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Reviewed by Gitel Hesselberg for Readers' Favorite
In the 1970s, Yogi Bhajan popularized Kundalini Yoga in the United States and the West. In Under the Yoga Mat, Els Coenen reveals what was happening behind closed doors. Yogi Bhajan formed the 3HO (Happy, Healthy, Holy Organization) Kundalini Yoga community. The truth is that 3HO was a cult, and Yogi Bhajan was an abusive leader. The dedication (to Kirn Jot and all Yogi Bhajan’s rape victims) clues us into what we will find as we learn about a cult leader who abused his followers emotionally, physically, and sexually. He ran every aspect of his followers’ lives. He told them when and whom to marry and when to divorce. He separated children from their parents and sent them to a foreign country where they were starved and neglected. The book is well-researched, with copious notes.
This book was difficult to read but so worth it. Some of the personal stories are horrifying. The Yoga Mat shows us how easily people can be manipulated. Els Coenen describes so many red flags his followers missed or ignored. It’s impossible not to shed a tear when reading about the children, some as young as four, who had to do hard, physical labor while undernourished. For the more sensitive readers, there are trigger warnings for the explicitly sexual portions of the book. A book like this can serve as a warning. Reading this book will help us recognize any red flags we encounter so that we, too, don’t fall prey to a leader such as Yogi Bhajan, a man who can truly be called evil.