and other Western countries, it has evolved.

(Soundbite of advertisements)

Unidentified Woman #1: We found a fantastic way to incorporate your workout and spending time with your little one: Mommy and Me Yoga. And we are here…

Unidentified Woman #2: We are choosing to combine yoga and kickboxing, bringing two opposites together. But really, they’re not that opposite at all.

Unidentified Woman #3: How to create fuller lips with face yoga? Get beautiful bee-stung lips with daily facial exercises that stimulate the production of collagen.

CHIDEYA: Now, one group says this has gone too far. The Hindu-American Foundation claims yoga in the United States has strayed too far from its roots in Hindu philosophy and religion. They’ve launched a campaign called Take Back Yoga, which asks Americans to appreciate yoga’s debt to Hinduism.

The issue has sparked a heated debate within the tranquil world of yoga, and we wanted to know more about it. So we’ve called on Sheetal Shah of the Hindu-American Foundation. She heads the Take Back Yoga campaign.

And we are also joined by Virginia Cowen. She’s an associate professor of health, physical education and dance at Queensborough Community College in New York. She’s also a board member of Yoga Alliance, a group that works to encourage a standard for yoga instruction. They’re both in our New York bureau. Thank you both so much for joining us.

Professor VIRGINIA COWEN (Board Member, Yoga Alliance; Queensborough Community College): Thank you.

Ms. SHEETAL SHAH (Director of Development, Hindu-American Foundation): Happy to be here.

CHIDEYA: So Sheetal, let me begin with you. When you talk about this campaign, Take Back Yoga, what – specifically – is it asking people to do, and who is it asking to change?

Ms. SHAH: The impetus of this campaign really began a couple years ago, when we noticed in countless yoga magazines, and specifically Yoga Journal, the lack of reference to Hindu or Hinduism. But it was full of references to other faiths, particularly Buddhism – and even mystical Christianity, for example.

So ultimately, when we got a hold of somebody at Yoga Journal and they told us that yes, in fact, we avoid using the terms Hindu and Hinduism because they carry too much baggage, we, as an advocacy organization for the Hindu-American community, obviously felt compelled to speak up.

CHIDEYA: Let me bring in Virginia Cowen. You teach health and physical education; you’re a yoga instructor. So do you agree with Sheetal’s perspective on the practice of yoga in this country, and what Take Back Yoga is trying to do?

Prof. COWEN: I’m not Hindu. I am a body worker so I practice massage, Pilates, personal training, in addition to yoga. And my training in yoga included instruction in yoga philosophy. And I will, as a practitioner, do anything that’s legal to get people to stretch, because I think it’s very good for them.

I think people need to practice stress reduction, and however people do that is great by me. But many of the classes, I think, have evolved into something else, and then yoga is just the sales tool rather than something that’s an intact practice.

CHIDEYA: And so, what about this hybrid fitness genres? I want to ask both of you about this, but Virginia first. You know, we heard about lip yoga and, you know, Mommy and Me Yoga, and power yoga. I mean, do you think that it’s been over-marketed or over-specified?

Prof. COWEN: A spa director I heard at a conference once said that she did a class called facelift yoga because she just wanted to get people in the door. And so when you get that extreme – disco yoga, for example, or yoga with loud music totally defeats the purpose of withdrawing your senses and turning the attention inward.

CHIDEYA: Sheetal, what do you think about that?

Ms. SHAH: I actually agree with a lot of what Virginia said. I think that there are spectrums that are pretty legitimate, and then there are some that you hear about – yoga and wine, yoga and chocolate, naked yoga – makes you kind of wonder exactly what’s going on, and is that really yoga? Is that really serving the purpose of what yoga was meant to do?

CHIDEYA: If you’re just joining us, you are listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News.

We’re speaking with Sheetal Shah, of the Hindu American Foundation; and Virginia Cowen, associate professor of health, physical education and dance at the City University of New York. We’re talking about a campaign by the Hindu American Foundation called Take Back Yoga, asking Americans to recognize yoga’s roots in Hinduism.

Virginia, I’m going to go back to you. Do you think that it’s important to explicitly talk about the link to Hinduism, the link to all of the different Vedic texts, and the gods that are incorporated, even, into the names of the poses -or is that not important to you?

Prof. COWEN: As an instructor, it’s not important to me. And I guess if you look at the eight limbs of yoga, there are some basic tenants in that, that sort of apply to human nature – nonviolence, noncompetition. And that part of philosophy, I think, can be easily incorporated even into a fitness class.

To listen to this program, click here...

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