The Isha Foundation: Philosophy, Impact & Controversy of Sadhguru’s Ashram

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[Sadhguru’s] fundamental vision is to offer the science of inner wellbeing to every human being – a science that helps a person realize the ultimate potential within.

The Isha Foundation

Situated in the foothills of Velliangiri in beautiful Coimbatore, the Isha Foundation is a non-profit organization that strives to promote the physical, mental, and spiritual well-being of all beings through various yogic practices and social and environmental initiatives.

Founded in 1992 by renowned spiritual leader and yogi, Sadhguru, the foundation believes that just as a tree needs a strong root system to grow and thrive, all individuals need a strong foundation of inner well-being to lead a truly meaningful and fulfilling life.

Through various outreach programs, promoted practices, and a like-minded community atmosphere, the Isha organization seeks to help people cultivate this inner foundation so that they can live joyfully and contribute positively to the world around them.

Millions of people have praised the positive impact that the Isha Foundation has achieved in the three decades since its founding, however like any organization of its stature, the Isha Foundation is not without controversy.

In this article, we’ll be taking a comprehensive look at the Isha Foundation, including:

  • Philosophy & Practices
  • Impact and Outreach
  • 3 Isha Foundation Controversies
a portrait of sadhguru
Isha Foundation, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

the Isha Foundation: Philosophy & Practices

A non-profit spiritual organization, the Isha Foundation is run “almost entirely” by donors and volunteers, who all contribute to the promotion of its philosophy and the running of its various spiritual practices, which are explored below:

The Philosophy, Practices & Techniques: Isha Yoga

At the heart of the foundation’s yogic philosophy lies Isha Yoga, a rounded and personalized system of yoga that encompasses not only asana (physical postures) but all elements of the eight-limbed path including chanting, breathwork, and meditation.

In this sense, Isha Yoga offers a contemporary approach to ancient yogic techniques, harnessing their profound power and relating it to the modern world and people to enhance physical, mental, and emotional well-being in today’s world.

A holistic practice that uses a number of spiritual techniques to move practitioners towards inner growth and self-realization, as part of their mission to cultivate human potential and create an inclusive culture towards global harmony and progress.

This integrated approach to yoga forms the cornerstone of the foundation’s spiritual teachings inspiring its many practices and activities, which include:

Hatha Yoga:

As well as offering other asana practices, Isha Yoga places a strong emphasis on Hatha Yoga, with traditional physical postures (asanas), breathing exercises or pranayama, and other hatha practices to enhance the vitality, balance, and overall well-being of practitioners.

three women meditating


The Dhyanalinga (“dhyana” meaning meditation and “linga” meaning force or form) is both a physical meditative space and a unique, subtle energy form, which is believed in Isha Foundation’s philosophy to be a doorway to self-knowledge, enlightenment, and liberation.

The physical space, known as the ‘Dhyanalinga Temple’, is designed using a simple geometrical fusion of shapes, with the layout envisioned and designed to subtly prepare the visitor for the deep meditative and energy experience that the space is intended to offer.

Inner “Engineering”:

This is both an overarching Isha Yoga mission and paid program that offers simple, yet powerful, tools for self-transformation.

Amongst other things, it includes practices such as Shambhavi Mahamudra, a powerful purifying meditation technique, and Upa-Yoga (translating to pre-yoga) a set of physical postures that activate the joints, muscles, and energy system.

Science and Mysticism:

An aspect of Isha’s philosophy that many claim is unique and defining, is Sadhguru’s emphasis on the blending of science and mysticism, helping to make the practices and techniques of Isha Yoga accessible and appealing to modern-day individuals.

This blending of science and spirituality manifests in the teachings, which are rooted in yogic and modern science while being open to exploring the mystical aspects of life.

A statue of Shiva at the Isha Foundation in India
A statue of Shiva at the Isha Foundation in India

3 Social & environmental Initiatives

Backed by a hearty community of 7 million volunteers across 300 centers worldwide, the Isha Foundation engages in a number of diverse activities oriented towards improving various aspects of human and environmental wellbeing, some of which include:

1. Project GreenHands (PGH):

Established in 2004, GreenHands is an environmental organization primarily focused on activities in Tamil Nadu, which encompass agroforestry, youth environmental education, the starting of plant nurseries in schools, extensive tree-planting projects, and more.

Recognized for its great efforts and contributions, PGH is amongst the recipients of the prestigious Indira Gandhi Paryavaran Puraskar, the Government of India’s environmental award, which it was awarded in 2010.

2: Isha Vidhya:

An educational initiative with admirable aims, the Isha Vidhya was set up to improve the education and literacy levels in rural India, focusing on providing high-quality English-language-based, computer-aided education to children.

With seven official Isha Vidhya Schools operating and more than 3000 young students benefiting from the program, Isha Vidhya has made significant strides in its aim.

The project has also received great support from volunteers and donors – which has been defining its success. For example, the Life Insurance Corporation of India Golden Jubilee Foundation, who funded the construction of an Isha Vidhya School in Coimbatore in 2010.

More recently in March 2022, the initiative partnered with Byju’s, an ed-tech company with headquarters in Bangalore, acting together to make digital learning equipment and tools accessible to underprivileged children across Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh.

3: Save Soil:

The Save Soil movement is an international endeavor launched by Sadhguru and his Isha Foundation, which aims to raise awareness about soil health, and its importance for the productivity and fertility of land, sustainable agriculture, and safeguarding ecosystems.

This led Sadhguru to embark on a 100-day, 30,000 km motorbike journey from London to southern India, where he engaged with government officials, international organizations, and the general public along the way to emphasize the importance of soil conservation.

The initiative has received support from influential entities such as the United Nations, and many countries have signed memorandums of understanding with Save Soil, pledging recognition of the importance of combating soil degradation.

a man on a motorbike on a road at sunset

3 Isha Foundation Controversies

Over the years, several allegations have been leveled against the foundation and while most of them remain unproven, disputed, or dismissed, they do raise some questions and concerns about its practices and actions. Some of the most serious allegations include:

#1: Illegal land encroachment & construction:

One of the most heated accusations revolves around illegal land encroachment. According to a report by Newslaundry, the Isha Foundation has been accused of unlawfully occupying forest land and encroaching upon vital elephant corridors to build its yoga center.

Such transgressions, if proven, would not only infringe upon government-owned land but also pose a significant threat to the natural habitats, migration routes, mating patterns, and overall survival of these endangered creatures.

The Isha Foundation has responded to this claim with a detailed statement explaining why this is not the case including supporting evidence, which can be read here.

In the same report, Newslaundry claims that as well as illegal land encroachment, Sadhguru’s foundation is also guilty of illegal construction.

They assert that the Isha Foundation has ignored building regulations, constructing without proper permits, approvals, or safety controls – an accusation that acts as an underscore to concerns about the adherence to legal and environmental protocols.

a digger in the forest

#2: Tax evasion:

Isha Foundation has faced many allegations pertaining to tax evasion and shady funding over the years. These claims have surfaced through various sources and cast doubt over not only its financial practices but also the fundamental sincerity of the organization.

Under the Income Tax Act, the Isha Foundation is classified as a public charitable trust and is thus entitled to certain tax exemptions on income funded by donations – but it’s not quite as simple as that.

Allegations have emerged suggesting that the foundation may have falsified donation receipts even for non-donation income, such as textbook trade transactions, exploiting the system in order to evade taxes.

Additionally, concerns have been raised regarding the absence of publicly available records disclosing the Isha Foundation India revenues. This has further fuelled accusations that the organization is exploiting the ambiguity surrounding donations as a means to circumvent tax payments.

Additionally, both the foundation and Sadhguru personally face scrutiny over allegations of being money-oriented and capitalist rather than truly interested in improving the human condition.

This includes overcharging for services that make them inaccessible to many people and amassing significant profits through the sale of “spiritual” products, raising questions about the material motivations of the organization and Sadhguru himself.

money, a calculator, a notebook, and credit cards

#3: Brainwashing and Holding Captive:

Last but certainly not least, there have been allegations of brainwashing and even captivity of persons leveled against Isha, with some individuals claiming that they were subjected to conditioning and held against their will at their Yoga Center.

Amongst those receiving the most media coverage, is the allegation by a couple asserting that their two daughters were being held against their will at the center for almost seven years and had been pressured into becoming sanyasins (a type of ascetic).

The Isha Foundation fervently refuted these accusations, labeling them as completely unfounded. The case even escalated to the Madras High Court, which ruled in favor of the center, which recognised a lack of evidence and concluded that the claims were without merit.

Note on our stance:

Here at Yogajala, we are taking a neutral stance when reporting on these claims, recognizing that more substantial evidence and legal conclusions are needed before drawing any conclusive decisions.

We encourage readers to do similar, approaching these allegations with a critical mindset and forming their own opinions on Sadhguru and the Isha Foundation.

Further Reading

If you’ve enjoyed this article on the Isha Foundation, why not check out our related articles below:

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Tish Qvortrup is a Brighton-born Yogi, with a passion for living intentionally. A Yoga Alliance registered 500hr teacher, she found her calling in Yin and Yang yoga. In her spare time, she loves exploring the outdoors and cooking plant-based goodies.

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