After my previous writings, I was planning to write about the positive things that I took from practicing kundalini yoga. I have now concluded that I really don’t want to. Here I explain why that is and why I will never speak of the yoga in the same way again.
I have already written about the negative stuff: about the kundalini yoga community and what happened there (it was a cult full of abuse) and about my observations of manipulation and spiritual bypassing practices in kundalini yoga. These articles touch upon the good and the bad, for they both narrate how the good was used to maintain the bad. After these, I thought I was ready to focus on some of the positive things and to write about that, but it turns out I cannot do that, not in the light and dark of kundalini yoga. Here I dissect why.
The origins of kundalini yoga are plural
One thing I did not yet fully cover but did mention, is that kundalini yoga was presented as an ancient ‘technology’, with a big emphasis on that word to make it seem legit. It was presented as a complete system and spiritual path, like everything could be found within this system. It got names like ‘the mother of yoga’ and it was explained that this was the oldest yoga form from which the others sprouted. It was said to be the most complete yoga form, with the use of breath techniques, mantras, mudras, meditation, white clothing, a certain ‘yogic’ lifestyle, etcetera.
The story of the ancient technology that got preserved
The story we were given, tells that ‘this sacred ancient technology’ was kept secred for a long time, passed on from master to student, until Yogi Bhajan/Harbhajan Singh (HS) selflessly decided to make it available for the public. According to the story, HS had learned these teachings in secrecy from his master and he himself became the master at the age of 14.
I didn’t buy this, because the way kundalini yoga was presented by HS was very elaborate and specific (concerning the yoga sets) and I never believed he could have received it from his master in the exact same way – and memorised it all. So there definitely was a HS sauce to it. It wasn’t just an ancient technology that was preserved.
The teachings having been secret conveniently made it possible for HS to build his pyramid scheme business around the yoga, which he did. He fabricated and trademarked the teachings in a way that no one after him was allowed to alter. He taught yoga sets, made others write them down in the exact same way, and made sure that his sets were the only way to do kundalini yoga. Everyone was told to do everything exactly as he has told, and no one was allowed to change anything or do something else.
The story was that this way the teachings would remain preserved in the original or pure way. Altering something, like not very precisely sticking to the indicated times for a posture, would even be dangerous, because of how effective ‘the technique’ is.
And this is worth mentioning now because it seems to be that kundalini yoga was no ancient technology at all. At least, it wasn’t one comprehensive ancient technology.
In reality multiple teachings were mixed together
According to Philip Deslippe his scientific research, HS himself added some yoga streams or teachings together so to create his own version. He also added the mantras and other very selectively chosen aspects of the Sikh culture. Instead of correctly and respectfully referring to his own teachers, in his stories he changed the names and reality, so to end up referring to one non-existing teacher and a non-exising ancient secret lineage. This way he gained more prominence as the master himself. If you refer to a non-existing teacher, no one can ask questions to this teacher or your real teacher, so no one can really argue with you. It was the perfect cover.
I believe he also just added in aspects or wisdom from Indian culture and sold it as if it was especially a part of the teachings of kundalini yoga, which he taught and sold in the West (predominantly in the US). And he made up additions along the way, that helped him create this bubble of teachings that allowed for gaslighting or spiritual bypassing.
This is so important to know, because HS was regarded as the great master, was put on huge pedestals, and he made everyone believe that kundalini yoga was complete, ancient, ‘scientific’ even, and ‘the mother of yoga’. And now it turns out it is really a hodgepodge – that was used to keep people in a cult (see my previous writings for more about that).
The teachings of kundalini yoga aren’t coherent or trustworthy
To me this is important because it makes kundalini yoga completely wobbly and questionable and it makes HS in the least a big fat lier. More personally, it means that I spent a lot of money, not to mention time and energy, on learning more about this ‘mother of yoga’ through teacher training, while it was really an unreliable source of information.
Kundalini yoga is said to be all about the experience, not information, but I now think that is a facade too. In teacher training, I really missed proper information; the ‘text book’ everyone uses just repeats HS’s words without any other references, and I deem his words untrustworthy.
So to me kundalini yoga isn’t a coherent thing. If it seems coherent, that’s probably because HS’s assistants have done a great job in writing everything down and putting it all together, but I believe it really isn’t.
In reality, as I have understood from others through listening to interviews and reading in Facebook groups, it wasn’t just HS selflessly offering all the wisdom and others writing it down word for word. It was more like this: HS giving incomprehensible lectures, leaving the others (the assistants and students) to figure out what the heck he could have meant, searching for and creating comprehensible stories and teachings, and possibly writing those down and passing them on. All the wisdom was ascribed to him personally, but it didn’t always come from him.
I also believe that over time he said all kinds of weird stuff to confuse or gaslight people. I don’t have evidence for this, but this is the image I am getting from hearing and reading stories from people who were near him.
So even if something seemingly coherent appeared in the end, it is not trustworthy. It may have been well assembled by the assistants, but that is not enough either. Not if we acknowledge that: HS has used uncountable lies from the beginning; he created a gigantic web of lies and (half-)truths which he used to capture people; he was an authoritarian figure who used yoga to make people feel high while he (verbally and physically) assaulted and manipulated them – while telling them it was for their own good.
We may be able to figure out where the true wisdom came from and preserve some of that, but I believe we cannot simply trust anything from this kundalini yoga hodgepodge.
Kundalini yoga the practice no longer exists
My personal conclusion is that kundalini yoga isn’t even a thing. It’s not a solid practice or framework, not in the way we know it. Maybe it can be a thing, but not like this. So I will no longer refer to it as if it is.
I will only speak of kundalini yoga in the context of discussing what happened, how so many people believed it was a solid practice, and what we can learn from that, how we go from there. Kundalini yoga is like an old story we used to believe, a tale, a myth. It’s a time frame in which it had a place, and this frame is now closed. Kundalini yoga is history.
Kundalini Yoga is not a solid practice or framework. It is an old story we used to believe, a tale, a myth. Kundalini yoga is history.
That also means that I cannot ascribe any positive things that I may have experienced to this kundalini yoga practice specifically, because it doesn’t exist. The pieces exist, including the postures, movements, breath techniques, mantras, etcetera, but there is no whole.
So I will no longer validate the teachings
In my earlier piece I wrote that in kundalini yoga positive experiences (of feeling high) were used to validate the body of teachings, even though those experiences don’t necessarily mean much. This way, we may have placed high value upon these experiences and subsequently on the yoga form, while this may not make sense (because feeling good doesn’t mean the teachings are good). Today I examined why the teachings themselves aren’t credible, because of the lack of integrity, coherence and reliable sources. So to keep validating ‘the teachings’ with ‘the experiences’ would be highly insensible and I will no longer do it.
So I may ascribe any positive effects to intentionally moving your body, focussing on the breath, listening to beautiful music and repeating mantras, and doing these things together in a group of highly committed people. These techniques can also get you into trance states, which can be very special experiences and can certainly be valued as such. However, these techniques and experiences should not be solely ascribed to this make-belief yoga form and that is why I won’t write about the positive effects of this kundalini yoga.
As a final note, I don’t believe ‘the good experiences’ and ‘the bad experiences’ (including those of the many survivors of abuse) can be weighed out against each other. Focusing on ‘good experiences’ in an article may suggest that this weighing is possible and sensible, that we can even cleanly separate the ‘good’ and ‘bad’ (while preserving ‘the teachings’), while I believe we cannot. This is a most nuanced and complex issue and we can definitely learn from it, and we should, but we should take great care not to oversimplify and thereby overlook crucial elements of the dark side of this kundalini yoga.
Photo by Sinitta Leunen on Unsplash.