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Kundalini Yoga: The Con Continues

I started meditating silently in high school, receiving deep-discount training (plus a secret mantra!) from the Transcendental Meditation folks. Undiagnosed autism and/or ADHD has got to be part of my medical history, because if I missed my daily TM and lap-swimming my friends would notice and I’d get a gentle reminder, or worse.

When I finally entered the 9-to-5 life in my early 40s, I started having back problems and that’s when I found yoga. The teachers always said that hatha yoga was not an end goal, but that it was created by ancient yogis to prepare people for meditation. Meditation was where the real yoga, absolute stillness, would happen. But until I found a kundalini yoga class later in my 40s my question was always, Okay but when does the meditation start?

In an era when the internet was moving me far too fast, I needed meditation, and kundalini yoga incorporated it into every class. But was it meditation? It sure wasn’t what I had experienced through TM. Kundalini yoga classes, including the meditation segment, always sped me up with vigorous and extreme breathwork, jerky movements, gravity-defying arm and leg extensions, and constant sound. I liked the activity, and I loved the Sikh mantras that were interwoven into the sets. I even shelled out a few thousand dollars for teacher training and taught the practice as a side-job.

The only kundalini yoga class that got me close to that TM feeling was something they called morning sadhana, a combination of Sikh poetry and peaceful music. Students could sit still and listen, or recite and sing along. We were instructed, however, to do morning sadhana unusually early in the morning. WAY too early in the morning: sadhana was supposed to be finished right around sunrise.

But I was doing yoga! And it was spiritual! And I was in shape again! And this was more ancient and special than all the other yoga practices! 5,000 years of secret yogic wisdom, brought to the West by a renegade spiritual genius with hundreds of thousands of followers, many of them real characters. Many would become my friends.

The problem was that the kundalini yoga sets exacerbated my ADHD, and morning sadhana led to sleep apnea and constant exhaustion. Now I realize that those things were on purpose and by design: stillness and serenity, the goals of true yoga, cost nothing and allow for independent thought. The “genius” who supposedly brought these ancient teachings to America actually made them up, customizing them for an age of addiction, greed, and power.

Sadly, that age is not yet over. Shameless “gurus” are back to selling kundalini yoga teacher training for an average student price tag north of $3,000.

Kundalini yoga is once again being pushed like a drug on students worldwide. This form of yoga was invented by a con artist and cult leader, and after those aspects of his character were revealed two years ago it looked like his teachings might also fade into oblivion.

Let’s be clear: kundalini yoga, as it’s taught in the West, is the living link to Yogi Bhajan, a sociopath and rapist. Those profiting from the practice argue that it preceded Bhajan. They do that because his criminality has been finally exposed, years after his death, tarnishing the value of their offerings. He was a con artist, an intelligent, sometimes charming and always amoral grifter, scammer, hustler, and victimizer.

When accomplices are employed in a con game, they are known as shills. Some of Bhajan’s former acolytes and their entrepreneurial students are now full-time shills. They teach the sets they learned from him, often but not always with a less brazen approach than Bhajan’s unapologetic bullying. And like Bhajan, they tend to be excellent at marketing and branding.

Despite the memoirs and documentaries, despite dozens of victims' powerful testimonials, despite an entire generation of aggrieved adult children of Bhajan's cult members, and despite independent findings of Bhajan's almost unspeakable abuse, a group of talented and ambitious yogapreneurs are competing vigorously to seduce new paying customers into Bhajan’s cult yoga, usually now through online classes and training with no class size constraints, in exchange for a LOT of dough. Let’s name a few random people who are spreading this toxic practice through teacher training, and for the fun of it let’s say how much they’re charging to turn often innocent students into a new generation of drug pushers. These are the education costs only, mostly for 200-hour trainings, most of them online. Any expenses for travel, housing, or food during the live trainings would be extra.

  • Ravi Singh/Ana Brett $3,050 (300-hour)

  • Mahan Rishi/Nirbhe $4,150

  • Daniela Hess/Jeannie O’Neill $2,899 (300-hour)

  • Dana Reese/Prempal Kaur $3,660

  • Guru Singh/Brett Larkin $3,495

  • Meherbani Kaur Khalsa $3,495

  • Kia Miller/Tommy Rosen $3,200

  • Jivan Mukta/Sat Darshan $2,500

  • Snatam Kaur (learn 3 mantras) $997

  • Japa Kaur (6-day Level 2) $950

  • Yogi Mehtab (6-day Level 2) $995

The arguments against the perspective I’ve presented here are twofold: the yoga sets are helpful to many students, and the teacher is not the teachings.

Many students claim that this form of yoga is the best they have found. It was the best I had found, as well, until it wasn’t. Now I am back to the source: daily stillness practices and regular exercise. I sometimes consider doing morning sadhana again, and I understand its power. Morning sadhana, however, is the one free offering in the kundalini yoga curriculum, and a certified yoga teacher is not required for the sadhana practice.

The argument that Yogi Bhajan is not the originator of the sets is absurd but widespread. When he was pulling the wool over most people’s eyes, for most of his life, everyone acknowledged that he created the sets. Suddenly now he didn't? Sure, he would sometimes say he was channeling them from ancient yogis or transferring them to the West from secret training he’d had in India, but there is solid evidence that these were embellishments, if not outright lies. His followers knew that he liked to embellish.

Bhajan passed the art of embellishment on to some of his now-prominent students, and they're busy doing the same. Let's hope today's students are better informed and more skeptical now than we were then.

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