Russia targets yoga sessions as 'cult'

Russian officials have banned yoga in the central city of Nizhnevartovsk in an effort to counteract 'occult practices'.

At least two studios - the Aura and Ingara, where Hatha yoga is practiced - have reportedly received letters from Nizhnevartovsk officials, according to The Moscow Times.

The two studios hold their classes in a city-owned stadium and a public meeting hall called Samotlor. Officials are banning Hatha yoga courses from being taught in municipal buildings in an effort to curb the popularity of new movements and religions cults in Russia.

One of the letters from Nizhnevartovsk's first deputy head Sergei Levkin to the head of social and youth policy, Marianna Parfenova, requests that she take every step available to prevent Hatha yoga from being taught in the stadium.

The departments for physical culture and education reportedly received a second letter discussing the 'occult character' of Hatha yoga.

Hatha yoga is the most widely practiced type of yoga in America and focuses on meditative breathing and asanas, or poses.

Inga Pimenova, the teacher at Ingara Yoga, said to Russian news outlet Kommersant: "Everyone is shocked and already giggling as we are compiling documents to prove that we are not at all a sect but a health course."

In December 2014 India launched an international resolution to the UN General Assembly, to make 21 June international yoga day and Russia was one of 177 co-sponsors. The Russian & Indian Report said upward 33,000 people participated in the event, spanning 60 regions and 80 cities across Russia.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressed the UN General Assembly 27 September 2014, "Yoga is an invaluable gift of ancient Indian tradition. It embodies unity of mind and body; thought and action; restraint and fulfilment; harmony between man and nature and a holistic approach to health and well-being. Yoga is not about exercise but to discover the sense of oneness with ourselves, the world and nature. By changing our lifestyle and creating consciousness, it can help us to deal with climate change."