Perfectionism & Hypochondria in 3HO

Yogi Bhajan often said he said he didn’t come to America to teach yoga, but to create teachers. He promised that if we trusted him and practiced diligently we would become Healthy, Happy and Holy. But his endless yoga kriyas (routines), meditations, dietary and other teachings turned us into physical and spiritual hypochondriacs. People on the outside were engaged in living. We were stuck in our holy Bhajan bubble trying to achieve physical and spiritual perfection as a precondition for living. In the race of life, we were forever at the starting line “getting ready” while everyone else was running down the track.

While mainstream Sikhs were content with reading their banis, getting educations and being householders, we Bhajanist Sikhs were busy “getting ready” by doing 2-1/2 hour morning yoga, chanting, evening yoga classes, more chanting, cleansing our bodies by doing apple fasts, steamed celery fasts, beet fasts, melon fasts, daikon radish fasts, even yogurt and Coca-Cola fasts. When we weren’t busy with yoga and dietary obsessions, we were busy ironing chunis, combing the fringes on the sadhana room carpets and attending mandatory “Saturn circles” where we got shamed for numerous perceived failings.

Forget about higher education; Bhajan would teach us everything we needed to know! We sleep-deprived restaurant workers, housecleaners and landscapers would be the Spiritual Teachers of the Aquarian Age! But first we had to do another 30-day liver cleanse, a gall bladder cleanse, a kidney cleanse, a kriya (yoga routine) to strengthen our navel point, another kriya to balance our brain, another one to balance our chakras, a kriya to strengthen our adrenals, a meditation to develop our intuition, another meditation to bring prosperity, three mantras that each had to be chanted for 31 minutes a day for protection…

With Bhajan constantly pointing out flaws to be corrected, constantly telling us how we would suffer if we didn’t protect ourselves with Kundalini Yoga and magical mantras, we became spiritual and physical hypochondriacs. We feared becoming toxic if we ate the wrong foods and didn’t perform cleansing fasts. We feared damage to our aura if we didn’t wear whites. We feared harm to our arc line (whatever that was) if we didn’t wear a turban exactly right. We women apparently had a second arc line across our chest that had to be protected with a chuni.

How did people on the outside manage to function with all that polyester cutting off their auras? Bhajan conditioned us to fear almost every aspect of life.

Walking, talking, sleeping, driving, child rearing, grooming, even sex had to be done a certain way or we would suffer the consequences. Bhajan assigned us more kriyas, meditations and prayers to do than there were hours in the day to do them. With so many perils and pitfalls to protect ourselves from, something had to give. Sleep, time to think and feel, and quality time with our families were casualties of the 3HO lifestyle.

Visits with relatives turned sour as we told them why all the food they were eating was wrong. We rejected our mother’s vegetable soup if there was chicken broth in it. We rejected gifts of clothing that weren’t white. Our friends and relatives didn’t know how much danger they were in, but they sure would be grateful once we taught them how to be Healthy, Happy and Holy! Someday soon, everyone in the world would be keeping their hair, tying turbans and wearing white!

What if something bad happened? That was because our spiritual practice wasn’t good enough or there was something wrong with our relationship with God. Because if we did everything right, if we could be perfect, no harm should ever befall us. If something bad did happen, we should be able to control our emotions perfectly. Grief, anger, sorrow, depression… feelings were signs of “attachment” and had to go. If we were sad we didn’t get a hug. Instead we were given a lecture on why our feelings were wrong followed by a meditation to do. If we still had “negative feelings” after that we, not his teachings, were to blame.

Wanting to achieve goals different than the ones Bhajan assigned us? That was called “being in your ego” – another imperfection to be eradicated. Oh, how he suffered trying to help us achieve our perfect destinies that he alone could see. No one suffered like him, and it was all our fault. He shamed us for being needy but blasted us for independence. We were told to feel gratitude; he only shamed and tore us down because he loved us so much.

I’m a slow learner, but after about fifteen years of “getting ready” with no end in sight I began to wonder…

According to Bhajan, he had once been a student, then struck out on his own to be a teacher. When would we be ready to do the same? Apparently never. We would always need his advice because only he knew what was best for us: Where to live, what to eat, whether or not to go to college, what to major in, where to work, when to marry, who to marry, when to have children, what to name those children, was it OK to go to the bathroom now?

To graduate, to outgrow him was not a worthy goal, it was “abandoning your teacher.” And we all knew what became of students in their egos who abandoned their teacher. Terrible things! They started wearing colors and listening to jazz!

If his teachings were so great, why were we still in so much need of improvement after so many years of dedicated practice? Why weren’t we ready already? How could we ever save the world if we needed so much handholding?

After years of waiting for the world to adopt our way of thinking it seemed like people on the outside were doing well without our help. A lot of them actually knew some pretty smart stuff that Bhajan was unaware of such as 12-step programs for addictions, therapy for abuse survivors instead of meditations, and the legal duty of reporting child molesters to the police. Their university degrees produced more prosperity than his prosperity meditations.

The more I experienced outside modalities working better than Bhajan’s teachings, the more I learned very painfully that being a follower of Yogi Bhajan meant never being good enough and never being allowed to question “the teachings.”