I have an abiding interest in this. As you may know, an important aspect of my work pulls from kundalini yoga – along with a potent blend of ancient Hindu traditions, microdosing of plant medicines and brain science – all focused on relieving emotional distress and trauma.
Because a component of my work is rooted in kundalini yoga, I’ve kept a close eye on the aftermath and evolution following the revelations in 2020 that its founder, Yogi Bhajan, was a sexual predator. And because it’s such a phenomenon, I felt it deserved an updated look in this video.
Before I kick into this topic, I just want to say it’s nice to be back with you through video. I took some time off for my move over here to Portugal and it took much longer than I had envisioned to get settled. But it’s a process and life is an unfolding. And it’s important to honor the process. So, I will be talking to you from my new home in southern Portugal.
Back to the topic, Kundalini yoga is a spiritual practice that grew in popularity over 5 decades and continuously attracted new generations of practitioners.
However, as we know now, one of Yogi Bhajan’s closest followers who served as his personal secretary wrote a “Tell All” book that revealed the sexual, emotional, and psychological abuse she suffered at the hands of Yogi Bhajan and then many other women came forward with similar stories – painting a disturbing picture of this man who was once revered as a spiritual leader.
The revelations of Yogi Bhajan’s sexual abuse left the kundalini yoga community devastated and struggling with a sense of betrayal and disillusionment. But intriguingly, kundalini has morphed and has led to a shift in a new generation of kundalini practitioners, and there has been significant transformation.
Many of Yogi Bhajan’s former students have been forced to re-examine their relationship not only with the man, but the practices he brought to the Western world. Some teachers left the community, while others stuck around but with a newfound sense of skepticism toward the teachings and other leaders who continue to promote his practices.
So, those who continue to embrace kundalini have had to have a big shift in perspective away from seeing the man as being intertwined with the practice. There’s a Yoga historian – Philip Deslippe, who says, “Yogi Bhajan will be remembered like a Harvey Weinstein of Yoga.” And he says, “I believe his teachings will be tainted.”
But today I am noticing a shift with a new generation of kundalini practitioners focused on creating a more transparent and ethical community. I see many of them saying “we don’t do ‘Yogi Bhajan’ anymore… I see it even in marketing materials.
I believe this is because there’s a growing awareness of the dangers of putting one’s blind trust in a spiritual leader and knowing the importance of creating an environment where individuals can feel safe and empowered. This is pivotal. It’s pivotal to what I teach.
I never was associated with the community directly. Being an outsider, I believe the practice of kundalini yoga itself is not inherently flawed even though its founder caused this severe trauma for the individuals who followed his teachings and revered him.
The kundalini yoga community is grappling with the challenge of how to move forward in the wake of this scandal; He died in 2004. Some teachers have called for a complete break from the past and a new beginning, while others believe that the community must acknowledge and address the issues that led to the abuse in the first place. Ultimately, it’s up to each individual practitioner to decide how (or if) they decide to engage with the practice and the community going forward. I see a variety of ways teachers are dealing with it… many are letting go of a lot of the hallmarks of the yogi bhajan era, like the all-white garb and the turbans, Others have done away with the opening mantras and all references to him. On the other hand, I continue to see other kundalini teachers use his quotes.
So, Yogi Bhajan’s legacy is complex. On the one hand, he introduced many people to this spiritual practice and helped to popularize it in the Western world. On the other hand, his actions have caused this immeasurable harm and left a lasting legacy of trauma for so many individuals.
The kundalini yoga community is grappling with this thorny task of reconciling these two aspects of Yogi Bhajan’s legacy. He was a complicated and flawed individual. I’ll post a link in the comments section to a piece I did a while back about this.
As the process of coming to terms with his actions unfolds, we also want to acknowledge and honor the experiences of those who were harmed by the actions of Yogi Bhajan and other leaders who were in the community.
What’s your take on this? I know there are yoga teachers and kundalini yoga teachers in our community. I’d be interested in how you’re navigating it. So, please drop down to the comments section and let me know.
I’m Becca Williams and I want you to live your most magnificent life and I want to help you do that.