The post-charismatic success of Kundalini Yoga

Kundalini Yoga has become a trend among fashionistas, as evidenced by a number of articles appearing in popular women’s magazines, writes Julie Rambal in the Swiss daily Le Temps (June 19). Not everybody is enthusiastic, though, since the practice has reportedly led some followers to introduce significant changes into their way of life. The success of Kundalini Yoga is part of a wider and lasting interest in yoga in its various guises. Yoga has grown into a huge market, with its festivals, magazines, and even tourism industry, with popular yoga retreats existing in such places as Bali in Indonesia and Rishikesh in India. While yoga may be used primarily as a physical practice, it also attracts people looking for answers to key questions about life and for a spiritual path, for instance at a time of personal crisis.

Self-described as the “yoga of awareness,” Kundalini Yoga had been conceptualized and promoted by the late Yogi Bhajan (19292004). Yogi Bhajan had launched 3HO (Healthy, Happy, Holy Organization) in the late 1960s, associating Kundalini Yoga with Sikhism while playing to the New Age mood. Elements drawn from Sikhism are present in Kundalini Yoga practice, which also emphasizes breathing exercises. 3HO members also started various successful businesses, including the well-known Yogi Tea and Akal Security companies. The reports of the current interest in Kundalini Yoga within some circles 15 years after the death of Yogi Bhajan shows the potential of spiritual practices to prosper and attract new followers after the initial charismatic figure is no more, even in such contexts as the crowded yoga market.