BOOK REVIEW in the Journal of Dharma Studies Feb 14, 2024

‘Against Pseudoyogic Cults:  A Philosophical Review of Under the Yoga Mat:

The Dark History of Yogi Bhajan’s Kundalini Yoga’ by Rajan, PhD - School of Education, Azim Premji University, Madhya Pradesh, Bhopal  India - Springer Link

Els Coenen’s groundbreaking exposé, Under the Yoga Mat: The Dark History of Yogi Bhajan’s Kundalini Yoga (Coenen and Gurunischan, 2023), exemplifes this narrative efectively. This meticulously researched non-fction work probes deep into the disturbing tragedies that unfolded when Harbhajan, a 39-year-old Sikh-born Indian customs ofcer, arrived in Los Angeles in 1968, posing as a master of Kundalini Yoga. Through a thoughtful selection of testimonies, historical records, voices of survivors, and expert insights, Coenen inductively disentangles the captivating rise of Yogi Bhajan, as disillusioned American youth eagerly embraced him as the Eastern guru, they believed they needed. This is the first book that shows all the diferent sides of Yogi Bhajan’s Kundalini Yoga and his respected Healthy, Happy, Holy community (3HO). It reveals how they did wrong things and used tactics to keep the terrible abuse hidden for five decades.

Reader's Favorite

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.

... The irony lies in the contrast between fact and illusion. Coenen preserves and emphasizes this sense of odd and terrible wonder as she reveals history, includes powerful testimonials from many of the yogi's prior followers, and unfolds a chilling story that embraces lessons about enlightenment, cults, illusion, and reality. ...

Carol Merchasin

Lawyer, Of



Abuse in

Spiritual Communities, McAllister Olivarius -

Under the Yoga Mat is an engrossing, beautifully written account of the systematic and heart-breaking abuses that occurred in the 3HO community under Yogi Bhajan. By interweaving historical sources and the very human testimonies of survivors, Under the Yoga Mat proves a master class in the psychology and harm of cults. Anyone who supports or works with cult survivors should have a copy.  I intend for it to be required reading for our lawyers.

Carol Merchasin

Philip Goldberg

author of


Veda: From

Emerson and

the Beatles to Yoga and Meditation, How Indian Spirituality Changed the West.

Our collective spiritual health demands that we recognize the potential dark side of the teachers and institutions we turn to. They can inspire, illuminate, and transform our lives for the better—and, at the same time, they can abuse, wound, and traumatize. In this well-researched book, the authors make an important contribution by exposing the egregious actions of the once-prominent Yogi Bhajan and his 3HO organization. The lessons in the book can make us all more spiritually mature. 


Philip Goldberg

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.

Readers' Favorite

Pamela Saharah Dyson

the first


general for



and author of the milestone book Premka: White Bird in a Golden Cage: My Life with Yogi Bhajan that triggered the revelations of abuse.

What we discover hidden ‘Under the Yoga Mat’ is astonishing in its depth and magnitude. Els Coenen has pursued and shared here the fruits of her own research.  Like a private investigator, she identifies and brings forth the many levels of deception and corruption carried out under the guise of assembling an enterprising community of people with a 'mission' of service to a New Age. The gulf between the idealistic vision expounded by Yogi Bhajan, and the degree of corruption he employed, is mind-boggling. Els Coenen has managed to share these many facets and avenues of abuse and exploitation and also to help the reader understand the ways in which such charismatic leaders seduce and exploit their followers.  Hers is a cautionary tale that reminds us of the importance of looking beneath the surface.

Pamela Dyson

Gursant Singh

former body

guard of YB and

author of Confessions

of an American Sikh.

(full review shared on YouTube)

I want to encourage people to read Under the Yoga Mat as it boils down and summarizes many of GuruNischan’s interviews with survivors. It's really an eye opener. Some of it is hard reading and some of you may find it triggering but I think it's worth facing the truth, to really be open to the experiences and the pain suffered in this Yogi Bhajan cult. A lot of abuse and pain were inflicted on people who were searching sincerely for a spiritual path. Yogi Bhajan was very disappointing and very damaging in his teachings. 

If you were to take any of these Yogi Bhajan courses or teacher training or whatever: Ask tough questions about some of the things mentioned in this book. See what the trainers tell you. That will be really telling how they answer these questions, or if they even answer them at all. Many people say that teachers just whitewash over some of these questions. They don't really want to deal with them. That's really telling if somebody's a real teacher of whatever spiritual discipline you're investigating."

Gursant Singh
Under the Yoga Mat

Under the Yoga Mat

Els Coenen and GuruNischan

Izzard Ink Publishing

ISBN 978-94-6475-213-7

Publication 2023

Reflections from

Kundalini Yoga Teacher

Lydia after reading

Under the Yoga Mat :

I read Under the Yoga Mat in one sitting. It is very well written and engaging.

I also liked that from reading the book alone, other Kundalini Yogis who have been trying to make sense of the revelations have been mentioned and one can go on a deep dive to further expand and deepen an already troubling story.

It is particularly troubling for me because I am a Kenyan Kundalini Yogi since 2014, even though my training and teaching was far removed from Yogi Bhajan.

It is troubling because my life has really been greatly positively elevated from using this technology and it became a lifestyle.

I meditate every day; I regularly do and teach the kundalini yoga sets. It is mind boggling to reconcile the impact of this technology to the revelations of the ‘master’.

So many questions. Are the revelations what we’ve come to know in the yoga circles as ‘shadows?’ Was he aware of his shadow and continued to act from it? Is that why he ate himself to death? Why do we put people, mere mortals like us, on a pedestal? Why do we lose our sense of power to people who are offering us what appears to be what our soul is looking for? What is this teaching us, those of us who still continue to use this technology? What about the victims? Do we share this information with our students so that they make an informed choice whether they’d like to come to class or not?

This is a difficult but important read. Important to peel off the mask. There are no immediate answers to the questions though.


Dr. Steven Hassan

author of Combating

Cult Mind Control and

Freedom of Mind,

Cult Expert,

Under the Yoga Mat is an essential and eye-opening book that delves into the potential dangers lurking within spiritual teachings and communities. The authors' unwavering commitment to uncovering the truth offers a valuable service to survivors and is a cautionary tale for all. With a discerning eye, Coenen emphasizes the importance of understanding spiritual teachings' complete context and origin, especially when associated with controversial figures. This thought-provoking work is a powerful reminder of the importance of critical thinking and awareness when engaging in spiritual pursuits, empowering readers to make informed choices and navigate the complex terrain of spiritual movements.

Steven Hassan
Suzanne Jordan

Suzanne Beth Jordan

survivor of 3HO's cult,

activist and moderator

of the 'Beyond the Cage'

closed FB group .

(review shared on Readers' Favorite Book Review)

Under the Yoga Mat is a painful, comprehensive & sobering assessment that tells some of the stories of Yogi Bhajan's horrific abuses. This unfolds in

a "spiritual community", in what has become an all too familiar scenario– A charismatic male in a revered position of power uses his position to ruin people, to ruin lives.
Regardless of the shiny public face of the Happy, Healthy, Holy organization: (3HO) (no words were ever so misapplied) that Bhajan started, or the rah-rah enthusiasm of kundalini yogis, or the cognitively challenged participants of White Tantric Yoga (a wholly fabricated load of crap) none of these "lifestyle brands" have properly and satisfactorily responded to the many accounts of abuse that have come forward since 2020.
Through the many podcasts conducted by Mina Bahadori and GuruNischan as well as hundreds of conversations where abuse has been shared one on one or on Zoom calls, Els Coenen was inspired to structure and organize (a colossal undertaking) the decades of abuses that include rape, child abuse, fraudulent boiler rooms, drug smuggling, lottery schemes to rob the elderly and more.
The wellness/new age circles have reached new heights of commodification. Selling snake oil is still viable and many who are susceptible to abuse, those who are searching for wholeness, these are the people who can benefit from this book.
It is a wake up call that encourages critical thinking amid the many examples in the book where thinking was forsaken altogether.
Please don't be influenced by the naysayers of this book. Tragically, there are many that are so indoctrinated into the cult of yogi bhajan that they simply cannot take in the truth. You will see them here, posting negative reviews.
I was sexually abused by Bhajan when I was 24 years old.

It's all true. It happened.
I am so happy this book is now available so that others can realize what a sociopathic monster Bhajan was.