Yoga has become a popular form of exercise and something of a sensational craze in recent years.

Many Westerners are enthralled with the practice and hope that yoga will help them to shed pounds and firm up. Some say it may also lead to a sense of inner calm and tranquility.

Numerous yoga studios have opened up almost everywhere, from major metropolitan areas to large towns.

But how can a hopeful student find a reputable studio with a good teacher?

Most seem to rely on word-of-mouth endorsements from friends, but there are some organizations that register schools and teachers.

One such body is called the “Yoga Alliance” (YA), its mailing address is in Reading, Pennsylvania. YA was officially established just a few years ago in 1999.

But the background history of some YA board members is rather disturbing. It seems nearly half at one time or another have been involved with groups called “cults.” And some of the schools registered at YA are associated with “cults.”

For example, the alliance includes on its list of schools the 3HO ashram in Espanola, New Mexico, the Integral Yoga Center of Richmond, Virginia and Ananda Yoga of Nevada City, California.

All three of these groups have less than laudable histories and they have also often been called “cults.”

A close look at the resumes of YA board members reveals some interesting connections.

Kartar Singh Khalsa, Co-head of Teachers Outreach, is a devotee of Yogi Bhajan the founder of 3HO.

The group Ananda Marga first initiated Steven Landau, Chairman of the YA Newsletter Committee.

Carol A. Stefanelli, head of the group’s Networking Committee, once studied with Swami Muktananda the founder of Siddha.

Mary Lynn Tucker, Co-chair of the Outreach Committee, studied yoga with Swami Satchidananda and lives near the ashram the guru created named “Yogaville.”

Rich McCord, Chairman of YA’s pivotal Standards Committee, actually teaches at the Ananda Church of Self-Realization, which has been labeled a “cult” in court.

Ananda’s founder J. Donald Walters was found guilty of sexual misconduct and plaintiffs were awarded a staggering multi-million dollar judgment.

Interestingly, the last “face-to-face” meeting of the YA board was actually held at the so-called “Ananda Village,” in California.

Isn’t this a bit like the “foxes guarding the hen house”?

Anyone considering yoga classes with teachers and/or schools registered by the Yoga Alliance might want to exercise a bit of caution, before beginning any of their exercises.

The old adage “you can’t take it with you” applies to everyone, even gurus.

Swami Satchidananda, a guru and purported “cult leader” died last year and moved on to his next life, that is for those who believe in reincarnation. But the octogenarian left behind quite a bit of worldly baggage.

Satchidananda accumulated prime real estate in Manhattan, which provides space for an Integral Yoga International (IYI) school and a vegetarian grocery store.

There is also the sprawling ashram he established in Virginia called “Yogaville,” which includes a $2 million dollar temple and its own airport (the swami liked to fly and had his own plane).

The guru’s property holdings alone are worth millions.

Yet another legacy of the late swami is the Yogaville Federal Credit Union. After all, what’s an ashram without its own credit union?

According to official records this credit union has more than $4 million dollars in assets, with two employees on salary to manage its funds.

Satchidananda left behind a core group of faithful followers at Yogaville and a few in Manhattan too.

And since their guru’s death those devotees continue to manage the swami’s considerable material legacy.

This all seems to provide proof positive of another not so spiritual reality; If a “cult leader” wants to keep a “cult” going after he or she is gone, do some estate planning.

Increasingly, more and more Americans are engaging in the practice of Yoga.

Men now make up 23% of the 15 million yoga enthusiasts within the US. “They’re in it for the exercise and the physical benefits—hold the chanting and the New Age vibes,” reports Newsweek.

But beware. Some groups called “cults” use yoga as a means of recruiting new members and exercise is not all they are teaching.

Some yoga groups and teachers are essentially interested in proselytizing. And if you are not interested in their beliefs, their yoga classes are probably not for you.

Controversial organizations such as 3HO and Integral Yoga International (IYI) may practice “yoga,” but they also promote a student/guru arrangement and religious belief system with an authoritarian figure at the top.

A plethora of neo-eastern gurus and “New Age” types are hoping to cash in on the yoga craze.

Health and diet “guru” Dr. Dean Ornish says “he has found evidence that yoga can help fight cardiovascular disease” and this may be true. But Ornish himself is a long-time follower of IYI and its recently deceased Swami Satchidananda.

So it seems that there may be more to the diet doctor’s regime than meets the eye.

Newsweek appears to have carefully avoided endorsing any particular yoga school or teacher, which is wise. But others in their enthusiasm regarding this pop craze have been less prudent.

Supermodel Christy Turlington’s yoga book praises many groups, which have been referred to less glowingly as “cults.”

Donna Karan once promoted IYI within Vanity Fair magazine, without apparently doing much of a background check.

Don’t make Donna’s mistake.

Researching a yoga school or class before enrolling is certainly wise. Most are perfectly safe places to exercise and get in shape, but some are worrisome.

“Check first, enroll later,” might be a good motto.

A quick rule of thumb might also be, if you see some guru’s picture on the wall, or religious statues in the entrance area or practice room, something more than yoga might be lurking within the instruction.

Newsweek says, “There’s a yoga bonus: the way it sharpens your mental game…the meditative breathing calms their nerves and hones their focus.”

Maybe so, but meditation can also render practitioners more suggestible. And it’s important to understand just who you are becoming suggestible to and within what type of environment.

A group with a hidden agenda can use meditation to download its program.

Again, the overwhelming majority of yoga schools and classes are benign, healthy and likely to be beneficial to their students.

The point is to be an informed consumer.

In an effort to establish meaningful criteria for judging yoga teachers the California Yoga Teachers Association has established a Code of Ethics.

This code can be a useful tool in gauging the behavior of yoga teachers, how they treat their pupils and conduct classes.

In India police are cracking down on “God men,” reports The Telegraph.

Authorities in Calcutta are warning residents to beware of the gurus and swamis who say they have “supernatural powers” and can effect mystical or magical cures.

One police commissioner said, “We will do everything to guard Calcuttans from the clutches of such swindlers.” He added that they frequently prey upon the sick who are in a “vulnerable state.”

Will this crack down eventually include more established Indian gurus such as Sai Baba, who supposedly possesses “supernatural powers”?

Probably not.

But at least in India some attention is being paid to this issue.

In sharp contrast within the United States “God men” like Brooklyn born Frank Jones, who calls himself “Adi Da,” most often operate with impunity.

And then there is the lucrative “faith healing” business, which supports apparent posers such as the popular Benny Hinn. Hinn lives lavishly off of the millions contributed by his faithful, that believe “cures” come from heaven during his crusades.

Does America need a crack down? There certainly seems to be plenty of gullibility on this side of the globe.

American showman P.T. Barnum once claimed that “people like to be humbugged.” And he was attributed incorrectly, as the originator of the old adage; “A sucker is born every minute.”

But despite such observations Westerners often suppose smugly that they are somehow less susceptible to spiritual hucksters, than say people in Calcutta.

However, the facts don’t support such an arrogant conclusion. There seem to be plenty of suckers ready to buy or believe almost anything in America.

Historically, many Indian gurus and swamis sensed this and moved to the United States. Swami Satchidananda, Yogi Bhajan and Bhagwhan Shree Rajneesh are three examples of such migrating “God men” who marketed their “supernatural powers” in the United States.

Books have been written about the “vulnerable state” of many Western spiritual seekers visiting India such as Karma Cola by Gita Mehta. And the more common category of largely domestic seekers is examined in The Faith Healers by James Randi.

People often ask, “How are cult members recruited?” And then say, “Are they stupid or what?”

The point seems to be no one normal or intelligent would join a “cult.”

And so often, no one knowingly does.

For example, as pointed out previously, “cult” involvement might begin through a seemingly benign “style” of “yoga class” recommended through a website, magazine or book.

Another example can be seen within the Wichita Eagle newspaper today.

Under the heading “Health Calendar” the Kansas daily lists “Kundalina Yoga” under “Classes,” which is associated with Yogi Bhajan (3HO).

Under “Counseling” there is Scientology ad offering “free personality, IQ and stress testing.”

Not everyone knows the background of 3HO and Scientology. But both groups have been called “cults.”

Maybe someone looking for an exercise class thinks, “Hey yoga might be fun.” Or a curious reader decides to check out their intelligence and/or personality traits by being “tested”?

This could potentially be an unknowing point of entry into the world of “cults.”

That is, just picking up the daily paper and responding to an innocuous ad.

Simple isn’t it?

One yoga website seems to do little if any meaningful research before recommending classes or “styles” to potential yoga beginners.

At Yoga under “choosing a yoga style” “beginners” will find the “most common types” of yoga listed for their consideration includes “Swami Kriyananda,” “Swami Satchidananda” and “Yogi Bhajan.”

Sherry Roberts the editor of the site suggests, “Find a teacher that you can relate to and a style that furthers your own personal growth.”

However, these three teachers have all been historically referred to as “cult leaders.” And former students claimed their “yoga” was often a means of recruitment and basis for abuse.

Roberts writes, “Swami Kriyananda” (J. Donald Walters) “devoted 45 years of his life to studying the teachings of Parmahansa Yogananda.”

But she doesn’t mention that the Self-Realization Fellowship founded by Parmahansa Yogananda has disavowed Kriyananda.

Walters was also sued by the Fellowship for copyright infringement and lost. He certainly must have been busy “studying the teachings.” The swami paid $29,000 in damages.

More importantly Roberts fails to mention the plight of some of Walters former acolytes. Kriyananda lost a sexual abuse lawsuit filed by former students and was forced into bankruptcy.

Swami Satchidananda, now deceased, had his share of sex scandals. Former secretaries said he was more of a predator than a celibate. Many of his followers left in the 90s.

More recently a controversy arose regarding an Integral Yoga International (IYI) student in New York City who attended a 30-day retreat at “Yogaville,” the group’s retreat in Virginia.

That IYI student was only at the ashram for two weeks before marrying one of its “swamis she had never met,” who was old enough to be her father. She stayed on to become a devotee and “yoga teacher.”

Yogi Bhajan of 3HO is perhaps the most controversial figure listed by Roberts.

She says that his “practice is designed to awaken Kundalini energy.”

Well, if “Kundalini energy” means collecting cash and sex scandals, Bhajan certainly has conducted something of a “wake up call.”

The yogi makes money from businesses run by his yoga disciples, but was sued for “assault, battery, fraud and deceit.” He decided to settle out of court.

One of Bhajan’s top leaders and yoga enthusiasts was busted for smuggling guns and marijuana and then sentenced to prison.

Did this “style” somehow “awaken” criminal “energy”?

Ms. Roberts doesn’t appear to do much research before listing “yoga” teachers?

Hopefully, visitors to her website will do some cursory checking before becoming involved with some of the groups listed. Some yoga students say these “common types” are simply “cults.”

In its “Roll Call” of those who died during 2002 Associated Press describes a purported “cult leader” accused of “brainwashing” and sexual exploitation as simply a “guru who advocated respect for all faiths through his motto “Truth is One, Paths are Many,” reports Fox News.

However, the late “guru” Satchidananda, who died this past August, actually recruited people for his own “path,” which largely consisted of honoring, obeying and serving his own needs.

Yogaville, the ashram in rural Virginia Satchidananda founded, was a place used to contain the guru’s most devoted followers and generate revenue. It has now become something of a shrine to his ego as well.

Associated Press seems to have done little more than run an ashram press release. Fox likewise posted the report apparently without any meaningful background research.

But many articles have been previously published about Satchidananda, which reflect the guru’s deeply troubled history and a litany of allegations about abuse and sordid sex scandals.

It is true that the good are listed along with the bad on the Associated Press 2002 “Roll Call.” You will find mob bosses Joseph Bonnano and John Gotti along with the Queen Mother of Great Britain and slain journalist Daniel Pearl listed together.

However, perhaps it would have been better to provide a more accurate description of the boss of Yogaville, rather than just echo the perception of his devoted followers.

Swami Satchidananda was once a popular guru with a flock of notable fans. His historic admirers included singer-songwriter Carole King, actors Jeff Goldblum and Laura Dern, diet Doctor Dean Ornish and artist Peter Max.

However, some say that Satchidananda created a “cult,” and scandal seemed to plague the controversial leader until his death earlier this year.

The ashram community in Virginia left behind by Satchidananda is called “Yogaville.”

The heirs to the guru’s legacy decided to file an action against a family, for using Internet domain names as a means to share critical information about the guru and his group on the Worldwide Web.

The Chengs, who lost family member Catherine to “Yogaville” three years ago, want to warn others about the perils of the controversial group, which they consider a “destructive cult.” So the New York family bought up domain names such as “” and “Integral” to help people find an archive with critical information about the group.

The Satchidananda ashram then responded first with threats and later with a legal complaint, apparently designed to suppress the family’s efforts. The group hoped to ultimately confiscate the disputed domain names.

Yogaville claimed the Chengs somehow were using the domain names for an “illegitimate purpose” and invoked trademark protection.

However, the National Arbitration Forum didn’t see it that way.

In a unanimous decision the forum denied all of Yogaville’s claims and concluded, “It is crystal clear that Respondent is using the disputed domain names for legitimate noncommercial or fair use.”

One panelist of the National Arbitration Forum said he would have found Yogaville guilty of “Reverse Domain Name Hijacking,” if the Chengs had counter-claimed. He described the ashram’s purchase of various and similar domain names as a “bad faith effort to use the Policy as a crude club to suppress legitimate, protected, First Amendment speech.”

This resounding “slap down” victory for the Chengs sets an important precedent regarding free expression on the Internet.

Thanks to the complete failure of Yogaville’s complaint, other groups and/or organizations will now find such claims of trademark infringement an increasingly difficult strategy to employ as a scheme to block easy access to critical information on the Internet.

Once Christy Turlington appeared to be primarily concerned with her modeling career, but now it seems the “Supermodel” has become increasingly focused on other pursuits—such as her practice of yoga.

In her new book “Living Yoga: Creating a Life Practice” Turlington touts her yoga lifestyle. She has also launched a yoga clothing line.

The message seems to be—if want to look like Christy, do yoga like Christy. And for a nation increasingly inhabited by overweight people, the United States seems posed to embrace such advice.

However, there is more to Turlington’s book than just that.

Most Americans who initially become involved in yoga simply want to get in shape. But Turlington’s book isn’t just about healthy exercise; it’s also concerned with reshaping your mind or consciousness. And the fashion diva’s thinking seems to have been influenced by some pretty controversial “gurus.”

Christy Turlington’s personal odyssey in yoga apparently has included a few groups called “cults.”

The Supermodel cites 3HO, “Siddha Meditation” and “Integral Yoga International” (IYI) positively within “Living Yoga.” However, these three groups share more than the practice of yoga in common. All three have been called “cults” and have a history of abuse claims made by former members, which has included sexual exploitation.

“Yogi Bhajan” who founded and still leads 3HO, settled a lawsuit with a former secretary rather than go to court over her abuse claims. Supposedly celibate “Swami Satchidananda,” the now deceased creator of IYI, weathered a sex scandal in the early 90s. And some of Siddha’s late leader Muktananda’s former disciples also reported that he sexually abused them.

Christy Turlington’s latest teacher is Eddie Stern who runs a yoga studio in lower Manhattan. He isn’t a “cult leader,” but has generated some complaints and concern.

Ms. Turlington seems to have come through all these groups unscathed. But despite their histories, she offers no warnings or even a footnote within her book to would-be yoga buffs.

The Publisher’s Weekly review at says Christy Turlington’s book goes “beyond getting a nice butt” and that “there’s a lot to digest” within its pages. Maybe that’s an understatement.

Yoga still means firming up, not flipping out to most people. And readers might just choke on some of the groups and gurus Turlington includes in her eclectic yoga buffet.

One Turlington admirer at posted, “I look at Christy as a true role model.” Perhaps as a celebrity role model Turlington should be more prudent about who and what she promotes publicly.

Satchidananda, the founder of “Yogaville” may have died in August, but his die-hard followers want to keep his memory alive. They staged a “remembrance weekend” to honor the man many say developed a “cult” following.

In a rededication ceremony a crane was used to pour water from “holy rivers” over the multi-million dollar edifice known as the “Lotus Shrine,” which the late guru had built within his ashram compound known as “Yogaville,” reported the Daily Progress of Charlottesville.

However, what the local Virginia newspaper failed to report was the devastation caused by Satchidananda to many members and families during the guru’s reign over his “spritual” kingdom that began in the 1960s.

The man his ardent disciples called “Sri Swami Satchidananda Maharaj” and wish the world to remember as a selfless and celibate “spiritual leader” was actually a faker, sexual predator and liar, according to some former members. Apparently, the swami wasn’t so celibate with his female secretaries and traveling companions.

When a sex scandal broke about Satchidananda in the early 90s many members left, while others deeply invested in the group through years of devotion seemingly chose denial instead. As the ever “spiritual” swami said, “Don’t judge me, I am your guru. If you choose to believe it you can leave right now. Or, if you have faith, you can stay and continue in my service.”

Many cults die with their founders. However, when there is a large residue of assets such as property, businesses and cash the incentive is there to carry on. Satchidananda left behind such a tangible “legacy.”

The guru’s remaining devotees seem intent upon maintaining that “legacy.” And it appears that Yogaville, like the deceased “swami,” has developed its own history of abuse allegations.

But no matter how much “holy” water Satchidananda’s followers pour out at Yogaville nothing is likely to wash away the allegations of abuse, which taint both its former leader and the ashram.