In the same breath that I can declare how grateful I am that Nick took me to yoga camp for my birthday and I got to spend 6 days in a beautiful, clean-living, uplifting spiritual environment, I can also emphatically state how thrilled I am that it's over and I can move on with my life.
Nick and I had extreme swings in emotions during the event. Almost entire paradigm shifts. I'm going to be honest here: we spent the first few days in delight and the last few days completely disenchanted. Our bullshit meters got pegged into the red zone of WTF-ness during our second day of White Tantric (the fourth day of camp) and we never recovered from it.
In short, White Tantric Yoga is a powerful practice that is mentally and physically challenging. You are sitting in long rows face-to-face with your partner staring into their eyes, chanting, and holding demanding arm positions for 31 or 62 minutes at a time. There is a great deal of mental strength and stamina required to do this all day, 3 days in a row. The more you do it the better you get at powering through it with minimal fidgeting (like anything, duh).
Nick and I both felt a special sense of intimacy sharing this space with one another. We loved staring into each other's eyes for such a long time and connecting in this way. I feel confident that I wouldn't want to share this experience with anyone other than my husband because it is so intimate by nature. But many Kundalini yogis don't share this feeling at all, and regularly show up to White Tantric events without a partner and gladly get matched up with random people.
Our first day was so hot and so physically demanding that I really felt a sense of accomplishment afterward. I had no idea what I accomplished, other than the literal completion of the first of three days of White Tantric. I felt pretty good, albeit exhausted to the core.
Then, on day two of White Tantric, I began to listen more carefully to the way Yogi Bhajan was describing the exercises (via a video that was recorded 15+ years ago, before he passed away in 2004). I realized that he was not trying to hide the fact that he also had no idea what we were accomplishing by doing these yogic exercises other than literally completing the task at hand. He blatantly told us several times that he didn't know what we were accomplishing. This got my attention.
For our first yoga set after lunch, Yogi Bhajan gave us a 62 minute exercise that required us to lay on our backs, head to feet alternating all the way down the lines. He instructed us to whistle the melody of a particular mantra to an ear drum splitting tune that belonged on an ice cream truck.
I couldn't believe it. Half the people in the room slept, the most devoted were whistling, and I just quietly laid there the entire time in disbelief. I spent much of the 62 minutes staring at the nearest tv monitor which was displaying a still shot of Yogi Bhajans face. I've done some silly, seemingly pointless kundalini yoga exercises before, but this was absurd. I actually really enjoy chanting. The calm, meditative state that I experience while chanting mantras to beautiful music is something I really love, but I just couldn't wrap my head around the ridiculousness of what I was being asked to do.
I was stewing inside and couldn't stop thinking THIS GUY IS FUCKING WITH US.
I got myself so worked up with doubt and skepticism about Yogi Bhajan and his "out there" yoga teachings that he brought to America, that I spent the entire 25 minute break between exercises on the internet on my phone searching is Yogi Bhajan a fraud? and reading the countless articles that came up.
I started doing Kundalini Yoga in 2002, and have definitely not been consistent or devout over the years. I guess because I never took it too seriously and always considered it a bit "out there" it never occurred to me to research this guy until now.
As it turns out, yes, Yogi Bhajan is a fraud.
I won't go into details about everything I uncovered in my research, but if you've ever watched the movie on Netflix called Kumare, about a false prophet from India, you will understand. In fact, if you haven't seen it, go watch it, it's an excellent movie!
Yogi Bhajan was a customs inspector in India with a petty criminal record before coming to the US in 1969. He claimed to be a well-known holy man and to have become a yoga master at age 16. He claimed to be sharing the ancient science of kundalini yoga for the first time in history and that he was the holy Siri Singh Sahib.
I guess in the 1970's, the world was still such a big place because the Internet hadn't been born yet. Looking back it seems that it could be very easy for someone like Yogi Bhajan (born Harbhajan Singh Puri) to get away with moving to a new country and creating such an identity. This "ancient science" is basically just a bunch of shit he made up as his following of lost hippies looking for a new way of life grew and grew, and he got richer and richer.
My research turned up a number of serious allegations against him that I don't care to share here. But I do want to share an excerpt from one Huffington Post article by cult expert Steven Hassan that I found. It echos what I noticed on my own visit to Amritsar, India and the Sikhs Golden Temple this year.
"The audacity of Yogi Bhajan’s claims makes this story particularly alarming. Bhajan taught, among other things, that he could see auras and see into the future. But perhaps his most outrageous claim was that he was the official religious and administrative leader of all Sikhs in the Western world. I am told that most legitimate Sikhs avoid any association with Bhajan’s group, and that Yogi Bhajanism is by no means representative of the five-century-old Sikh tradition whose homeland is in the Indian Punjab."
In India you won't find Kundalini Yoga. Apparently they already know he's a fraud.
When that break was over and I had to put my phone away I was in a completely different headspace. I didn't want to continue, but felt I needed to complete the day out of respect to our White Tantric neighbors. So when Yogi Bhajan (via recording) announced that our next 62 minute exercise would be to sit back-to-back with our partner, eyes closed, and whistle the same exact thing for 62 more minutes, I completely lost it. I lost any last shred of respect or adoration for Yogi Bhajan and his yoga. 62 more excruciating minutes doing some bullshit exercise that he completely made up and claimed to be "science."
I looked around and there were so many other people sitting in disbelief just like me. 800 plus people who traveled from all over the world and paid good money to do this were sitting here whistling while simultaneously being duped.
I somehow survived the rest of that day, but Nick and I gladly skipped the last day of White Tantric. Determined to make the most of our time there we showed up for our service duties that evening to help with meal prep.
We found out that one of the yoga sets that day was to lay down and fall asleep for 31 minutes. No chanting, no hand position, just sleep. 31 minutes of sleep. When I heard this I laughed hard out of gratitude for having ditched the day.
We enjoyed a lively drum circle that evening with the beautiful people at the event, and ended the night with a powerful gong sound bath. If you've never laid in sivasana while someone played gongs, you're missing out.
Our last day of camp started with several hours of service in the kitchen prepping for lunch and dinner. Nick and I both loved working in the kitchen and agree that it made our whole experience very special and fulfilling. In fact, it saved our experience, once we discovered what bullshit the actual yoga portion of yoga camp was. We met amazing people while we chopped and mixed and cooked and felt a sense of contribution to the community.
The irony of working in the kitchen for me is that I only ate camp food for the first day. After feeling heavy and lethargic from all the carbs and subsequent insulin pulsing through my body, I decided to return to my regular ketogenic diet and eat meals in my trailer for the rest of the week. I found it to be a nice practice just serving others.
In the afternoon we grabbed some kayaks and paddled around the lake together before going to the camp closing ceremony. Some of the other service teams put together cute little skits for the crowd, and then there was music.
In closing, I'm grateful for this experience of attending a Winter Solstice celebration. The environment was amazing, the people were kind and happy, and the break was needed. I'm also grateful for the paradigm shift I got regarding this style of yoga. It is safe to say I will never attend another Solstice celebration or Kundalini class, and also that I feel obligated to make my feelings about this event and this yoga public, despite any controversy it may create.
Thank you for taking the time to read this.
Peace and love.