It's good to see you posting here again. I am glad you are now out of that cult/cultish-group and are in the process of healing.
Do not worry about fully understanding the brainwashing that was going on. Personally, I think all that matters is that you know there was brainwashing, and that's all that's necessary to know. Every cult/cultish group has to use some sort of brainwashing to be able to have control and power over its members.
Many of us find these cults when we have friends or meet people who rave about and show a ton of passion about the group. That's how they get new members. Forgive yourself for falling for it. Allow yourself to heal and grow. You will transform into a stronger person. Cults know that the vulnerable ones and ones going through bad patches in life are the ones most likely to join. It's all part of the course.
Unfortunately there are a lot of "empowerment" type cults out there. That's why during my healing process, I look for empowering myself. I used to think I needed a person, a guru, a group to help empower me. But that's a lie. We all can empower ourselves.
It's a shame your group was able to advertise itself as a "therapy" group. Many of these groups use key words in their advertising to make their groups look authentic.
Any type of therapy given in someone's home is a red flag for me. I recall being invited to a yoga teacher's home for a "self-empowerment" workshop and dinner/drinks. I realize now it was probably some sort of way either for her to make money as some kind of non-certified self-improvement/empowerment "therapist". During her yoga classes, she would often speak to us in a very firm, loud voice, spewing self-improvement things and telling us that this was way cheaper and less timely than therapy. Of course we were all already in a meditative yoga zone, so were more susceptible to her messages. I did not go her home for the workshop, because at that point I was already out of my soft-cult and was more able to see these things for what they were. I was still just trying to figure out if I could do yoga without all the cultish stuff.
I experienced the "breathwork" that you've described here, although I was fortunately able to pick up my mat and leave. It was a breathwork/yin yoga workshop at a yoga studio, so I thought it would be relaxing. There were about 40 people there, and two instructors. We were told before hand to not discuss what was taking place there with anyone outside the room, do not open your eyes during the class, do not leave during the class even if you feel like it's not the right day for you--to just sit at your mat with your eyes closed until the class was over. We were told that this was extremely powerful, and would help us heal trauma instantly. It was advertised as being very relaxing, with no indication of what it actually was all about. We were told we'd scream, cry, shout, punch,laugh hysterically, etc. They kept telling us it'd be a wonderful release of toxic emotions, and we'd walk out new people. It sounds very familiar to what you went through.
I only stayed about 5 minutes, and once the music got very loud and fast, and the people started to scream out, I quietly left, which getting very dirty looks from the instructors. I did not disturb anyone as I left. I will never do another yoga workshop or another other workshop for that matter again. There's a reason therapy is sometimes a slow process. Our brains can only handle so much trauma work at one time.
I'm not sure I understand why you were told there is no such thing as abusive people, but I'm assuming it's some sort of Victim-Shaming thing to get people under their control.
Did anyone have mental breakdowns from this class? Did anyone have a medical emergency of dehydration or an injury from someone kicking or punching them? That's a lawsuit(s) waiting to happen, or worse. You never know who's taking those classes. Reliving traumas in a room full of strangers without being under the care of a mental health professional is just reckless. Of course these types of groups always put down therapy and the psychological field, because that's where they don't want you to go. And they know what the psychology field thinks of them. I am curious, if you are comfortable sharing, what your counselor thinks of what you've told her/him about this group?
When I left that night, I felt empowered. I felt stronger than ever, and quite haugthy, like I had reached an enlightenment and achievement most people will never know about.
I've felt that, too, after leaving my cultish group. It never lasted long, until I met up with my cult again or practiced their techniques. It's what keeps us going back. But it does not stick because it's not authentic empowerment.
The leader encouraged members to directly face and confront their traumas and difficulties, all in that room, that eventually, if they did this enough, they would be freed of their pain, healed like nothing else.
How reckless of these cults, knowing nothing about how the human mind works, how trauma effects us, or the safe
scientifically researched methods to heal.
The times I was in that basement felt incredible. Almost like I was high.
And that's exactly how they got us all to go back.
I confronted my "traumas" in that room over multiple times for 2 years. I would be re-living the pain, I would be screaming uncontrollably (yes, UNCONTROLLABLY). I felt like I was facing all my pain, all my vulnerabilities, head on, and truly believed I was healing myself from these issues in those nights.
I hope a psychology expert chimes in for you. I'm not in the field but I'm assuming that this is what they want to happen--to make us think we are empowered and healed, and think that it was all because of this wonderful leader and group. But to me it seems like a mental breakdown in disguise, and that's what they needed to do to keep us in their control--break us down but make us think they were actually healing us empowering us.
Of course, 4 years later, I realized that did not help me heal at all - therapy, real counseling, has helped significantly. I don't know why it felt so good. The effects of the "therapy", such as feeling on top of the world, empowered and "healed" faded pretty quickly, and I felt like my old, vulnerable self again.
Be grateful that you are out and that you did realize it wasn't helping you or healing you. That's wonderful you've found real counseling and that it's helped you.
I think it felt good, because of the fake-high it gave us, which was temporary and kept us coming back for more. Feeling on top of the world as you describe sounds to me like "mania" or a breakdown, but again this is just my unprofessional opinion here who's been there too. When the high fades, and our old vulnerable self returned, instead of realizing that we weren't healed yet and this magical therapy wasn't the answer, we went back for more. Now that you're in authentic therapy with a professional counselor, you will see true growth over time, through all the healthy and normal peaks and valleys of therapy. It'll be a much healthier and long-lasting experience for you. You will see genuine growth.
Wondering if you folks have more info on thought reform techniques, especially involving strenuous physical exertion, yoga, breathwork and brainwashing that could explain this strange catharsis members had.
I cannot answer that, but I look forward to seeing other people's responses. Personally I don't think any of this is mentally healthy. What does your counselor think?
Also maybe if you have been through a similar "therapy" you could not feel so alone.
As I wrote, I did attend a "breathwork, guided meditation and yin yoga" workshop at a yoga studio, (with a lot of weird music that got faster and louder) which was advertised as being useful for "emotional release". I was there for the Yin yoga and discussion before the breathwork started, but had a lot of red flags go off during the discussion, so I left very quickly after it started. Hopefully someone else will chime in here about their experience. Word needs to get out.
Keep healing, but give yourself the time and patience that it needs. You will look back and see how much you've grown and healed under the proper care that you're getting. Be kind to yourself.