Michaela Stone Cross
July 27, 2020
Harjit Kaur* (name anonymized to prevent backlash), the daughter of Punjabi Sikh immigrants, was pregnant with her first child when she decided to take a Kundalini Yoga prenatal class. “It was an awful experience,” said Kaur. “There’s this weekend where they teach everyone about ‘Sikhism.’ The trainer had a trash bag full of dirty rags and had people tie the rags on their heads to crown themselves.” Her classmates then took selfies in their turbans. Kaur was the only Brown woman in the room.
Kundalini Yoga is a modern yoga practice trademarked by the Siri Singh Sahib Corporation (SSSC). SSSC is a multi-billion-dollar American non-profit, commonly known by its oldest division, 3HO. Yogi Tea, SikhNet, and Akal Security are among SSSC’s multiple subsidiaries.
Yogi Bhajan, a former customs inspector at Delhi airport, started 3HO in 1969. He capitalized on hippie culture, convincing white followers that he was a famous Indian yogi. In many ways, Bhajan was the quintessential phony guru, promising disciples ancient Eastern wisdom while exploiting them for money, power, and sex. But one thing made 3HO very different from the average cult: it latched onto Sikhism, also known as Sikhi, to attain a level of legitimacy most other movements never got.