Dear Willow: My Friends Think I Joined a Cult

Whether it’s yoga, CrossFit, or the RKC, sometimes friends and family see your health practice more like a “cult.” Willow helps one of our readers navigate how to handle this situation.

Dear Willow,

My friends and family have watched me fall in love with yoga over the last decade. I have experienced great personal growth, and my friends and family label my changes as “joining the yoga cult.” I usually just laugh in response and have even started affectionately referring to my yoga community as “my yoga cult” when talking with my non-yoga community. Thanks to a friend catching me doing this I realize that my use of this language is actually very dismissive of my community and myself. Do you have any suggestions for how I can catch myself dismissing what is important to me? How do I communicate this to my family and friends without them passing it off as “just another piece of being in a yoga cult?”



Dear JC,

Much like anything we do, we need to make sure our innate personality remains intact. Using yoga as a method to reform or alter identity can be an interesting journey. There are certain aspects of self that should always remain intact. The aspects of yourself that make you “you” should not be altered or bent around whatever activity has been passionately explored.

Your friends and family may be witnessing a lot of change in you. What specific changes have you made as a result of your journey with yoga? When I first started, I made hundreds of changes, sometimes on a weekly basis, as I reexamined my belief systems around how I lived my life. Ten years later, only a handful of those changes remain. This may be different for you but you should take a look at why you are changing and if it is a sustainable change or a modification in your life you are changing to appease what you think you should change because you are now doing yoga.

Yoga is not about the clothes worn, type of mat used, pacifying emotions, or dumping a relationship with anger. Yoga is more about why you are embarking on the path in the first place. What do you need that yoga is providing for you? What do you hope to gain from the journey?

For me, it was to bridge a strong bond and connection to my sister, Kelley, and to learn from a profoundly powerful positive female role model, Ana Forrest. At a time when I needed kinship and a woman’s influence, yoga became my promise that tomorrow’s potential was happiness.

Taking a spiritual path is an important journey toward realizing self. But, do not lose your sense of self and identity in the process. Instead, allow time to make for unexamined aspects of self to become apparent.

When we change an aspect of our self, we emit a wake of evidence and people take notice. Many changes in a relatively short amount of time show that you are breaking old patterns and routines. Some of which may include loved ones, and they may feel they are being sidelined for your new standards of living. They might feel as though you are leaving them behind for a new life. They also may feel they are being judged or looked down upon for choices they are making in their life. Whatever the case, lead by example and allow time for them to ask you intelligible questions about how yoga could be a great option for up-leveling their health. The last thing you want to become known as is a yoga terrorist imposing newly adopted beliefs on loved ones.

Yoga, to its core, addresses issues of waning self-confidence. What people think about you and your journey is less valuable than what you are receiving from it. Keep a tough skin and reduce the amount of concern you have around what people think about you. Do what you want when you want, because it’s leading your self to a higher standard of living. Don’t play small to appease the masses.

To quote Wayne Dyer, “It’s never crowded along the extra mile.” Be daring and different because it is, at your essence, who you are. Surround yourself with people who encourage your growths, whether or not they choose to embark on the same journey. Assure those around you you love them the way they are, and if there are certain uncompromisable aspects perhaps it is time to let them be.



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