I recently heard of a book called Premka, White bird in a golden cage by Pamela Saharah Dyson from a great video 40 Days of Kundalini Yoga. The discovery came as a shock and surprise with mixed feelings of not being surprised at all!
I did a short video on my thoughts before reading the book and I hope that I can write neutrally since reading the book, much as Pamela did. She’s a wonderful writer and it’s a while since I read the book in a matter of days. I can relate to her twenty-year-old self, in ways we were similar, having an art practice, wanting a guide, being obedient to rules till finally the branch breaks and I.have.to.go.
After reading it, memories that I shrugged off, laughed sheepishly about, moments of naivety came flooding back, it must be so much worse for abuse victims and I fully recognise and respect that, I don’t want to downplay anyone.
I’ve included some further reading and resources for teachers at the end of this post, with links throughout.
The thing I keep going back to is that I felt relief and release in my body first. Before my mind started turning the cogs of thoughts and options. I didn’t even understand that feeling at first, it was powerful.
At the same time I was reading my way through The Masters Touch by Yogi Bhajan (it’s a thick book, I’ve read it on and off for years and have tried to make workshops based around it.)
I couldn’t read it anymore.
A small flyer that I had kept from a white tantric event I had put in a frame with Yogi Bhajans Aquarian Age quotes on it, came down.
I felt peace in the prospect of not wearing so much white.
I joined the Premka book club on Facebook and that’s when things got real and interesting.
It wasn’t just Premka.
Read that again.
There were others.
On sssresponseteam’s site about an ongoing investigation with An Olive Branch, it says 118 people have come forward with information. Interviews are ongoing through April and a statement to be released in June. Personally, I hope working with an independent organisation will show the light of the truth, the collaborative response team are all Kundalini Yogi’s.
Several teachers and online yoga stores have come forward and given a statement, I respect that. I like Guru Rattana’s video on Facebook (her book Relax and Renew is my go-to source!) Snatamn Kaur came forward with a statement on Facebook, it’s beautifully put about being Sikh and how she believed the people coming forward and Nirinjan Kaur’s words on navigating our own path on Facebook. I’ve read that Guru Singh (another great teacher, podcaster) has supported students and believes those affected as well as Guru Ganesha Band.
Even if their views are completely different from my own, like Harijiwan Singh, Tej Kaur, Guru Jagat who seem to blame Premka leaving the Kundalini Yoga inner circle in The futile flow of fate to be in a sexual relationship (if she left to get married and have a child she IS living as a householder, something heavily promoted in Kundalini Yoga, Sikh Dharma. There dismissive approach is typical to Cult lead people.) There’s also Gurmukh Kaur Khalsa who is quoted to have said ‘Kundalini Yoga changed my life, I am in so much joy, it brings me joy’ – Yes Gurmukh me too though when abuse and not living what you preach comes forward, it’s something to look over, not sit in denial or cover it up, with joy.
They can’t all be lying, in it for the money or doing it for attention.
The legend has fallen, Kundalini Yoga will live on without his name, face, quotes, stories, video footage. I hope!
Firstly, I’ll give you an overview of myself and my journey in Kundalini Yoga, I’ve been doing yoga since I was 13, the same time I started a paper round (delivering papers through peoples letterboxes for a little money) before school. I didn’t have a teacher, something that echoed on throughout my journey, I learned from Hatha yoga books and videos before the internet, DVDs, and streaming were readily available. It helped me in ways my young self couldn’t explain though looking back – I had better posture, concentration, and ability to process information. I moved onto Bikram yoga in my twenties, I liked the warmth as I held postures, I did it for a while till our heating system broke and I was given a book on Kundalini Yoga. Again I learned through videos, blogs, and books. Later I went to a festival and classes, other people often spoke of a ‘teacher’ though mine I saw at the front of the room once a week or on Youtube – Did they count as teachers?
Thankfully, I didn’t obsess about finding a 1-1 teacher and nothing dramatically harmful happened. I later became Sikh through choice after hearing a talk on Guru Nanak (the first Sikh Guru), listening to Kirtan in Gurdwaras (Sikh temple) and a miraculous health transformation in the process. Kundalini Yoga played a part in that, I learned the Japji prayer from my training, I listened to Western-style Kirtan before traditional styles. I wanted more – more Gurbani, more Kirtan, more Sikh stories and that’s the road I chose to go down. After all, there are seven other prayers you can read in the day, four more of them come directly after Japji Sahib. The Aquarian Sadhana features mantras from each of them – coincidence, I think not. Though I always wondered why Wah Yantee was in there, and where it came from. Later I learned it was Sanskrit from Patanjali, a great yogi.
I’ve never really understood the blend of Yoga and Sikhi, I’m glad for it for my journey though for teaching others, aside from using mantras and mantra music, I tried to keep it separate. I now see why other Sikhs were shocked/confused/questioning about it and why Western Sikh’s stopped practicing it. Though I can see why it deepens people’s experience of yoga and meditation, Gurbani is sacred poetry from the Sikh Gurus.
It’s a confusing, raw time. I do believe Kundalini Yoga is far more powerful and effective than other Yogas, I know from my own experience as it changed my life and quickly – I became and still do better able to be still, communicate, have better relationships and live more honestly. I used to be a shy person and I opened up within a year of practicing it every day.
Though this has rocked the boat – I feel a lot of stuff is kind ‘programmed into you’ in teacher training and I didn’t realise it till now. We did discuss the Tratakam image in training, though we didn’t do it. The instructions written were to put an orange piece of paper down and the image of Yogi Bhajan’s face in the center of it, then put it in a frame and meditate on the light in his eyes. I tried it once, it was weird, it felt like a trance, why would I look at the light in his eyes, when I had the sunrise, the biggest light of all.
I feel, there two camps of people since the Premka book:
- Believe her, believe them.
- Don’t believe her and say she was after sex and money.
I also think of it another way, there are three camps of people, spanning 50 years:
- Hippies – thought he was a spiritual master from the magical land of Punjab, he channeled God, he was God. Listened to everything he said.
- Students of teachers who knew him personally – Looked up to the direct students of his, read everything he ever wrote. Parrots to his work.
- Students of teachers who did not know him and question him – Teach with love though keep things simple. The future.
I feel for the people who were in the Kundalini Yoga scene from the beginning. While there most likely was a lot of beauty, spiritual connections and learning. There were also a lot of hurts that were hidden and covered up with ‘Sat Nam Ji!’
It reminds me of a basic principle I heard on justbetweenus last year: Don’t make one person your everything. That’s what people did! Yogi Bhajan became:
Yoga teacher, Master, friend, father figure, boyfriend, employer, payroll, financial advisor, landlord and more. Leaving people open to sexual, emotional and financial abuse and having nowhere to go.
I know firsthand, emotional abuse is far greater than anyone realises and trauma can be triggered years later. The abuser will beg, persuade, blackmail, threaten, put on a great show – anything to remain right and angelic to other people and will often have them think a person is crazy before the truth is revealed.
I keep going back to teacher training, things were rationalised and romanticised – him becoming a Master of Yogi at 16 then being a customs officer later in life, what happened in-between? Why didn’t he teach at 19, 21? Did he want to help people on drugs find yoga or did he want to create a lot of money, a mass following and quit working at an airport?
Another thing that I was reminded about in a video by a Sikh was YB’s merging of Guru Nanak (first Sikh Guru) and son Babba Siri Chand into tales of 3HO, everything is cleverly orchestrated.
His quote: I didn’t come here to make students/disciples I came here to make teachers – I don’t feel it is empowering as it once was. In the 70’s he could make money off people teaching, in the 2000’s he could have his name everywhere and people focus on his yoga only and now things are shifting. Every larger than life statement can be looked another way, was it all reverse psychology?
Imagine what those who lived with him felt, in the ’60s where cults were ever-present. It leaves me with so many open-ended questions:
Did YB practice what he preached? Or was he just a convincing spokesman?
Did YB learn from a well known Yogi or is it true he made stuff up as he went? (This was brought up in training and laughed about and is now being researched by scholars).
Why weren’t his 10-15 close staff, one of which translated the Japji for Westerners, not mentioned in training for all their efforts?
Why did YB increase his security every year? (This always rang alarm bells).
Why did YB look like a Yogi in the beginning though had a potbelly and numerous health conditions by the end? ( I mean, cmon).
Why did we overlook YB having so many female staff? For having so many businesses with people working for low wages or free?
Did Yogi Bhajan channel with God? Did he think he was a Guru? A mission from a Sikh Guru?
Did YB feel he had the right to decide what God’s will was for each person?
Was he a good guy to begin with or scheming from the start?
Was he just an excellent businessman capable of leading an institution?
Was he ever – happy, healthy and holy? (That’s not what 3HO stands for anymore.)
Was Gursant Singh right about 3HO THIS ENTIRE TIME? Here’s a video of his I like.
And if you are a teacher there are yet more questions, some I’ve followed up:
Is ONG NAMO GURU DEV NAMO relevant anymore? Wolfgang Deg Kirtan has a video on this
What Kriyas and meditations are genuine?
Is Kirtan Kriya effective for hormones, addiction, memory? See notes at the bottom.
Should I ignore Sex energy transformation Kriya and Meditation for addiction?
Does wearing white increase your auric field?
I have gone over things I’ve been part of, used in my journey, it’s easy to feel shame in referring to myself as a ‘Kundalani Yoga Sikh’ (I was blessed with Amrit in 2018). I haven’t specialised in anything else yet when people learned crystal bowls, Auyvedic training, coaching, I stayed within Kundalini Yoga till now 30 years old. Others may have similar experiences and changing what they are doing:
I will no longer go to white tantric events, or suggest them – I missed the last two anyway as the £120 price tag was hefty. Sitting looking into someone’s eyes while a screen of Yogi Bhajan comes up and a lady in white reads his quotes while we put our arms up – no thanks! We were always told of protestors outside – funny that!
I will be reorganising how I teach classes and release online short courses, I want to keep it simple, effective and authentic. One of the reasons I feel Kundalini Yoga works so well is that it stretches the body, turns off the chatter of the mind and raises the heart rate. I will not share quotes from my pages.
I will not suggest people have the breath pattern Sat Nam as they inhale and exhale (it’s suggestive, I never understood why YB didn’t also suggest saying Sat Nam Wahe Guru as they breathed, that is Simran, it’s as if people got stuck at Sat Nam).
I will no longer use Sat Nam as a greeting – Sat Nam was translated to fit around hippies and Westerners. It doesn’t mean ’truth is my identity or I am truth’, this is a stumbling block I came across when I went to my first Sikh Camp. The correct translation (at it’s the most simple level that is described in my daughter’s Kiddie Sangat Nursery Rhymes) is Sat is to mean true or truth Naam is to mean a connection with the divine, Waheguru, Waheguru is truth, the only thing that is true is Waheguru.
I still tune in for classes at the moment, though I stopped for my practice at home. It feels more natural too, enough said.
I won’t be going to the European Kundalini Yoga Festival again (something I had planned to take our daughter to and set a savings goal for). I know he’s not around anymore though it is associated with 3HO). I was discussing with someone recently – there’s no Sangat there. That’s another thing that has stuck out from Premka, she mentions people were encouraged to do yoga, meditate, etc. on repeat. That saying ‘Keep up and you will be kept up’, I think it has a dual meaning, ‘keep going, keep being busy, keep ignoring how you feel’.
A) That’s true in personal practice, you could keep doing all kinds of Kundalini yoga and meditation (there are so many Kriyas) and never confront how you feel. It’s as if Kundalini Yoga was designed that way.
B) People in Kundalini Yoga, at festivals, in classes, at white tantric, do not commonly talk to each other – no one shared opinions, feelings, about mantras or anything lasting. It was all about Bhajan. Especially before white tantric people would say ‘Oh I’m working something through, I’m going inside’. (Except my teacher training group 2017, we still chat on WhatsApp even now).
Also in Covid-19 I couldn’t get to the shops as normal and stopped drinking Yogi tea. Instead I switched to Roobius, no one has died and I feel great!
Things won’t change unless we actively make changes, here are my suggestions:
- Wear whatever makes you feel amazing, not because of what you think you should wear or told by someone else.
- Process how you feel if YB was all ‘emotions to devotion’ change it up – we’re allowed to feel, to listen to our inner guidance and be a powerhouse of a woman/man. YB claimed women were 17 times more powerful than men though he seemed to suppress a lot of people. You can do this through meditation, journaling, making bad or good art or talking.
- I feel we need to do the same in classes, perhaps some teachers do already and I will incorporate what I learned from doing pregnancy yoga classes, we all chatted freely at the end over a cup of tea and biscuit. No pedestal in sight.
- Teachers talking to each other!
There must be other confused teachers out there, I offer some advice:
If you are Sikh, hold onto the Gurus Bani and practices – Nitnem, Hukumnamas, Sadhana, Simran, Aardas and of course the entire Guru Granth Sahib as a guiding light. Sikhnet is a great resource I have used throughout my journey!
If you are not Sikh though follow Sikh Dharma such as listening to Kirtan, reading Japji, doing Seva and Sadhana then keep doing them if they bring you peace or joy. If they are being done out of a devotion to Yogi Bhajan or out of expectancy that you do them, gradually release from any grip that may have been upon you.
If you are not Sikh, do what makes you feel happy inside, ask questions and listen to the answers that come up in your body. Do a morning Sadhana, meditate on your breath and learn from the biggest Guru of all – Life.
Either way, always remember – Truth is high, higher still is truthful living, Guru Nanak (first Sikh Guru, no direct association with Yogi Bhajan).
Blogs and resources I have found insightful:
Articles (careful not to fall into a rabbit hole for hours and trigger warning!):
Resources for teachers:
Authentic NOW (my podcast)
Videos of interest: