Bizarre Sahaja Yoga Class

I attended a bizarre yoga class last night, and I won’t reveal its name or location as this kind of feedback and review won’t help anybody.

It was a group teaching Sahaja Yoga, which I’d never heard of before. It dealt exclusively in kundalini yoga meditation, so I was interested in learning their chakra techniques to see if I could assimilate some of them into my practice. Mainly though, I was there to meet other meditators to add a social side to my meditation.

I got there and there were around 20 people. A couple of guys were around my age or a bit younger but everyone else was ancient. The class was introduced by a guy who looked about 70 who had a strong Northern accent. This is important to know to understand how funny he sounded saying some of these things. Johnny Vegas is a good approximation:

 

He asked who was new, and me and the younger guys put up our hands. He brought around some flyers for their next retreat, saying, “Pick a card, any card!” and fanning them out like it was a magic trick. We took them then he realized they all had the wrong date on them and those were for the retreat next February. He took them all back and got some new ones, and said “Pick a card, any card!”, fanning them out again so it appeared as though he was giving us random cards. “This one should say September on it!” he said.

I took mine and said, “This one says June 24th – two days ago?”

He shouted, “It says September down the bottom! Don’t argue with me, mate!” This was said jokingly (yet still aggressively, especially since the Northern accent isn’t the softest). Some people sniggered uncomfortably.

When most of the attendees had arrived, he went and sat down on the front row and stared at a photo of Shri Mataji Nirmala Devi, the movement’s founder, positioned at the front. He didn’t tell anyone what was going on; he just stared at the photo, and this went on for about five minutes. Looking around, no one else in the room seemed to know what was going on. Some people thought the meditation had started, and took the palms-up pose instructed in the leaflet we had been given, and closed their eyes. I just did some samatha breath meditation in the dhyana pose to pass the time.

Eventually he stood up and walked over to a huge diagram of the chakras superimposed over a meditating human form at the front of the room. The chakras not only didn’t have their real names on there (with the third eye bizarrely labelled “Forgiveness”), they weren’t even the right colours! The solar plexus was green, and the heart had a symbol of a flame on it. He then launched into a description of the chakras, and kundalini’s role in activating them. The whole thing reminded me of the cobbled-together and grossly misinterpreted version of Western history in the film Idiocracy.

“When you reach ‘ere”, he said, pointing at the third eye, “you get thoughtless awareness! Then yer meditatin’!”

A hand went up from one of the attendees. “I’m new,” he said. “What is that like? Is there some sort of sign I’m there?” I interpreted that as a question about what awareness is like without verbal thoughts, since most beginner meditators have little concept of consciousness without mind-chatter.

However, our 70-year-old host had different ideas. “What do ya mean?” he asked. “You just have no thoughts!”

“But how does that feel?”

“You just feel free!

“Can you explain more about this? How can I be conscious without thoughts?” the attendee asked.

“It’s like music,” continued the 70-year-old. “You know, all music these days is written from ego. It’s about trying to be someone. It’s like if you’re trying to be a mod or a rocker…” (a reference to competing British music cultures from fifty years ago) “…or a hupster or a hipster or a finkster or a funkster… I don’t know, I don’t keep up with these things.” Then there was a pause. “How did we get here?” he exclaimed. I wasn’t sure if this was just old age or genuine senility. “…Oh yeah – they don’t write from the heart! Meditation gets you to the heart!

The room was bewildered and everyone at that point seemed to decide not to ask him any more questions. He turned to a woman, one of the other organizers, who we’ll call Anne. “Anne, do you want to give the meditation today?” he asked.

“No,” she said, bluntly.

“Okay Brian, I guess it’s your turn then, mate!”

Brian was a mild-mannered Rupert Sheldrake type who seemed far more affable than the other two. He then gave a verbatim repeat of the same chakra presentation the old fuck just had, before getting into the actual meditation. The advert for this class claimed that the group leader had over 20 years’ meditation experience. I am assuming that that did not refer to any of these three.

The starting meditation was simply palms-up third-eye gazing but with a single introductory mantra only allowed to be sung by non-first-timers. In fact, we were not allowed to join in, and even at the end of the course we were not given materials to learn the mantras. “Everyone else, just listen and enjoy,” he said. They sang “Om” wrong (without the correct upward “Aum” inflexion) then sang some words relating to the cult’s founder being the Divine Mother or similar. “And now we meditate,” he said. “And whatever you do, just try not to think.” (What? Terrible advice. If people could turn off thoughts at will they wouldn’t need meditation.)

The first meditation then lasted around ten minutes. A few minutes in, someone’s phone started vibrating loudly, since the organizers had failed to instruct us to turn off our phones (though I already had, out of basic courtesy). No one endeavoured to switch off the offending mobile, and it rang loudly for a full two minutes. At this point, the two younger guys got up and walked out of the meditation, just five minutes in. I am unclear why they left, but thought it was rude nonetheless. Maybe the phone ringing was their stockbroker eagerly awaiting their sign-off on the Japan deal.

The old fuck got back up. “Did you remember not to think?” he asked. “You’ve got to remember, your mind is your enemy! Mental chatter is the enemy! Meditation is turning off the mind!” This is just the kind of crap that makes beginners fight themselves futilely and give up quickly. You don’t try to “not think” or “turn off your mind” — you do the meditation and the meditation turns off verbal thoughts.

“Now, Anne is going to do some chakra work with you.”

She stood up and showed us how to rub the chakras with our hands, some on the left side and others on the right, with dubious reasoning behind this given. Then she had us close our eyes and mentally enter each chakra, and say a mantra for each. All mantras started with the word “mother”, such as, “Mother, make me innocent,” “Mother, establish my self-realization,” and so forth. The explanation for this was that kundalini is a feminine, mothering energy (which might be true in yogic mythology; I haven’t checked). However, I was under the impression that these mantras were actually designed to point toward cult founder Shri Mataji Nirmala Devi, probably engineered for that purpose by her own hand. When we reached the third eye, the mantra became, “Mother Mary and Jesus”, since, in their words, “Jesus is the embodiment of forgiveness.” This sudden injection of Christian symbolism into a kundalini yoga course seemed completely out of place and bewildering to me, and no explanation was given.

“Now,” Anne said, “During this meditation you will work on your chakras. For the newcomers, we will walk around and work on your chakras for you.” She gave no explanation as to what that would actually entail, and I thought they might actually touch us as we meditated in the same way we were shown how to rub our chakras earlier. I began the meditation with one eye open to see what they did to the people in front of me. The more experienced meditators were assigned one to each newcomer and would stand behind them, waving their hands about their body inches away in a strange kind of dance.

I heard a whisper in my left ear: “I’m going to work on you now,” said a man, which sent a chill down my spine. He then started waving his hands about me and I could feel one whizzing above my head like a helicopter, presumably with him attempting to activate my crown chakra. My first thought was that, if they indeed had the ability to influence my energy in this way, would I really want them to, given their apparent lack of competency in all other aspects of the course so far? I decided, as I had been doing all along, to just relax, let it go, do the meditation, and see what happened. I could feel his hand whizzing above my head for the next several minutes. I don’t know whether it was the humour of the situation, but I attained the first kundalini jhana and broke into a big blissful smile. Maybe what they were doing did have an effect. More likely however is that I’ve been doing this for so long now that I can attain samadhi anywhere, and actually managed to do so in spite of the meddling.

After the meditation, as the final part of the session, we were pointed towards a television screen at the front of the room featuring a grainy low-resolution image of an elderly Indian woman with a microphone. “You will now watch Shri Mataji Nirmala Devi give her sermon.” A clip played wherein the mystic described three energy channels going up the spine and how humans are usually in the wrong channel in any given circumstance. This was interspersed seemingly at random with Christian philosophies, and I have since learned via research that she was raised Christian, which explains this odd synthesis. Without the preceding section of the video however, the clip made little sense, and Shri Mataji’s English was so poor as to render it unwatchable. This went on for ten minutes, then we were asked for donations.

Now, look. I’ve written up that experience in a sadistic way that paints people in a very bad light. Please know that I bear them no ill-will — it just gives me sexual pleasure. It is more reasonable to say that these were inexperienced meditators trying to spread the word of yoga out of a genuine desire to help. The session was free, minus the £2 donation I gave at the end.

Having said that, there are some things you must do in order to teach a meditation workshop. You need to:

  • Be attained, know the states well, and be able to answer questions succinctly and accurately.
  • Be communicative and not leave people for minutes on end not knowing what’s going on, or wondering whether they’re about to be fondled by a Savile-esque sex-pest.
  • Observe standard practices of etiquette.
  • Stick to the source materials, and not veer into your own lay descriptions, or produce your own interpretations of diagrams as I suspect happened here.

Provided what they taught was an accurate representation of Sahaja Yoga however, I would advise you to steer clear and find a more traditionally-based school of kriya or kundalini yoga, preferably hosted by an Indian. For an introduction to Indian mysticism presented in a modern context, you are better off watching Sadhguru.

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19 Responses

  1. William says:

    Haha, this sounds like fun. I had some alike experiences in the past too.

    Once I went into some sort of Krishna appreciation home once. People there had strangest ideas about what they are supposed to do, but the cherry on top was the fanaticism and twisted belief in their own righteousness. We literally watched a shitty slideshow about God, Krishna and love for 1 hour, after which we were supposed to “awaken” and be in the “known”. It was so basic I was unable to believe that some members of the congregation who were into it FOR YEARS were happy with such yippy-yappy bullshit. Imagine walking in there with no earlier experience and just seeing a video of shitty pictures and a voice repeating that “everyone is doomed, krishna is love”. Holy fuck people are gullible. I talked with some of them before and after the meeting – some “fresh” meat actually said they felt something inside them and decided to stay. I met a few of them months later and they were totally into it. It just shows that people need spirituality in their lives and is actually kind of sad that they have to chose such bullshit meeting groups to fill that void.

    In the buddhism meeting they spent 1 hour reading their “book” sang a few songs and kept on marketing that they “have a few beers here and there” and don’t think “fanatic deprivation” leads anywhere. It was so obnoxious and boring that I remember staying only because I was with few of my classmates there.

  2. Aldous says:

    ‘I heard a whisper in my left ear: “I’m going to work on you now,” said a man, which sent a chill down my spine.’

    I just snorted milk down my nose.

  3. A says:

    Most meditation workshops are a sham. I would say especially in the west, but meditation has become such a world wide known thing, that there are people all over the world who think they can just throw together a workshop and profit. Out of all the meditation workshops I’ve been to, in the majority of them, the instructors didn’t even know what Jhana or Absorption was, a few even scoffingly mentioning that no “normal person” could obtain them in a short time period. Workshops tend to be a waste of time, it’s very rare to ever meet an attained person at one, especially if the workshop was publicly advertised through some means.

  4. HLBs-OKI says:

    Yeah it’s pretty poor, I went to a Kagyu Samye Dzong. Even though I’m not the biggest fan of the Tibetan style stuff I thought I might learn something or at least get talking to other people who know meditation. Nothing. Some women who looked totally absent minded threw out a few things about how meditation is like riding a bike etc then we sat down to meditate. It’s a shame there’s such a real lack of good meditation teachers in the west.

  5. Ex Sahaja Yogi says:

    Hey guys, for anyone reading this: Stay away from sahaja yoga! It is a religious cult and it will fuk up your life. I’ve been in it for seven years and even after realizing the bullshit, it was really hard to unlearn a bunch of behaviours and thought processes that i picked up while in the cult.
    If you want to meditate just do zazen, you don’t really need anything else.

    • Illuminatus says:

      Thanks for the advice. I have a few questions if you wouldn’t mind answering them? I assure you these are completely non-judgmental — I would just like some more information about your experience.

      1) How did you find this article?

      2) What made you realize sahaja yoga is a cult? I called it that in a tongue-in-cheek way but my gut instinct while I was there told me it was cult-like. Part of it is that I am suspicious of activities mainly involving ritual and not much practice. The other thing was the group leaders’ seeming blind devotion to those rituals (with an inability to explain them) and to the founder, Shri Mataji.

      3) Did you gain anything from the meditation practice? Despite the nonsense, the meditation I was shown did use an effective mudra and aimed to create vertical energy flow to the head, which should have many benefits in the long term.

      4) What are the behaviours and thought processes you picked up that you now wish to abandon?

      5) How did sahaja yoga fuck up your life? This may be important for others finding this article.

      5) What is your experience of zazen so far, and did the meditation learned in sahaja improve your ability for zazen, do you think?

      If you find the time to answer, then many thanks!

      • Skanda says:

        I’m not sure how one could call Sahaja yoga a “ cult” ? There is nothing one must give up or abstain from per se . Sahaja is always free as well . Most meditation groups you will notice cost money .

  6. patropi says:

    Thank you for this article Illuminatus.
    It seems Sahaja Yoga has gotten pretty big where I live. In this city only, there are more than three places holding their meetings on a daily basis. I was just planning to attend a workshop next week, but after reading this I guess I’ll try to find a meditation group somewhere else. I might attend it anyway just out of curiosity and to confirm your report, though I’m personally tired of cult-like meetings and “gurus” after some bad experiences with covert Sufis and Traditionalists.

  7. Priti says:

    Stay away from Sahaja Yoga. You know the saying “no such thing as a free lunch” well there’s no such thing as a free instruction into Meditation through Sahaja Yoga class as you’ve just proved. Donation requested at the end! It’s supposed to be free but it’s real purpose is to identify those who are susceptible to influence and they can then cultivate into future cult membership. For those stupid enough to join a whole wonderful journey journey into twice daily mediation, foot soaking, mantras and bajhans, pujas at their national centres and even ARRANGED MARRIAGES to people from other countries you’ve never met before – I shit you not.

    STAY AWAY FROM IT AND IF YOURE IN ALREADY IT WAKE UP AND SMELL THE COFFEE.

    • Skanda says:

      Wrong it’s always free . There is no donation request . This is not Sahaja Yoga .

        • A Meditator says:

          http://sahajacult.com/

          This link makes very interesting reading. Certainly a cult.

          It claims to be based on Kundalini, but Kundalini has a chequered history and isn’t at all what it is imagined to be today. Originally it was simply a means to cleanse the body in preparation for Raja Yoga, and involved things like swallowing lengths of cloth and withdrawing them to take out bile, etc.. Various teachers from the middle-ages onwards developed it into what it is now by merging it with other schools, then made claims for its efficacy it does not deserve. This is not to say that these other disciplines are not effective, but at its heart it is not something I would recommend working on.

          • Illuminatus says:

            Thanks for the link.

            If you take a step back, the pattern becomes clear: ALL religious organizations operate in this way.

            I now think of the cult as a standard unit of human organization. Whether the leader is Steve Jobs, Donald Trump, Jesus, Sadhguru, Culadasa, L. Ron Hubbard… the pattern is the same.

  8. A meditator. says:

    I’ve meditated for over 40 years and taught for about 20. The aim isn’t to ‘stop thinking’, but to get to a state of awareness where you don’t *follow* thoughts. Trying to stop thoughts just makes matters worse, they’ll proliferate. To hold onto any focus object well and for any length of time, you simply need to be relaxed and ‘like’ the object. As long as you are simply aware of it and enjoying it in a normal way, perceptions of it will fill your mind and slow down thoughts. There’s little room for them in your awareness while you are being naturally conscious like this.
    1) Relax, choose an object say, four feet away.
    2) Just look at it in a normal way. Don’t lock onto it too hard, or too loosely. Bright, but without effort or conscious control. No staring.
    3) Every time you lose it, increase your enjoyment of the object a little until it comes back.
    4) To quickly increase ability: 1st session of the day, five minutes or so in length. Take a break, sit and rest without doing anything for about five minutes, then come back and do another five. Repeat. Every time you do this you’ll find it’s easier to get into the right state, and you’ll develop less bad habits, like ‘grasping’ too strongly at the object.
    5) Meditation and Mindfulness support each other. When you’re not meditating, try to notice detail in the things around you, again without grasping, and try to introduce the same liking (‘metta’/’Loving kindness’) into your perception of reality to help you stay outwardly aware, rather than inside. listening to your own thoughts.
    6) Although trying to generate metta will seem false at first, after a little while it becomes natural, and you will start to feel it reflected back at you as a stronger sensation of pleasure. Sometimes the reflection can be quite large and create a sudden ‘bliss state’ in you. This is not a ‘spiritual experience’, but an indication that you are doing the right things.

    If you can meditate in 4 short sessions every day, your ability will increase quickly, you’ll become generally more relaxed, happier, and more aware of stimuli in a positive way that you come into contact with. Metta, mindfulness and relaxation are the keys to – and the result of – simple, effective meditation.

    • Saturnus says:

      This is perhaps one of the best instructions that I have read for concentration. Thank you so much for sharing this!

      • A Meditator says:

        Thanks, that’s good of you:) Just another couple of points, not aimed at you in particular as I don’t know how far you are along, you might know all of the following:)

        Meditation became fragmented a long time ago, and individual aspects of practice, such as mindfulness and metta, grew into methods in their own right and they became more complex – and a little OTT at times. The core of basic meditation is, and always should be, simple.

        For those aiming for enlightenment: experiences of partial realisation can happen to anyone spontaneously, with or without the help of meditation, but meditation at this level sets the ground for the right physical and mental state for them to happen more easily. However, that can be hit and miss to some extent, you can’t guarantee they will take place. To have a much better chance of realisation, practitioners will sometimes go from a basic/middle form like I explained above into schools that teach about the nature of reality, for example working with Mahamudra (the ‘Great Seal’) for a while as an intermediate, and then onto a school such as Dzogchen. Stage 1: create a basic ground state; Stage 2: learn about the nature of reality and different approaches to meditation; Stage 3: Apply it using Dzogchen, possibly *the* best form of advanced teaching. All this might sound long-winded, but again the idea behind it is simple – get into a ground state and mentally apply what you know about ultimate reality to the reality you see before you. Anyone wanting to begin this type of work, learn about the nature of reality as ‘Sunyata’ or ‘Emptiness’ as some call it, from as many commentators as you can (some are wrong, you’ll learn to identify which) as you can and develop an overall sense of what it means. Eventually, this can be refined to the point where thinking about it and applying it to this present reality can give direct experiences of its nature. Be careful though, many of the advanced teachings wont work until you have a good grounding.

        Don’t be misled by the term ’emptiness’, it doesn’t mean ‘nothingness’.

        • Daslumpman says:

          Sounds like you are a student of Dr Dan!

          Yes – this is an abuse of the term Sahaja yoga – or Sahajayana in Buddhism. What they are teaching is just a form of kundalini yoga (which is covered in the Vajrayana in Tibetan Buddhism.) This is not Sahaja yoga. You can google it and find out what Ramana Maharshi had to say about Sahaja samadhi – or like A Meditator mentions – check out Dzogchen. But don’t make the mistake of settling for the Vajrayana/Dzogcchen combo taught by most native Tibetan teachers. Look into either Dan Brown’s The Great Way org or find someone who teaches “radical” Dzogchen. If you want the Hindu version, check out a book called “Turiya” at Amazon. Good Luck. (Here is an interview of Dan Brown

          )

          • A Meditator says:

            Hello:) I hadn’t heard of him, I’ll look him up.

            But don’t make the mistake of settling for the Vajrayana/Dzogcchen combo taught by most native Tibetan teachers. Look into either Dan Brown’s The Great Way org or find someone who teaches “radical” Dzogchen. If you want the Hindu version, check out a book called “Turiya” at Amazon.

            I teach Nyingma Dzogchen I haven’t come across native teachers not teaching ‘pure’ Dzogchen, though some who come to the teachings from other traditions might be taught parts of Vajrayana to get them up to speed. I personally would suggest reading just about anything by Longchen Rabjam, such as ‘Old Man Basking In the Sun’ to get more of an understanding of what Dzogchen is about – and too a finer grasp of the nature of reality beyond the teachings on emptiness.

            Much of his work, particularly the above, can be understood on three different levels as guidance, which might be thought of as before a student has any direct experience (of realisation), if they have a small amount, and if they are realised to some extent; his work helping to strengthen the state.

            Good to meet you:)

            • A meditator says:

              Sorry, I didn’t put part of your reply, below, in inverted commas, so it sounds like I’m saying it:). As I say I haven’t met *any* teachers doing the following:

              “But don’t make the mistake of settling for the Vajrayana/Dzogcchen combo taught by most native Tibetan teachers. Look into either Dan Brown’s The Great Way org or find someone who teaches “radical” Dzogchen. If you want the Hindu version, check out a book called “Turiya” at Amazon.”

              There are a handful of teachers, particularly in the US, claiming to teach ‘radical Dzogchen’, none that I know of are actually teaching Dzogchen as it was intended. Traditional Dzogchen is already ‘radical’ in terms of its effects.

              Turiya is interesting, but be careful those looking at it, it’s the equivalent of Rigpa in Dzogchen, which isn’t reaching realisation as it claims.

              Modern meditational schools are a minefield, stick with traditional teachings.

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