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When the Teacher IS the Teachings, Part 3

An important question remains: Even if Bhajan was a deeply flawed teacher, and even if his teachings were contrived, what about those who find that this form of yoga works well for them? Should the practice be completely disposed of?

While the easy answer is that anyone who finds a particular yoga practice to be helpful should continue with that practice, there are serious and profound reasons why someone doing Bhajan’s form of yoga should think twice about continuing. A growing body of evidence indicates that Bhajan’s yoga, by any name or trademark, is not a steady path to self-improvement. While Bhajan’s 3HO organization sill sponsors teacher trainings and workshops, offshoots of Bhajan’s yoga have taken on names such as RaviAna Yoga, Life-Force Academy, Kundalini University, RA MA Institute, Kundalini Shuniya, and many more. While brand names differ, Bhajan’s teacher-centric, high-energy, ahistorical yoga is the primary practice for each of these spinoffs.[1]

The poster child for the self-destructive impact of Bhajan’s yoga was Bhajan himself. “He will be remembered like a Harvey Weinstein or a Jerry Sandusky of yoga,” said historian Philip Deslippe. When Bhajan died in 2004, at the age of 75, he was stricken with heart disease, was diabetic, and was confined to a wheelchair. At some point early in the creation of his empire, Bhajan stopped practicing the yoga he taught. He also did not follow his yogic prescription of waking up each day at “the ambrosial hour,” before 4 am, taking a cold shower, and chanting the Sikh prayer Japji Sahib. His sadhana, or regular practice, was to sit in a jacuzzi in the company of one of his many young secretaries, and to fall asleep each night while getting massaged. In short, he did not practice what he preached.

Perhaps he knew better. For example, we know that no other yoga school except Bhajan’s has students continually moving energy up the system and out. Every other school considers this to be an unbalanced practice. Bhajan, however, drove his students to do rapid, repetitive breath and body movements, claiming that this is how a person will resolve inner conflict. That’s where the hook is put in. The student has been put in a dangerous situation in which there’s no acknowledgement of the cause, but an unquestioned prescription for its cure: more Kundalini Yoga; 40-day meditations; pre-dawn daily practice; cold showers; vigorous yoga sets; 61-minute group meditations; breath of fire; the chanting of long Sikh prayers multiple times each day; a high-dairy vegetarian diet; and any job that will make money quickly, regardless of the ethics.

To his yoga initiates, that cycle can seem fulfilling, in part because it was and still is unique, exotic, and presented with complete confidence. It also provides the seeker a number of very precise and powerful tools. However, the precision and the power can ultimately be disempowering.

One of Bhajan’s favorite refrains while teaching was, “Keep up and you will be kept up.” It’s meant to be supportive an inspirational, perhaps, and as one yogi recently said, “That's one of my favorite sayings.” But on reflection she has come to see it as advice to keep the student from connecting internally. She described it this way: “Keep doing yoga, keep doing meditations, keep doing it, keep doing it non-stop, non-stop, and you'll be kept up. But guess what? You're not going to feel how you really feel because you're just covering everything over with yoga. I have had times where my health has gone down,” she said, due to the yoga. Is this yoga or is it something else?[2]

That yoga teacher, like many others, stopped teaching and practicing Bhajan’s yoga after learning what was behind the teachings. “Premka highlighted intuitive feelings I had while on teacher training that were minimized, defended or dismissed. It rocked the Kundalini Yoga community and people came out to share their thoughts of Yogi Bhajan, once a Yogi now an abuser. It pulled apart ideals and quotes I had followed to the tee. I saw how he weaved his way through the teacher training manual to make it hard to separate the man from the teachings. He used a lot of reverse psychology.”[3]

Dyson, author of the memoir that finally exposed Bhajan to the world as an abusive if charming cult leader, wrote in the book about Bhajan’s brutal psychology. He ordered Dyson to officiate the wedding of a couple he brought together, knowing that Dyson and the groom had been in love. “This behavior was virtually institutionalized,” she wrote. “Much of what was passed down to us as the teachings of Yogi Bhajan was culturally adopted right out of Indian society. And Indian society had been greatly influenced by British society." The teacher was a direct representation of the teachings.[4]

And emotions were unacceptable. Only surrender and submersion made sense to Bhajan, and it was built into his teachings. The yoga is more about self-absolution than self-discovery. “Premka, you must just be me,” Bhajan often told her, just as he told many others. “You must not be this little you. You must not be emotional; you cannot be a woman at all. You are to become me.”[5]

The other story reflects back on her post-Bhajan days. “My process of shedding all of my indoctrination included leaving any trace of the yoga world behind as well,” she writes. “I did do some classes in the few years following the birth of my son. In those classes I was struck by the huge difference between that teacher’s approach and that of Bhajan. Her approach connected me into my body! What a concept.”[6]

Further research needs to be carried out on the physiological and subliminal effects of Kundalini Yoga as taught by Yogi Bhajan, especially with an eye to separating the myth from the truth. As a former Bhajan student who now teaches classical yoga has written, the branding was shrewd and powerful. “One of the main complicating issues is that Bhajan framed what yoga is, to his followers, and then the community reinforced those ideas.”[7]

Primary among that ideological underpinning are the following premises, all false:

  • Kundalini yoga had been a secret practice for many centuries

  • Kundalini yoga had a separate lineage from hatha yoga

  • Bhajan was the first one to share this practice openly

  • The 500-year history of Sikhism was intertwined with the practice of kundalini yoga

  • Kundalini yoga is a technology uniquely suited to the coming Aquarian Age

“Those ideas were hooks Bhajan used to get practitioners excited about the system,” the article continues, “because they had come into possession of something unique.” It was supposedly a limitless technology from the past, not widely known even in the East but ready to be revealed in the West. Again, none of that was true.[8]

When we look carefully at Bhajan’s teachings, at the narratives that underpin the teachings, and at the myths that are still being propagated behind the notion that his teachings can be appreciated separate from the teacher, we begin to see that it all rests precariously on an increasingly weak foundation. Bhajan said that this era would be one that revealed secrets and lies, especially in centers of power. Perhaps that was his keenest insight.


[1] Stukin, Stacie (2020). Yogi Bhajan Turned an L.A. Yoga Studio into a Juggernaut, and Left Two Generations of Followers Reeling from Alleged Abuse. There have been efforts to "backfill" a lineage of the type of yoga Bhajan created, combining any and all references to yoga and kundalini in the Sikh scriptures, regardless of how they relate to Bhajan's yoga and ideology, with any and all references to kundalini in more established yogic philosophies. A future blog post ("Evolving Kundalini or Cult Yoga: Ravi Singh's Dilemma") will analyze one of many efforts to recreate "The True History of Kundalini Yoga." [2] Kaur, Taran Jeet (2020). My Response to Premka and Yogi Bhajan Abuse Allegations [3] Kaur, Taran Jeet (2021). About Taran [4] Dyson, Premka [5] Dyson, Premka [6] Dyson, (May 2021). Correspondence [7] Eller, Trevor Chaitanya, The Dangers of Rebranding Kundalini Yoga [8] Eller, Trevor Chaitanya, The Dangers of Rebranding Kundalini Yoga; also see his blog for more writings on this topic.

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