Joining a cult is easier than you think

The Mount Airy News/February 19th, 2016

By Bill Colvard

Briefly during the spring of 2004, I was a member of a cult, a fact which totally eluded me at the time. As I seem to be saying lately with alarming regularity, “imagine my surprise” when I found out last week. One would think I might have noticed such a thing but there was no beret, no machine gun, no bank robbery, no selling flowers in the airport. Those things I would have noticed.

Within the span of a few months in 2003, which was not one of my better years, I fell off a table and was run over by a Volvo. The Volvo incident left me with a plate and some screws in my right leg, confirmation of my suspicion that New Jersey drivers are far worse than New York drivers and newfound knowledge that Volvo’s self-hyped safety record only applies if one is inside the car. Being flung against the windshield of a Volvo from the crosswalk is not an appreciably better situation than being flung against the windshield of a less safe car.

But it wasn’t the Volvo that got me into a cult. It was the table, or rather, my fall from it and the excruciating back pain that resulted and continued for months. After three shots of steroids into my spine and the doctors gleeful discussions of surgery, I took matters into my own hands and joined the Montclair YMCA where I took three 90-minute yoga classes a week, bid the doctors adieu and was pain free within a couple of weeks.

The story should have ended there and if it had, I would not be an ex-cultist. But we left Montclair and I began to look for a yoga studio close to my office in Chelsea. I found one just around the corner. Not regular yoga but a Korean version called Dahn Hak. Went to a free introductory, or should I say, indoctrination, session, liked it, signed up for three months and wrote them a check for 300 bucks. That was three times the cost of the Montclair Y but the herbal tea steeped from stems and roots and served in tiny handleless cups after the lesson was mysteriously compelling.

In retrospect, there were some clues. We stood in a circle and chanted in Korean. We pounded our lower abdomens rhythmically with closed fists while chanting, “I love my belly. Don’t eat too much.” Then we counted 20 repetitions in Korean. Silly? Definitely. Dangerous? It didn’t seem so.

Then we pounded our upper abdoman while chanting, “I love my liver. Don’t drink too much” and again with the counting. There were no yoga mats but the entire floor was this squishy stuff and we left our shoes in the hall. It felt like a place where you might take your kid for karate. Not really a culty vibe.

Later, we did “The Sleeping Tiger” where we laid on our backs, closed our eyes, raised our arms straight up to the sky and then raised our legs straight up but bent our knees at a 90 degree angle. And then didn’t move for ten minutes. It sounds easy but I invite you to try it sometime. Trust me, it is agonizing. One by one, every muscle in my body began to twitch and by the time the lights came back on, I appeared to be in the midst of a full blown grand mal seizure. The leader flattered me by saying, “You very strong man. Most people can’t do first time.” Now she tells me. That would have been good information to have ten minutes earlier. Those cult people are tricky.

Sometimes we meditated and practiced moving things with our minds but I don’t think we got into that the first day. That was probably another clue that something was a bit left of center. As was the monthly physical exam and adjustment where I went into an exam room with the leader and lay down on a mat on the floor and rested my head on a little wooden pillow. Yes, a wooden pillow. Which I must say was surprisingly comfortable. The most memorable part of this particular experience was the little thing she put over my eyes which kind of looked like Jordy’s headband from Star Trek: The Suburban Generation. It flashed lights and colors through my closed eyelids and made little noises. Perhaps if I had had a significant fortune, I would have been requested to sign it over at that time. But that didn’t happen that I know of. It was kind of fun though. Like an acid trip, or what I expect an acid trip would be like.

What was not fun was waking up in the middle of the night after that first session with sharp, blinding pains running between the liver and stomach that I now loved so much. Fortunately, the toilet was only about 20 feet from my bed because otherwise, things would have gotten uglier than they did. Which was very ugly, indeed. Uncontrollable, excruciating diarrhea with simultaneous projectile vomiting continued for several hours until I attempted to literally crawl back to bed. I made it as far as the hall where the carpeting was softer than the bathroom tile and I just went to sleep there although at that moment, death would not have been unwelcome.

In the cold, hard light of morning, I decided that there were better ways to spend $300. During the resulting refund discussion, the leader got very excited that I had experienced such a thorough cleanse my first time out. She told me most folks didn’t get such dramatic results for quite a while. I had completely missed that part of the sales pitch. She urged me to give it a little more time and although the language thing was always a little iffy, I believe she said I had nothing else to lose. On this point, she was absolutely correct.

Since there was never a repeat of that first night’s horror, I stayed and by the time my three months were up, the “Sleeping Tiger” had given me the closest thing to rock hard abs I will ever have. And I got two more acid trips courtesy of Jordy’s headband and learned to move things with my mind, but only just a little. So all in all, it was worth $300.

And that was the end of it until last week when I went to my first yoga class at Surry Community College which is not a cult and the instructor asked me what kind of yoga I had studied before. I had forgotten the name but I looked it up when I got home and was stunned to find that Dahn Hak is now considered a cult and is being sued by the families of practitioners for wrongful death. Which is retroactively chilling. Because Dahn Hak only made me want to die. Somebody else actually did.

Reach Bill colvard at 336-415-4699 or on Twitter @BillColvard.

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