As a doctoral candidate and cultural historian of 19th and early 20th Century America, one of my areas of study is the religious revival movements of early modern America, the First and Second "Great Awakenings."
There are many parallels between the kinds of spiritual groups that are detailed on this website and those which have operated in America since its founding.
However, Swami Satchidananda was in some ways different from more extreme "cults" such as the Hare Krishnas and Branch Davidians. His followers didn't proselytize or control in quite such an overt manner.
Like many other religious and/or New Age movements, IYI often attracts people that are drifting, stressed out and/or unhappy about their lives. Those who may be looking for answers, but also that are very often looking for an escape.
I think that it's important to say that some recruits want something from IYI as much as IYI or Yogaville wants something from them.
In this sense it seems that at least some of the people that become involved with cult groups may be in part complicit in their isolation and participation within such a spiritual subculture.
Swami Satchidananda, from what I remember, was very careful not to explicitly tell people what to do. He was not as extreme as David Koresh, who routinely ordered his followers about. The Swami's manipulation operated on a much more subtle level.
He merely encouraged his followers to pursue their selfish and often irresponsible pursuits. Satchidananda told them to listen to their "inner voices" and meditate on something to "know thyself," etc.
This subtle tactic was in the interest of his Yoga community, specifically to effectively garner more "full-time workers" to run the place.
But of course Satchidananda would not say, "Well, it's good that you want to be a part of our community, but what about your responsibilities at home?"
His followers, my mother included, would constantly write him letters asking his advice about almost anything. His answers were often vague and ambiguous, making them open to all kinds of interpretation.
In his talks, Satchidananda used a lot of parables that were very general in nature. It was easy for my mother and her friends at IYI to put whatever spin they wanted on such "spiritual advice."
It's true that Swami Satchidananda never explicitly told my mother to move to Virginia. In the same way, according to my mother, he didn't tell his followers to kneel at his feet in airports, in lecture halls and at festivals.
But he didn't tell them NOT to either.
His devotees claimed that he didn't ever ask for these "devotions" and whatever they did, it was because they wanted to. He was simply like a spoiling parent, indulging their whims.
This is the official line on how Swami Satchidananda came to own a pink Cadillac, Rolls Royce and helicopter.
This seemingly passive manipulative style was handed down to the other Swamis around Satchidananda who ran Yogaville and IYI. They operated the in the same way with their devotees. And those devotees operated the same way with newcomers and visitors.
This is the underlying dynamic and explains the power structure at IYI and Yogaville.
It seems to me that this is also part of the reason why IYI has been successful. Specifically, because of its subtle style of manipulation. And also because they have often attracted many inherently manipulative people as well as passive dependent types.
This is perhaps true of many groups defined as "cults."
For example, I remember Larry Gross who went by the name Swami Atmananda. He was known amongst the Yogis for his temper and need to control.