My yogic journey - Els Ravinder Coenen
From 2008 to 2018, Kundalini Yoga as taught by Yogi Bhajan ruled my life.
My passion was intense. I took cold showers, did my sadhana, experimented with the kriyas, meditated for hours, bought books and DVDs, attended all possible courses and workshops, led the Belgian Kundalini Yoga Federation for eight years, taught several yoga classes a week, organized and assisted in teacher trainings in Belgium and neighbouring countries and in Burundi, Kenya and Ethiopia.
And yes, I also wore a turban while teaching and sometimes even outside the yogaroom.
From time to time, I heard rumors on abuse. But: that was all slander, they said.
They were my yoga teachers and yoga friends. Don't listen to it. It's all fantasy.
In 2012 the abuse came very close. Hari Singh, one of the teachers from the Sat Nam Rasayan* course that I organised in Belgium, seduced two young female students into a sexual relationship. He knew that both of them were in a vulnerable situation at that moment. For months I asked the SNR leaders to take appropriate action, but I was asked to remain silent. Because of my insistence I was excommunicated by Guru Dev Singh, the so-called Master of SNR. He declared Belgium a no-go zone for all SNR activities for two years.
At the end of September 2020, eight years after the events, I wrote a letter to Guru Dev Singh asking him if today he was more open to acknowledge the harm done by Hari Singh and that transgressive behavior has no place in Sat Nam Rasayan. You can read the full story, my letters to Guru Dev Singh and his answer here.
* Sat Nam Rasayan, or SNR, is a meditative healing technique that uses Kundalini Yoga as taught by Yogi Bhajan as a basis.
In 2018 I came across the article 'From Maharaj to Mahan Tantric' from historian Philip Desllippe. It speaks about the lies Yogi Bhajan told us about his past, his teachers and the origin of his version of Kundalini Yoga. I felt betrayed and asked questions to various leaders I knew in the International KY scene. No answer came.
I was angry. This was not Kundalini Yoga as taught by Yogi Bhajan, this was Bhajan Yoga.
The most frustration that I felt however was related to the silence that 'again' seemed to be the only answer I could get.
I was disappointed because I realised that I had participated in spreading those lies in my weekly yoga classes and in teacher training courses in Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Burundi, Kenya and Ethiopia.
This is an ancient technology; I had proclaimed to students. Every time I said that, and I did it many times as that was one of the main reasons I loved these teachings, every time I felt this gratitude for being able to share these teachings. Nothing could have been further away from the truth. Yogi Bhajan made up the everything. All this had nothing to do with Kundalini Yoga.
How was it possible that I, a scientist to the core, a doctor in Nuclear Physics, had believed all this?
How was it possible that I had not investigated it further? What had prevented me to do that?
Had my intuition not told me from the start, from the very first session in the Level I training, that this unclear link between the yoga and the Sikh religion was unhealthy?
Why did I not listen to it?
Why did I accept silence as an answer for so long?
What prevented my critical mind, that was omni-present everywhere else in my life, failed to see through this myth?
I stopped teaching yoga classes. I stopped my activities in the Teacher Trainer Academy. I stepped out of the programs we did in East-Africa, laid down my role as representative for Belgium at the International KY scene and resigned from the board of the Kundalini Yoga federation in Belgium.
Bye-bye Kundalini Yoga. I was free. At least that is what I thought.
Early 2019, I heard about the involvement of Akal Security* in the separation of children from their parents at the US-Mexico border. It was disappointing to see how slow the response was to the petition launched by Fatehbir Kaur and how few teachers and trainers seemed to care. Was this the yoga of awareness? Deep inside I felt unrest and frustration rising up again.
I recognised those feelings from the time I was asking questions about the true history of Yogi Bhajan. Silence was ruling, once again. Not only the SSSC was silent, but also the overall teacher's community seemed 'not to bother'.
They asked me why I spoke about it. 'We focus on the yoga. Stop being so negative,' they told me.
This reminded me of the SNR leaders who asked me to keep quiet about the sexual abuse in 2013, to obey Guru Dev and to protect 'the family'. 'You are our sister,' they said. Why did I not reply that I never felt like their sister?
I had to do something with all these energies floating around in my system. First I thought to write a book about it. It would help me structuring my thoughts, to understand and process what I experienced. I went to see the board of the Belgian Kundalini Yoga federation as I thought they should be aware of my plan. When we met, the president had just resigned, and it was decided that I would re-join the board for a short time. We would reflect together on the future of the federation. From the inside of the organisation, it was also easier for me to follow up on issues like the shady practices of Akal Security. The SSSC seemed to do everything they could 'not to hear us'. It took more than a year before they responded.
* Akal Security, like Yogi Tea, is a profit organisation that is part of the Siri Singh Sahib Cooperation (SSSC), the umbrella organisation that also includes all non-profit Kundalini Yoga organisations such as KRI and 3HO.
And then, finally, in January 2020 the gate was lifted.
Pamela Saharah Dyson released her book 'Premka - White Bird in a Golden Cage. My Life with Yogi Bhajan.' Pamela testified in her book about the sexual and power abuse she experienced in the many years she spent with Yogi Bhajan. A storm broke loose in the International Kundalini Yoga community. The KY world began to shake to its foundations, and it still does and will continue to do for some time still.
I felt relieved while reading the book. At last, the elephant in the room was given a name and no one could miss it anymore.
Now it was possible to start the purification. I felt lighter and my belief that change was unavoidable, made me feel joyful.
Being the representative for KY Belgium at the International level again, I came into contact with many people who had very different reactions to the allegations against Yogi Bhajan. There were those who burned their books. Others left the organisation. Still others continued to worship Yogi Bhajan as a saint.
In Belgium, the reaction was unimaginably quiet. Often, I had the impression that I was the only one in our small country experiencing this storm in the Kundalini Yoga waters. Nobody else seemed to be bothered by the fact that we had been lied to over the years. Or at least, they were not openly talking about it.
The 'Beyond the Cage' closed Facebook group revealed many gruesome testimonials. I put aside my principle not to use Facebook and joined that group. Reading the stories of the survivors and becoming more and more aware of the diversity and complexity of the issues, I felt myself diving deeper and deeper into this space of pain that was much bigger than I thought.
It became clear that a great deal of information about the abuse had been available since the 1980s among leaders in the organisation. It had been concealed and swept under the carpet. They did nothing with it. Their awareness was selective.
It felt good that I had stopped teaching KYatbYB already in 2018.
But why was I still connected and connecting to this yoga community? My 'Bye-bye Kundalini Yoga'-plan was not working. I seemed to be stuck to the KY organisations even though I had stopped practising for a long time.
One morning, between being awake and asleep, an angel whispered in my ear: Do something constructive with this. Once you've done that, we let you go.
That was in July 2020.
I proposed to the board of the Belgian KY Federation to set up an Integrity hotline in Belgium. They agreed. I contacted Sensoa, the Flemish expertise centre for sexual health.
They guided us drawing up an Integrity Policy that is described on www.Integrity-in-Yoga.one.
Many NKYTA's (national representatives of the Kundalini Yoga federations) have in the meantime shown interest for our bottom-up initiative that is complementary to the top-down approach of EPS (Ethical and Professional Standards) that deals with ethical issues at International level.
Since beginning 2021, a highly motivated team of Ambassadors for Integrity in Yoga is active in Belgium. They are developing, planning and organizing workshops. At the Belgian KY Festival in September 2021, we will spread the slogan: 'I stand for Integrity in Yoga'. Our aim is to reach out to every possible student in a KY class. Everyone should know that there is an Integrity hotline, that there are guidelines, there is a community, a group of people ready to listen whenever that is needed.
Today I represent Integrity in Yoga at the International level and I am a member of one of the Advisory teams of the Compassionate Reconciliation Commission guided by Just Outcomes.
That is in a nutshell my yogic journey,
Love & light,
Els Ravinder - May 20, 2021