Yogi Bhajan: The Multi-Millionaire Scammer And Abuser Who Brought Kundalini To The West


*Disclaimer* There have been many allegations made against Yogi Bhajan including sexual abuse, pedophilia, and r*pe.

Yogi Bhajan is best known for introducing Kundalini Yoga to the West. He was also the director of 3HO (Healthy, Happy, Holy Organization).

He was a Sikh yogi who is known for introducing Americans to Sikhism as much as yoga (rather than through traditional Hindu practices). He promoted vegetarianism and human rights.

Despite being a spiritual guru and charismatic leader whose teachings have touched many, he was accused of several sexual abuse claims which have tainted his legacy with some refusing to speak of him again.

In this article, we’ll take a look at:

  • The life of Yogi Bhajan
  • Kundalini Yoga
  • Founding 3HO
  • The abuse allegations against Yogi Bhajan
a portrait of yogi bhajan wearing white
Kundalini Research Institute and Teachings of Yogi Bhajan (copyright holders), CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Yogi Bhajan Abuse

It wasn’t until 2019 that Saharah Dyson came forward to report allegations of sexual abuse not only from her own experience but with the accounts of others. The former secretary of Yogi Bhajan published the book Premka: White Bird in a Golden Cage: My Life with Yogi Bhajan which outlined the allegations.

Be Scofield an anti-cult activist published an article in 2020 which reported the sexual abuse and rape of women by Yogi Bhajan. The article was based on the accounts of more than twelve women.

In response, An Olive Branch (AOB – a consultancy organization for spiritual communities) was commissioned by the Siri Singh Sahib Corporations. The report findings claimed that despite him claiming celibacy it was “more likely than not” that he had:

  • raped women
  • touched women without permission
  • injured women during sex
  • shown pornography to minors
  • insisted that women have sex with other women
  • required women to shave their pubic hair
  • spoken with sexually offensive language

The An Olive Branch report affirms that “the convictions of Yogi Bhajan’s supporters [are] accurate representations of their beliefs” and not falsifications.

Yogi Bhajan was also a controversial figure within South Asia. He was criticized for adopting some aspects of Sikhism and not others. For example, Sikhs do not wear white, they are not vegetarian, they don’t do yoga and they do not follow living gurus.

Who was Yogi Bhajan?

There is not a huge amount of information on his early life, but we do know that he was born Harbhajan Singh Puri (1929-2004). He was also known as Yogi Bhajan and Siri Singh Sahib the influential spiritual teacher notorious for his wealth and abuse.

He was born into a Sikh family in what is now Pakistan and as a child he attended a Catholic convent school.

When he was just eight years of age, he began learning yoga with Sant Hazara Singh – a master of Kundalini Yoga. He was a curious child with an interest in both traditional and allopathic medicine.

He was taught the Sikh way of life by his Grandfather, who nurtured his devotion to spirituality. He studied for a master’s degree in economics.

He entered into the service of the Government of India in 1953, which led to him being required to travel throughout India.

Yogi Bhajan married Inderjit Kaur (also known as Bibiji) in 1953, and they had three children.

He was actively teaching yoga and meditation and he studied with Baba Virsa Singh at the Gobind Sadan Institute.  In 1968 he emigrated to Canada where he began teaching at the YMCA and he co-founded a yoga studio. He was received well in Canada.

He became a United States Citizen in 1976 and legally changed his name to Harbhajan Singh Khalsa Yogiji.

pakistani and canadian flag

Founding 3HO

In 1969 Yogi Bhajan founded 3HO. Established in California, the Healthy, Happy, Holy Organization was a way to continue and spread his missionary work.

Yogi Bhajan combined the philosophy of Kundalini with meditation and Sikhism to create 3HO. The foundation is based in New Mexico but there are over three hundred centers worldwide.

His approach to Sikhism was widely accepted by the hippies who formed the majority of his students. Elevated awareness and social justice were at the heart of the teachings. Yogi Bhajan provided his students with a dynamic form of yoga, which was increasing in global popularity at the time.

Yogi Bhajan created the International Kundalini Yoga Teachers Association, which provided standards for teachers as well as continued dissemination of the Kundalini teachings.

The 3HO Foundation became a non-governmental organization within the United Nations in 1994 representing women’s issues, alternative medicine, and human rights.

Yogi Bhajan led sessions at festivals for more than 200,000 people and launched a program for addicts.

a kundalini couple wearing white hugging eachother

What is Kundalini Yoga?

Kundalini Yoga is a fusion of different approaches which include:

  • Bhakti yoga (the yoga of devotion). This type of yoga requires surrender to the divine/universe. Practices include dancing, singing, chanting, and service to the community.   
  • Raja yoga (royal yoga – the yoga of meditation). The control of mind and body is the focus of Raja yoga. It is seen as the only path required and holds within it the teachings of hatha yoga which we are most acquainted with today.  Patanjali’s Ashtanga System is considered Raja yoga.
  • Shakti yoga (the yoga of energy and power). The dormant force of divine energy that is coiled and dormant at the seat of a person’s spine is awakened and leads to transformation.

Each of these types of yoga is a path toward transformation.

A Kundalini Yoga class will often include mental aspects of the practice, invigorating movements, breathwork, and chanting. It is considered a more spiritual practice than other styles. Most practitioners wear white, and some wear white turbans also.

The main focus within Kundalini Yoga is on the movement of energy. Most practices focus on kriyas –techniques to move the yogi toward a higher state of consciousness. Generally, kriyas include

  • Asana: The physical poses that we most commonly associate yoga with today
  • Pranayama: breathing techniques and exercises
  • Mudras: hand positions
  • Mantras: repeated sounds/words
  • Drishti: directing the gaze to a specific place
  • Bandhas: the action of yogic locks within the body
  • Savasana: the relaxation that takes place at the end of a class

Before Yogi Bhajan, Kundalini was really only taught in India. His reformulation and branding of this type of yoga was originally taught one on one and not in groups but Yogi Bhajan believed that everyone should have access to the teachings and he worked to realize this mission.

a woman sitting cross legged with her thumbs in the air doing kundalini yoga

Kundalini Yoga is known for its transformational qualities but other reported benefits include:

  • Physical strength
  • Improved cognitive function
  • Deeper spiritual connection
  • Emotional resilience

Kundalini Yoga is known within the community to promote change. This is linked to the deconstruction of self-limiting habits and behaviors.

Kundalini Yoga is designed to release energetic blockages within us, as well as work on the body’s glandular and nervous systems. Focusing on the subtle energy channels of the body (nadis) and chakras practices are said to balance the body.

When energy is free to move within the body, and through each of the chakras, it is said to promote physical and spiritual health.

Yogi Bhajan believed that his approach to Kundalini Yoga was not just a philosophy for life but a science.

someone sitting cross legged with hands in a mudra

Yogi Bhajan Wealth

Yogi Bhajan was not just a spiritual leader, he was a businessman. He created an empire built on wellness which included yoga centers, real estate, health products, teas, and foods as well as a security company.

Golden Temple of Oregon which was directed by Yogi Bhajan was responsible for the famous Peace Cereal and Yogi Tea. At the time of his death, it was estimated to be worth $100,000,000.

It is said that the company was sold to Kartar Singh Khalsa for just $100. This prompted lawsuits over “improper disposition” of assets.

On his death, there were lawsuits in place over the control of Golden Temple and Akal Security.

Yogi Bhajan Quotes

There is no doubt that Yogi Bhajan was an inspiring teacher with profound words to offer.  Here are just a few of his most poignant words.

  • “When you don’t go within, you go without.”
  • “I do not believe in miracles, I rely on them.”
  •  “Where there is love there is no question.”
  • “You owe it to yourself to be yourself.”
  • “Your mind is your servant, your body is your vehicle and your soul is your residence.”

Yogi Bhajan Resources

Yogi Bhajan authored many books. Here are just a few noteworthy books for the Kundalini Yoga student.

  • The Aquarian teacher
  • Foods for Health and Healing
  • Kundalini Yoga – the Flow of Eternal
  • Blessings: The power of Prayer
  • Laws of Life – The Teachings of Yogi
  • Breath Walk – Breathing Your Way
  • Success and the Spirit
  • Yoga for Health and Healing
  • I am a Woman – Creative, Sacred, and Invincible Selected Lectures from the Women’s Teachings.

Yogi Bhajan Roundup

The teachings of Yogi Bhajan have had a global reach and his teaching legacy continues to flourish through worldwide Kundalini Yoga classes. However, as academic Philip Deslippe has commented is that any positive attributes conveyed by Yogi Bhajan leave a “toxic” residue that taints all he offered due to the abuse he caused.

What next?

If finding out more about Yogi Bhajan, 3HO and Kundalini Yoga has left you craving more then why not check out 7 Kundalini Awakening Symptoms to Look Out For and What They Mean.



Photo of author
Sarah is a Brighton-based yoga teacher and teacher trainer with a passion for teaching self-inquiry and rest.

1 thought on “Yogi Bhajan: The Multi-Millionaire Scammer And Abuser Who Brought Kundalini To The West”

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.