Siddha Yoga & The Path Of Self-Realization: Origins, Controversy & More

reviewed by Liz Burns 500H RYT
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*Disclaimer* There have been many sexual abuse allegations against Swami Muktananda, the founder of Siddha Yoga. We stand with the victims and hope that our articles can shed light on the truth.

We have grown accustomed to the wonderful benefits of practicing yoga. Among the myriad of styles available, yoga students worldwide continue to seek and find knowledge, well-being, and growth from a consistent practice.

Some forms of yoga, though, don’t always come with a stellar track record.

Siddha Yoga, a spiritual yoga path deeply rooted in ancient Indian traditions, has been a guiding light for many yogis in their quest for inner awakening.

In this article:

  • History & Origin of Siddha Yoga
  • Understanding Siddha Yoga
  • The Benefits of Siddha Yoga
  • The Controversies & Ethical Concerns of Siddha Yoga
yogi practicing asana in siddha yoga

History & Origin of Siddha Yoga

The history and origin of Siddha yoga begin with Bhagwan Nityananda. He was known as a prominent Indian figurehead of his time.

Although the details of his birth origin are relatively unknown, it is documented that he was born in 1897 but was abandoned as an infant in a region of British India. He was adopted, though, into a family with five other children and given the name Raman Nair.

Although he lost his foster parents at an early age, he remained an optimistic child.

He was described to be unusually spiritual for such a young boy. Others believed that he may have been born enlightened. He was later given the name Nityananda which means “always in bliss.”

He devoted most of his life as a “wandering yogi,” traveling different regions of the country. After establishing an ashram, he became known as a “miracle worker” and was said to cure illnesses.

People came from all over to sit and meditate with Nityananda. He didn’t offer much in verbal teachings but devoted himself to silent prayer and meditation. He died at the age of 63 leaving behind a legacy of healing and a preserved ashram that can still be visited today.

But before his death, he named Swami Muktananda as his predecessor to carry forth his legacy. Known to his followers as “Baba,” Swami Muktananda is responsible for calling his guru’s practice Siddha Yoga.

So, who was Swami Muktananda?

He was born Krishna Rai in 1908 in British India. At the age of 15, he encountered Bhagwan Nityananda while he lived as a wandering yogi. Having met this enlightened man, his life significantly changed.

two men meditating together

Inspired by his encounter, he dedicated his life to searching for the experience of God. He studied under various teachers through the course of his personal development such as Siddharudha Swami and Muppinarya Swami.

While studying and practicing in the Sarasvati order of the Dashanami Samoradaya, he took the name Swami Muktananda which means “the bliss of freedom.”

From this time forward, he continued his personal growth by wandering India on foot and learning from a myriad of influential teachers.

In 1947, Baba experienced a manifestation (darshan) of Nityananda. From this auspicious vision, he was inspired to seek out this “holy figure.” Nityananda bestowed upon Baba a transmission of spiritual energy and the divine teachings to carry and teach.

It was in 1956, after hard and devoted study, that Swami Muktananda developed Siddha Yoga; a culmination of the teachings from his travels and the blessings he received from his predecessor.

Understanding Siddha Yoga

Swami Muktananda spent nine years alone and in silent meditation in the desolate hills of India. In his introspection, he developed the Siddha Yoga path. A Siddha in Sanskrit means “one who is accomplished.”

It refers to the person who has achieved spiritual realization and supernatural power.

cosmos and the stars

Siddha Yoga is known to be a spiritual journey. It emphasizes self-realization combining meditation, self-inquiry, and mantra repetition, seeking to awaken the dormant Kundalini energy within every individual.

At the core of Siddha Yoga are three primary practices that act as the pillars of this path:

1. Meditation

This isn’t just about quieting the mind. In Siddha Yoga, meditation is the process of diving deep within oneself, beyond the turbulence of thoughts, to tap into a reservoir of peace and bliss.

This inner sanctum, once accessed, provides clarity and a profound sense of unity with the universe.

2. Self-inquiry

This practice encourages individuals to question the nature of their existence.

Who am I?” is not just a philosophical query but becomes a tool to peel away layers of misconceptions and reach the core of one’s being.

man practicing self-inquiry

3. Mantra repetition

Mantras in Siddha Yoga are considered sacred sounds or vibrations.

Repeating them, whether silently or aloud, is believed to align one’s energy with cosmic frequencies, paving the way for deeper spiritual experiences.

The intention of these practices is to awaken the Kundalini energy. This energy is often represented as a coiled snake resting at the base of the spine.

This energy source is awakened through Pranayama (breathwork), chanting, and meditation. It then travels up the spine passing through the seven chakras or energy centers. As it moves, it cleanses and activates these energy centers leading to spiritual enlightenment.

The role of a Guru

A particular aspect of Siddha Yoga that is crucial to understanding the fate of the path is the position of the Guru.

A Guru in Siddha Yoga is seen as more than just a teacher or yoga instructor. This is someone who has already trodden the path, has achieved self-realization, and can, therefore, guide their disciples based on direct experience.

woman praying to the sun

The Guru-disciple relationship is one of deep trust and reverence.

It’s believed that a true Guru can expedite a disciple’s spiritual progress, not just through teachings, but by directly transmitting energy, a process known as shaktipat. This transmission can awaken the disciple’s Kundalini, setting them firmly on the path of self-realization.

Siddha Yoga ashram

For many practitioners, the Siddha Yoga ashram plays a pivotal role.

It’s a spiritual haven where individuals immerse themselves in practices and community living. The serene ambiance fosters a space for inner silence and a deeper connection with one’s true self.

While living among like-minded individuals, students can receive guidance from their teachers firsthand, understand the finer nuances of practices and essentially walk the path of self-realization under the watchful eyes of experienced mentors.

Siddha Yoga Scandal: Controversies & Ethical Concerns

In any community or organization, it is unfortunately almost inevitable to face periods of trials and controversy. The Siddha Yoga path, with its deep roots and wide-reaching influence, has not been exempt from this universal phenomenon.

group of yogis meditating

Even with considerable growth since its inception, reaching many people all over the world, this style was also met with its own set of challenges – a Siddha Yoga scandal.

Allegations emerged within the community regarding misconduct and abuse of power. This cast a dark shadow over the teachings and influenced the reputation of the entire organization. It disrupted the trusted nature and atmosphere of the Siddha Yoga ashram.

With growing controversies, this left followers confused and disillusioned. The teachings that offered inspiration and self-relationship, were now overshadowed by a cloud of distrust.

Specifically, concerns arose regarding the ethical behavior of Swami Muktananda, who emphasized the significance of celibacy on the spiritual journey.

Followers highlighted instances where he appeared to have contradicted his own teachings, deviating from the principles of his own yoga.

According to religious scholar and author Andrea Jain, Swami Muktananda allegedly engaged in covert sexual practices with multiple young female disciples, some of whom were teenagers. These rituals were claimed to have been intended to ‘transmit shakti‘.

A notable incident occurred when a Siddha Yoga swami named Stan Trout wrote an open letter accusing Muktananda of engaging in sexual relations with underage girls.

Additionally, there were anonymous reports from women who claimed to have been victims of sexual assault by him.

In response, the Siddha Yoga organization and some practitioners took steps to address these issues. They wanted to mend any misdoings and clarify any misinterpretations.

During this difficult time, it became vitally important for both the organization and participants to navigate successfully through the controversy. This meant reflecting on the issues, having open and honest communication, and taking accountability for its actions.

person with their japa beads

They initiated a series of dialogues aimed at understanding the controversies.

This allowed both sides of the camp to express any concerns and questions. The organization strived to adopt more transparency related to leadership and safeguarding the sanctity of the guru-disciple relationship.

Despite the controversies, Siddha Yoga’s teachings continue to shine even today. They were dedicated to moving through these troubling times and embarking on a path to renewal.

It has been a journey of learning, deeper understanding, open communication, and addressing the ethical concerns that manifest in groups like this.

The Benefits of Siddha Yoga

The goal of the Siddha Yoga path is Self-realization – the unceasing experience of yoga, or unity with God. Within each of us, behind the mind, the body, the ego, is a divine power.

We practice yoga to recognize this divine power, the Self, and harmonize all our actions, thoughts, and words with it.

woman smiling and closing her eyes

This process of Self-realization, or the continuous experience of union with the divine, offers multiple layers of benefits that permeate every facet of our lives. Here are some of the benefits of practicing Siddha Yoga:

1. Inner Peace & Clarity

As a result of fully recognizing the divine within, the practitioner experiences a deep-seated serenity that remains undisturbed by external distractions.

2. Enhanced Self-Awareness

With deep and consistent practice, one develops a heightened awareness of thoughts, emotions, and actions. The student is deeply attuned to their inner world.

3. Authentic Living

When one is truly aligned with their divine Self, it paves the way for authentic living. The weight of social expectations or the pressure to conform is dismissed – left is the confidence to express the true self.

4. Enhanced Intuition & Wisdom

As one tunes into their divine power, they harness a greater capacity to listen to their intuition. They develop an innate wisdom and cultivate intellectual understanding.

person in downward facing dog

5. Physical & Mental Well-Being

The regular practice of meditation, chanting, and pranayama helps to reduce stress. This, in turn, can enhance concentration, improve sleep quality, and boost one’s vitality.

6. A Sense of Connectedness

With deep practice, the ego begins to dissipate allowing the true Self to shine through. The result is a more palpable connection with all things: nature, people, and the universe.

7. Liberation from Limiting Beliefs

Throughout this practice, one develops a self-confidence that overrides feelings of limitations. They are free from a belief system that is self-deprecating. Instead, they experience the dissolution of barriers that hold them back.

Siddha Yoga is a practice of reaching your fullest potential.


Siddha Yoga, with its rich origins, profound practices, and intertwined controversies, is a path of depth and complexity.

It is hoped that the Siddha Yoga path can continue to emerge from this phase with a renewed sense of purpose, grounded in authenticity, integrity, and a deeper commitment to the well-being and spiritual advancement of all its practitioners.

For more inspiring yoga stories and history, please visit our vast library of articles to enhance your continued growth and learning.

Photo of author
John Cottrell is an Experienced Registered Yoga Teacher and Certified Yoga Therapist residing in Salt Lake City, Utah.

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