I’ve been taking kundalini yoga classes in Los Angeles and I have some things to say.
Kundalini yoga is an excellent opportunity to discover new forms of movement and meditation that help to release blocks within our individual and collective energy systems. It is a synthesis of mind and body control, aided by the practice of chanting as well as the setting of clear intentions that open one up to his or her highest potential.
In the month that I’ve been going to Nine Treasures Yoga, I’ve gained greater clarity of mind and body, and my physical appetites have been happily transmuted into a desire to accomplish things that I had let fall by the wayside for lack of energy or inspiration.
Some have asked me if Kundalini Yoga is a cult and whether or not it’s actually devil worship in disguise. Withholding my signature eye-roll, I’ve happily offered some response.
Anything has the potential to become cult-like, at least at first glance to outsiders. I felt the same way about Cross Fit, and still do. Whenever a group of like-minded individuals come together to participate in a set of practices and beliefs, it becomes a cult-ure. Cult, of course, is an unfriendly shortening of the word culture. Most people think of the many groups from the last half of the 20th century who committed suicide en masse or locked themselves in communities far away from the public’s prying eyes. And yes, I think such groups deserve a hard looking-at by the rest of society. Look at Michael Jackson’s estate and the hush culture of Hollywood pedophilia. Or the world of fashion. Or the Oscars. Making no judgements, I simply suggest that we look at distinct groups of people who come together for various reasons, nefarious or benevolent.
However, I believe the difference between a cult and a culture comes down to the value of what it brings to those people and the world at large. Any sect of yoga practitioners appears cult-like to any other sect of Christian parishioners. The point of yoga is to help people release themselves from the bonds they’ve absorbed or created in their own minds and bodies so that our very inherent, divine nature might shed some ecstatic light on an otherwise weary world. Christians themselves, though many seem to have forgotten, are tasked with one rule above all others: Love thy neighbor as thyself. The various differences within the religious communities are imaginary.
Barry’s Bootcamp is a cult-ure. Oprah is a cult-ure. The United States government is a cult-ure.
I was recently pointed to a revealing article and series of videos about Yogi Bhajan, the founder of Kundalini Yoga. One of the videos was even titled “The Wacko World of Yogi Bhajan” and its purpose was to reveal the very flawed, human nature of a man who christened himself with sainthood and fabricated an origin story for what would become the school of Kundalini Yoga.
I wasn’t really surprised at these findings. It’s common in every aspect of human activity to find corruption and deceit. AC Bhaktivedanta of the Hare Krishna sect as well as Bikram and other gurus have all been documented as having relented to their human desires. Look at the mass defrocking of Catholic priests and cardinals for their own indiscretions. Look at the current president of the United States and the plethora of information available about his own seedy past.
I don’t believe in the infallibility of gurus or leaders. In fact, I believe that the potential for failure was built into the very design of the universe. In Christian terms, Lucifer is yet an angel of God, despite his rebellion and fall. The Devil himself has the potential to reaffirm his own divinity yet refuses to acquiesce to any power greater than his own. Of course, this is the historical parallel to the battle between the ego and the mind.
Cults are based around egos; giant, powerful, charismatic personalities that naturally attract followers in a world where too many people sense themselves to directionless, unloved, and disconnected. I point you to the worlds of televangelism, Scientology, R. Kelly, and more.
The power of yoga, when it is unadulterated by the trappings of a guru’s ego, is irrefutably immense. Equally, the power of men and women to love in the spirit of Christ has made such a mark on the world these past two millennia that we are convinced of its place as the highest of truths. However, I do not believe that Christ and the yogis held differing views on the world and on our participation within it.
What I do believe is that such power in the hands of men is unwieldy and dangerous. So I offer a word of caution against spiritual leaders of all faiths, fitness gurus, fashion gods, Hollywood elite, or otherwise. Our highest truth is to be found within ourselves, beyond the dark narratives we have been conditioned and continue to condition ourselves to believe, as well as beyond any teachings that come from the mouth of anyone claiming to know what truth is.
At Nine Treasures Yoga, we practice what was taught by Yogi Bhajan to his students. Whether or not he was taught kundalini yoga by someone who preceded him is still up for debate. However, the practices speak for themselves on a personal level, and we are welcome to throw out the bath water while gently holding on to the baby of our own souls, whom we have cleansed of the impurities within our own minds and hearts. You don’t have to wear a white turban and learn Punjabi. You can simply apply the practices to your own energy system and observe what results. The very same could be said for Catholics, Hindus, Muslims, bootcamp fanatics, Vogue divas, and anyone else who chooses freely to subscribe to a certain culture.
Maintain your sense of self no matter where you are or what you are doing and you will remain free. Just don’t drink the Kool-Aid.