Why I Will Never Do Kundalini Yoga…..Again

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In order to tell you the story, I need to transport you back to the Fall of 2019. Back before a world pandemic, before Neptune hung out precariously at the last minutes of the zodiac and before religious fanatism was on the rise. This story, my story, began when an inner yearning for more depth in my yoga practice had reached a fever.  I had been practicing yoga at this point for almost 20 years, completed two teacher training programs and countless retreats and seminars. While I watched my physical yoga practice grow and become a robust place to call home, it always calmed whatever was ailing me,  but it was feeling stagnant and I hungered for more. The yoga I was craving wasn’t the watered-down corporate yoga that many were passing out (and trust me I’ve had arguments with those financing big corporate yoga about the fallacy of taking the ‘Aum’ out of yoga, but that’s for another post). I practiced with authentic, seasoned teachers with deeper roots, yet still most were not offering the metaphysical teachings or even breathwork and mantra I craved. When I would ask, many would say that’s what teacher training is for and yet I’ve found most YTT these days don’t even require their students to read the sutras or the Bhagavad Gita for that matter.  Which led me to wonder, how does a student of yoga follow a thread of the original practice back to its deeper roots? After all, yoga literally means “to yolk” (with the divine) not how to get great abs. So, I started attending Kundalini yoga a few times a week. Here I wasn’t worried about being overtly spiritual, in fact it was a requirement. Mantra and breathwork were musts and so I went along learning and increasing the range of my practice. Still seeking out my yummy vinyasa practice, but this new home at Kundalini offered me a community in which to actively practice mediation and mantra. So, in the Fall of 2019 I decided to embark on the 100-hour Kundalini teacher training, hoping to enrich and deepen my understanding of these sacred practices.

Kundalini Teaching Training

As I began the journey, everything seemed ok! We had a large class of students, many of whom had been in Kundalini for quite a long time and the Sunday classes with the entire community were ferociously attended. I noticed that many of my fellow students in training had little or no experience with yoga outside Kundalini, their sole definition of the practice and its results came from this forte. Many were older and often I found they shared stories of Kundalini being a bright light in their life. Whether the kriyas and breathwork made their bodies happier or having a sense of community made them feel less isolated, either way they attributed much of their happiness to Kundalini. As our training weekends progressed, I found interesting answers to questions that seemingly no one would answer before and alternatively I also found asking too many questions was no advised. The practice seemed to carry a lot of dogma, and coloring inside the lines and not questioning the rules was required. This didn’t sit with me well, as it traced back to the roots of Kundalini in America and the age of the guru. As the name implies, a guru, much like a priest in a religious setting, was the required “go between” standing between you and the divine. Like a control mechanism ensuring your proper behavior, it was imperative you adhere to your practice and the required repetitions of your kriya, in order to not accumulate bad karma or worse be in the bad graces of those above you. Kundalini had come to the US through Yogi Bhajan in the late 1960s, a time when the Beatles were running around with their guru Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, Richard Alpert (aka Ram Das) and Jeffrey Kagel (aka Krishna Das) were about to run off to India to be with Neem Karoli Baba (aka Maharaj-ji) and spiritual leader Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh (aka Osho) was about to come on the scene. Having a guru was all the rage and questioning their authority was not. The time was ripe for the rise of Yogi Bhajan and Kundalini yoga in the West.

Kundalini teacher training and escaping the cult of yogi Bhajan

It wasn’t until about half way through my training that the alarm bells started to sound, or should I say,  the caged bird started to sing.  Premka: White Bird in a Golden Cage: My Life with Yogi Bhajan, a book showcasing the personal account of one of Bhajan’s earliest follower’s life within the “cult” and her escape, was released in January 2020. Premka, whose bird in a golden cage, my life with yogi BhajanNaive to its appearance, I had no idea what our lead trainer was talking about when he brought it up to our group during the weekend training. In fact, no one really did. Only one student in our class had read the book, so when he asked in an attempt to appear transparent, if anyone had any questions about it, we all quizzingly glanced at each other not knowing what he was talking about nonetheless what to ask? So, another month passed until our next weekend long training, where a strange turn of events would find a ruthless illness be a blessing in disguise. This training weekend, one of the older couples in our program showed up with the flu. Having traveled from out-of-town for this weekend training, despite their symptoms they pushed through to attend. Whether it was the food they brought or all the heavy breathing that occurred over the weekend, there was a whole group of us that ended up sick and in bed in the days that followed. This illness was one of the worst cases of the flu I had ever had and landed me in bed for over 10 days barely able to keep water down, but more importantly carving out time in my psyche to take a deep dive down the rabbit hole. You see, when the book was originally brought to my attention my mindset was, oh don’t tell me another instance of the guru sleeping with his student. We had all heard the stories of Bikram and his dallies or John Friend and Anusara yoga’s fall, did I really want the “humanness” and lack of boundaries by a teacher to color my experience of this practice? Did one effect the other? After that initial conversation, I had let it pass through me choosing not to seek out the details until fatefully, my partner from our weekend training (who had also fallen sick) encouraged me to dive deeper. In hindsight, I must smile at the Universe’s clever way of grabbing my attention and leading me towards truth. You see, I probably wouldn’t have had this exchange had neither one of us had fallen sick, but the severity of my symptoms pushed me to reach out to see if she was also suffering. So, as I lay sick in bed, binge watching TV, I ironically stubbled on to the Netflix documentary Wild Wild Country about the “cult” surrounding Osho and simultaneously began scouring through hundreds of accounts, in a private Facebook group, documenting people’s experience escaping the “cult” of Kundalini yoga.

The Unraveling

Once I started pouring over these personal stories, it was like driving by a horrific car accident with your neck outstretched to see, finding it hard to look away and yet not sure if you REALLY want to see the carnage inside. You see it wasn’t just Premka, but the flood gates had been released and I begin pouring over stories ranging from mind manipulation and brain washing, to racketeering, rape and even child grooming. The number and severity of the accounts were too great to minimize or look away.  As I continued to read antidotes of people, mostly whom had been in Kundalini for several years and sometimes even decades, sharing their own unraveling and outright “escape”, one thing became very clear to me, there was something systemically wrong with the entire Kundalini and 3HO organization. If there was even a chance of “brainwashing” going on, it alone put a GIANT RED FLAG in my brain, because well of course, the whole point of brainwashing is that YOU DON’T KNOW YOU ARE BEING MANIPULATED. It’s covert, consistent, cunning and EXTREMELY hard to recognize when you’re in it. Cognitive dissonance usually takes over when one even gets alerted to is appearance. So for me, the sheer number of accounts made me wake up and take stock, that the LAST THING that was prudent was to bury my head in the sand and continue on with so much evidence telling me to WAKE UP and run the other direction.  Interestingly this all coincided with our looming “I AM” retreat. An intense weekend of scheduled transformation was to take place over our next training weekend where we would be living in minimalist conditions, attending to our kriyas and perhaps even getting our “news spiritual name”.

Kim practicing a Kundalini yoga kriya while in YTT.

Mind you, all of this new awareness had come between our monthly training weekends and I had yet to share, question, or otherwise look into the eyes of my fellow students or teachers. So as our weekend retreat was about to transpire the Universe pulled another twist – suddenly the president was on the TV talking about some “virus” and the Nation’s first awareness that perhaps things weren’t going to go as planned. Now the official shut down wouldn’t happen yet for a few more days and so the question hanging heavily in the air was- to attend or not attend the ‘I am’ retreat?  The timing also coincided with my kid’s spring break to San Diego where I had planned on meeting up with them after the weekend. Should I abandon my training, money and time spent, which were significant, and leave the training (which I would be essentially doing if I did NOT attend the retreat) or go and keep my options open not knowing how all this “virus” or “cult” talk would go – was either of these things really happening?

 It’s ALL in the Name

As you’ve probably guessed, I followed my instincts and DID NOT go on the retreat and instead escaped to Cali to be with my own crew, as we waited to learn more about this virus and people started panicking over toilet paper! More continued to be unveiled with the Kundalini community and there were meetings held at our studio, as well as calls within our training group. I was quick to notice the divide within the training group between those that attended the “I am” retreat and those who did not. While those that attended stayed squarely inline and continued down the Kundalini path, the few of us who had enough alarm bells sounding to wait for more information, found ourselves squarely on the other side of the conversation. I found the meetings and calls, to be void of any real conversation, and much more on the side of a spin campaign used to cut any descenders before they “enLIGHTENED” anyone else, restore control and move on. I shuttered in shock at the lead trainer, a Sikh whom had studied Kundalini over 40 years, to be perhaps the worst offender of them all. Instead of being mortified and searching his own psyche for how he could have been so psychologically manipulated all these years, he double downed on his devotion to the practice. By this time Yogi Bhajan had long passed and it was easy to blame him in his grave as a bad seed while maintaining the authenticity of the practice (despite many reports of practices being completely made up). The lack of accountability was mind blowing, but what was even more disheartening was to see how many lacked the courage and intuition to leave the practice themselves. I heard many of my fellow yogis claim they just wanted to finish to get the certificate or that they already invested too much to back out. I found this utterly weak and disappointing to say the least and even more alarming that those “fooled” wanted to go on “fooling” others. Furthermore, the timing in which this had all coalesced had me asking spirit a poignant question, “what are the similarities between these two things – finding out that I was in a “cult” and simultaneously finding out that we were in the middle of a world “pandemic”?  The answer came quickly and clearly. You see we, like much of America, thought we were simply ‘flattening the curve’ locked-up for a couple weeks and puzzling our way through the minutes and hours. We bought one of those funky wood puzzles, with the crazy cutouts and this is where spirit directed my attention. The puzzle illustrated an elephant precariously standing on one foot, on top of a house of cards, while looking at a time piece. The kicker? It was titled “The Consequences of Mass Hypnosis.” And there it was. This answer so beautifully summed up to me what is clear about “the virus” and “the cult” even years later. Moreover, my fellow students illustrated to me something that would prove valuable, as we moved through the Covid vail. One, some people truly do not want the truth, especially if that truth makes them responsible for their own life and decisions. Two, most people prefer to be led then to lead. They want someone else to give them the formula, show them the way and otherwise tell them what to do. Not in the obvious way of course, but in a way that makes me think I am making a choice even though you have made the choice for me. Lastly, the moniker ‘when you know better you do better’, doesn’t always apply. As I watch all too many ‘stuff’ what they know’ and turn a blind eye, in order to maintain their status, wealth, credentials or all the above.

The After Math

For me, Kundalini quickly fell away into a distant memory. My Kundalini yoga experience never took away from the beautiful practice of Hatha yoga, mantra or meditation. I never looked back and never practiced a kriya again. For me, with so many hours logged on my mat prior to the Kundalini debacle, I found it easier than most to separate that practice from all the other life changing lessons yoga had brought me. In fact, it had brought me the gift of intuition and discernment which allowed me the trust to stand up to my trainers and say, ‘this is not ok.’ Moreover, that’s why I decided to share this story. It has come up often in the last few months and so I find it my responsibility to share this story, TO PREVENT OTHERS FROM BEING MANIPULATED. It is alarming to me that there are still people teaching Kundalini yoga most often, to students who have NO IDEA about its dark history. In fact, my trainer just moved to a new studio and is going about teaching the same thing?! How in good conscious can anyone employ or teach something that is so deceptive? To me, the worst evil of all is to consciously manipulate someone under the guise of spirituality. Often, we find people in their most vulnerable and often broken-down states here, looking for support (and all too often someone to save them). Spiritual manipulation may be the worst manipulation of all. So I implore you to always ask questions, if something doesn’t feel right listen to your instincts and never do something you don’t feel comfortable with even when or especially when it’s in the “name of God”.  With Neptune retrograding at the very last degrees of Pisces, the fog is deep, and we all feel like we are literally hanging on the edge, remember you don’t need anything or anyone to connect you to the divine. You already are divine.

Additional Reading:

Under The Yoga Mat: The Dark History of Yogi Bhajan’s Kundalini Yoga 

Under The Yoga Mat: The Dark History of Yogi Bhajan's Kundalini Yoga

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