This essay humbly pays homage to Sadhguru (and formerly also to Yogi Bhajan, but not anymore to him as he was known to be sexually abusive). It still pays homage to writing mentors D.H. Lawrence and Thomas Larson. {*Please note: As of February 2020, Yogi Bhajan is a known sex predator; so the contents of this essay have been edited to consider the new developments that emerged regarding Yogi Bhajan. Thank you for your patience while I considered my revisions. This revision process was not easy for myself as a writer; nor has moving through this severance been easy for me. I had embraced the teachings of Yogi Bhajan but have now moved away from those teachings. This has been a process of facing trauma and healing a broken heart, spirit, soul. Thank you for reading.}   

My daily yoga practice used to be based on the teachings of Yogi Bhajan.  Each day I woke early and practiced Aquarian Sadhana.  When I taught yoga, I taught what Yogi Bhajan taught.  I adored that path.  It was once straightforward and effective — seemed like no smoke and mirrors, no new age hocus pocus, no bull shit.  Kundalini Yoga as Taught by Yogi Bhajan once gave me grit and grace, a crystal clear consciousness, and infinite spiritual muscle.  Even just one kriya or meditation taken up and practiced regularly with a sincere heart was enough to manifest practical, elevating life results for me at one time. I am speaking from my own experience. But I had also observed many friends and students reap tons of benefits from this practice. I once found it surprising to me and other practitioners that this practice was a hard sell to a vaster majority. Were people hung up on the white clothes, the head wraps, suspicions of the sound current (chanting mantras), or the strangeness of the exercises? Yogi Bhajan’s kundalini yoga was always considered “weird yoga” to many people. This once seemed unfortunate to me. How can it be so much weirder than other programs? So I wondered. But now I realize it’s weird because he was an abuser. I suppose I was an idiot to “drink the cool-aid.”

Now, I practice Shambhavi Mahamudra. Throughout the pandemic, I have been listening to Sadhguru in his Darshans. I feel much better in this practice, like it is more sane, gentler, more equalizing for my system than that hard core kundalini practice ever was. But I must admit that I am more on guard now, more careful now, more ready to watch out. I don’t feel safe calling Sadhguru “my Guru” because I have been hurt in the past by enthusiastically embracing the teachings of Yogi Bhajan, and this experience is effecting how I interact with spiritual teachings and teachers. I am not a yoga teacher anymore. I am simply breathing and healing. I am on my own.

This essay expresses how someone coming from a kundalini background gets cozy in a community practicing a hatha yoga practice. When I practiced Yogi Bhajan’s form of kundalini yoga in a climate where many other forms of yoga are much more popular, I often felt the way D.H. Lawrence describes his feelings in his spiritual essay “The Spinner and the Monks.” In that essay, he describes a journey up a mountain to the Church of San Tommaso in Gargano, Italy but “a thick, fierce darkness of the senses” drives him out of the chapel. What unknown force creates this sense of the being an outsider? What mystical energy seems to be provoking his consciousness into otherworldly neutrality that erases his very existence? Outside the church, he observes the way a woman who is spinning wool makes him feel he “was not in existence.” For D.H. Lawrence’s observations, longings, and alienations lead him to ask, “Where in mankind is the ecstasy of light and dark together, the supreme transcendence of the afterglow, day hovering in the embrace of coming night like two angels embracing in the heavens..?” He wonders if there is a form of ecstasy that can unite sense perception with spirituality, rather than make them divided. Thomas Larson praises Lawrence’s essay for its ability to be both “lyrically intimate and numinously alert.” So I write here to play, to unite, to honor this wonder. I humbly practice that my writing may be “lyrically intimate and numinously alert” while contemplating being with kundalini and hatha yoga together.

So here’s my humble story: One day in November 2017, I was practicing tratakum meditation of Yogi Bhajan’s photo.  It’s one of the tools we have in that practice, gazing at a photo of the realized kundalini master.  The teachings say that during the meditation, the practitioner can ask a question internally and an answer will arise.  I meditated on the photo of Yogi Bhajan and asked, “what do I need to know now to be more effective in service as a teacher, writer, and mother?” 

No sooner had I asked the question than this one-word answer roared into my awareness: “Sadhguru.” 

At that moment, I absorbed the answer; and in the next moments wondered over it. When I read from the Guru or chant Gurmukhi mantras, I encounter the words “sat guru” or “sach guru,” which means true guru.  So, at the moment the word Sadhguru arose in my meditation, I wondered why it was a skewed form of the words Sat Guru that I had read from the Siri Guru Granth SahibSadhguru:  The word stuck with me, spelled that way, and uttered with such ferocity, a severe and determined roar within, accompanied by a word spelled out and blazing with orange light. These last couple of years, every internal message comes in the form of a fierce internal roar and flames. So much for yoga bringing inner peace. In this moment, I puzzled over why Sadhguru was spelled in that unusual way when I had always seen it as Sat Guru or Sach Guru.

That evening, many hours after my tratakum meditation, I was engaged in some online research for a writing project, when I came across a book called Inner Engineering: A Yogi’s Guide to Joy by Sadhguru

Stop! Whoa! Eukera! There is that word as it was revealed to me in meditation! Wow! Wonder! Awe! Joy in my heart! 

I ordered the book and read it right away. 

I LOVE the Inner Engineering book.  Sadhguru is a hatha yoga teacher, AND he is a great writer! And this combination — a mystic who can write well –makes my own heart sing. His writing is articulate, funny, and overflowing with life-affirming intelligence. Sadhguru teaches practices that are different from those taught by Yogi Bhajan, so at first I approach seeking ways the two teachers’ messages harmonize within me. While Yogi Bhajan wanted to create teachers and sages for the Aquarian Age, Sadhguru wants to create a world full of blissful beings. He envisions a world where 7.2 billion people practice some form of yoga that makes them internally flowing with “seamless loves and untold ecstasies.”

Once upon a time, my humble prayer was that I may effortlessly absorb and embody both Yogi Bhajan and Sadhguru’s teachings to support me to radiate infinite grace to uplift myself and those I love and serve. So, I visualize my expanded heart’s vast embrace, including both the practical mysticism of Sadhguru with the kundalini mastery of Yogi Bhajan. Like this, I felt free to engage this Inner Engineering hatha program with all chakras fully charged with aliveness and receptivity.

After binging on Sadhguru youtube clips and reading more of his books, I vowed to be willing to create a unifying force for these various teachers and teachings within my being. Yogi Bhajan’s “Kriya for an Open Heart” is a good practice to support this.

Because I also embrace the discipline of writing spirituality as it is described in Thomas Larson’s Spirituality and the Writer, creating this unifying force most likely involves psychological or spiritual wrestling and word play. Larson describes how the successful spiritual writer reveals more about how she wrestles with growing and shifting. Readers of spiritual writing prefer more story and entanglement and fewer platitudes. Can I write about my experience of Inner Engineering as a kundalini yogi in such a way that I hold the attention of a reader in the ways Thomas Larson’s book describes? Can this practice build my confidence so I can overcome a sense of failure that I am a bad writer. Years of rejection is taking its toll. Still, I keep writing. But I have to admit that I do most of my wrestling in Sadhana, not necessarily through writing. If I wrestle out in Sadhana and clear the subconscious mind, writing becomes sacred and celebrative. Well, sacred and celebrative in the literary scene — like kundalini yoga — is weird or doesn’t sell.

Months after reading the book, I showed up to the Inner Engineering completion course. Sadhguru came to teach 2,000 people at a convention center in Long Beach. Among the crowd, I was the only other person, besides Sadhguru, wearing a head wrap.  Someone among the attendees asked me why I cover my head. I explained the benefits of keeping the cranial bones cozily hugged together as a way to organize the energies generated during meditation. He seemed pleased and interested in my explanation.

Though I felt a little out of place and out of my usual element, when Sadhguru came out onto the stage, he came out dancing joyfully. He was motioning to the crowd to join him in the dance and to meet him at his level of joy. So all 2,000 of us danced with him. He faced one side of the room then another and gestured with his hands to express whether he felt satisfied with the levels of joy coming from that part of the room. So far, he was shaking his head, “no” and throwing his hands out to communicate that the left side of the room was not dancing joyfully enough. I was way in the back of the room to his right side. When he faced our group, right away he showed a thumbs up sign and nodded his head. He expressed satisfaction with the level of joy coming from our side of the room. And internally, secretly, I took his satisfaction to heart in a big way. In fact, his thumbs up, yes nod, and beaming grin brought me a lot of inner healing.

While dancing, I had projected — no, I exuded — all my joy. I had longed for my smile, anonymous amidst the sea of faces, to reach him. I let myself imagine that from this distance, Sadhguru received my unique expression of joy through my dance. Sure he was nodding to everyone, but I personally felt connected to him from that distance and in that vast crowd.

What I personally felt as Sadhguru’s receptivity to my joy was so healing for me. Without getting too bogged down in details, just know that at that time in my life, I had been feeling that people I was working with and people whom I was living with were not receiving my energy and messages; it felt to me as though people in my day to day life seemed numb to my presence, numb to any ability to share in what gives me joy. In Sadhguru, I had found someone who assured me that my presence works. He can feel and respond to my joy, even in this crowd, even at this distance. Wow!

Thus, to this day, that brief instant of true connection keeps me listening and observing and remaining receptive to all that Sadhguru has to teach. After all, it was meditation on Yogi Bhajan’s photo that guided me to Sadhguru. No doubt my years of practicing Aquarian Sadhana made it possible to connect quickly, amidst a crowd, and over the distance.

But Sadhguru’s method, approach, vibe, and frequency feels different. There is a different fragrance. This atmosphere feels different from a kundalini gathering. It is less of a pressure cooker and more of a slow climb up a mountain. Within me this feels as refreshing as it feels disruptive. But there is an ease in connecting to the quality of stillness (shuniya) that is absolutely the same in both methods. And even if it seemed that the thousands of people who showed up to this two-day program were not the white-clad yoga family that I usually practiced with, they sat in Gyan Mudra and we chanted as One Voice. Should there be a struggle to internally continue to recalibrate to remind myself that it is okay to bow to Adiyogi and to bow to the Siri Guru Granth Sahib? It is my own personal choice to feel at ease to marry these two ways inside myself. Why should I feel conflicted at all? And will not feeling conflicted about this make me less than qualified to write about my experience in a literary way? Will not feeling conflicted about this somehow reduce me in the eyes of those with more one-pointed devotion to one or the other? Should merging the two within me offend anyone? Now, these questions have changed somewhat because I am abandoning Yogi Bhajan’s practices. I have seen too often that in the Kundalini Yoga community, even when I improved myself, served with sincerity and humility, I was still mistreated, dismissed, and made to feel that if only I did another 40 days of that prosperity kriya, then maybe all would be well. Well, that’s bull shit.

Once, I was told my writing would be banned in India. Very well, I live in the States, and so far no one has banned my writing. Hell, my writing is not even officially published and read by few! I am whispering underground, not causing a ripple. Nothing is going viral on this blog. It would be exciting to know this writing had any impact at all. I am beyond caring about whether or not I have made and impression or expressed myself. I wanted to write to dedicate and honor and practice.

Two aspects of embracing the Inner Engineering program provoke me into inner wrestling: 1. the actual physical yoga practice is very beautiful, very elegant, yet it feels too “easy,” or too gentle, as though my physical body has already been stretched, squeezed, and kicked beyond the lessons of this Inner Engineering completion practice — The Shambhavi Mahamudra. Be this as it may, I still engage Shambhavi Mahamudra practice with sincerity and alertness to my koshas. The day we learn the preparatory exercises, my partner that I am working with — a stranger named Asmita whom I have just met here — corrects the way I am doing Cat / Cow. What? Such a basic practice I’ve done for years; she corrects me? Here is an inward pang of wounded pride… Ok. Ok. So, I listen. Bummed. I adjust according to her remarks. I force myself to be grateful to be here, but now I have to admit that a big part of me privately grumbles and wishes this random stranger who is correcting me could see, feel, know and appreciate my last five years of daily Sadhana. 2. No one else is dressed in white or wearing a head wrap. Clearly I was the only openly apparent Yogi Bhajan fan here, which pokes and provokes my consciousness in the realm of my sense of belonging.

So I observe how all of this plays out internally on every level — physical, mental, emotional, spiritual: Where do I need patience and tolerance? Where do I need to release my sense of knowing and just be a beginner again? What does it mean to me to feel intuitively linked to Sadhguru because I fell in love with his written work? Whereas, when I read Yogi Bhajan’s Master’s Touch, I always felt uneasy with a constant voice in me that cried out, this book needs major editing! I am a word lover, a lover of literature, and so the character of my struggle involves relating to words; this is how my path unfolds. It’s in the fabric of my being, and as a yogi, word-loving gets me into as much trouble as it does elevate me. Ok. So Yogi Bhajan was no literary genius (too many platitudes?), but his yoga kriyas are perfect masterpieces. So, I once thought.

I practice Cat / Cow, and I wonder. How do I bring more energy into being receptive to both teachers instead of getting entangled in feelings of partiality toward one or the other? I internally vow not to be partial but to be expansive, not to feel divided but to unify. Now, I can embrace that there is not either one way or another. There is all. And I am as much an Isha as I am an Aquarian Teacher. What does this look like in my being? What is the sum total of the two put together? Sadhguru’s Isha plus Yogi Bhajan’s Happy, Healthy, Holy equals the Source of Creative Energy smiling upon the committed Aquarian Teacher and then some…? What sum? There can never be a measure of Infinity! {But this paragraph was written in 2018. Now, in 2020, the challenge is for me to stay steady in my faith in Sadhguru even though I had been so hurt by the kundalini yoga of Yogi Bhajan. So, a new question is How do I learn to trust a spiritual teacher again?}  

Now, does this mean that I am a spiritual window shopper who turns wishy washy in her commitment to a path? Also, how shall I refine my sense of belonging? Can I be with grace and at ease with all that I sense and see as a kundalini yogi in a hatha program? What does this sense that I expand to listen to Sadhguru’s wisdom mean for my sensitivities regarding commitment, divinity, and grace? What happens within me when the Yogi Bhajan teachings and Sadhguru teachings seem to contradict? For instance, Yogi Bhajan promoted onions and gralic, while Sadhguru refers to those as foods with no prana. They contradict. But also, now (2020), I don’t even consider myself either a kunalini yogi, nor am I quite an Isha. Am I an orphan?

This essay is not an attempt to answer these questions but to ask them. I am writing my way into an ecstatic dance between the contemplative seeker and the mysterious unknown.

From what I sense inside, I know this one thing I learned from my practice gives me the strength and curiosity to explore the Inner Engineering Hatha approach: any which way, yoga nurtures my fearless love affair with Infinity. I will need to be committed to smiling and expanding beyond any energy that wants to insist that I am somehow deficient or conflicted just because I can embrace both paths and neither path. I know that the teachings of Yogi Bhajan and Sadhguru can work and not work within my inner life in perfect harmony. 

If forces outside of me compel my mind to get ruffled over conclusions that different teachings are somehow at odds with one another or somehow not congruent or some kind of shortcoming, then I will slow down to observe what it is in the universe that would create such a shortcoming of perception?

In the Master’s Touch Yogi Bhajan says, “don’t learn by questioning; learn by blessing.” Yet, when I read Thomas Larson, he discusses the ways the best spiritual writers have earned the readers’ trust through the ways and means of coping with real-life struggle that involves a lot of wrestling with fears, doubts, and critical questions. Blessing and questioning. Now, as a contemplative writer I have wondered about ways to practice both blessing AND questioning.

Besides, what I like about Sadhguru is that he is a good writer. He is extraordinary in his eloquence. When he communicates, every word makes sense. There is no expression that is wasted on nonsense or psycho-spiritual babble, no barbed negativity to make the listener / student feel disdained. Sadhguru speaks from a crystal clear consciousness to a crystal clear consciousness and does not play psychological games. But as of 2020 and my experience of breaking from Yogi Bhajan, I can’t help but wonder if Sadhguru ever uses abuse to get his spiritual teachings across to his closest followers. I mean no disrespect by this but I do wonder why spiritual teachers think that it is okay to teach a lesson through abuse. I have to say that I do not think this is okay. I want to be more alert to when a teacher is playing games. Challenges to the spirit are one thing, psychological manipulation is another; and it is an important level of discernment needed to strengthen a spiritual seeker to know the difference. But really, spiritual teachers, why must you rely on abuse to teach a challenging spiritual lesson? Why?  

But beyond any need to explain, I can deeply enjoy the ways that my inner life reconciles all kinds of teachers and teachings in nuanced ways that reveal the how and why, “all roads lead to the one.” Be it a blessing or a curse, it is the word-lover’s wont to put more words and stories to it than that; thus, I feel compelled to add my unique expression to “all roads lead to the one.” Writing here simply reveals one unique being’s unfolding. As Sadhguru says, “There is oneness in existence and uniqueness in all beings. The essence of spirituality is to recognize and enjoy this.”

What does it mean now, in 2020, to say Yogi Bhajan and Sadhguru are one; In their being, they are unique? I am blessed to be able to recognize this and deeply enjoy here. The True Guru within me has given me this treasure. Wahe Guru! This kind of expression is inspired by reading and bowing to the Siri Guru Granth Sahib.

Infinite pranams to Sadhguru.  Infinite pranams to Yogi Bhajan (while I bristle).  Infinite pranams to you, Dear Reader, who is always Welcome into the home of my internal world where these teachers from different times and spaces enjoy perfect union (a sentence I wrote in 2019).  Welcome to the Home of Sat Chit Ananda that is within me and inextricably linked to my love for infinite varieties of the expressions of the Word. 

In kundalini yoga practices, we first tune in with a mantra Ong Namo Guru Dev Namo, an expression of bowing to the divine teacher within the Self and within all things. Still, writing here feels like going out on a limb; bringing these two teachers together to celebrate Guru Purnima July 16, 2019 is likely my own unique experience. This is what I celebrate. Let’s continue to come together, reach out to one another, roar together, and keep in touch. 

There is no conflict here. Life is rich. Teachings are vast. Cosmic consciousness creates the path.

Rebecca Jane Johnson All Rights Reserved, 2020

3 thoughts on “Kundalini Yogi with Sadhguru — Roar Together

  1. Vielen herzlichen Dank,du sprichst mir aus dem Herzen. Ich kann das ebenso spüren.
    Ich liebe die Lehren.
    Sat Nam

  2. Thank you for sharing this. I’ve been practicing Isha Kriya (Sadhguru) as my daily meditation for half a year, but was thinking of changing to Satanama meditation (Yogi Bajhan) for the next 6 months, and was wondering about what you talk in your writing. It helps me realize that “Yogi Bhajan and Sadhguru are one. In their being, they are unique.” Blessings.

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