Every summer for the past 25 years the 3HO Foundation has sponsored a camp that is supposedly exclusively for women. It began in the late 70’s as an outreach program initiated by Yogi Bhajan. For years Bhajan constantly badgered his female followers that American/Western women had no grace or character in their lives. American women were labeled nothing but a bunch of big mouthed, neurotic crazy bitches that wore no underwear to be sexy and had no idea of how to please a man--let alone cook a decent meal! So Yogi Bhajan decided to have all 3HO women spend a few months with him in New Mexico every summer--listening to his instructions about how to be a "real woman." In this way, all the women of the world would see how Yogi Bhajan's influence made 3HO women awesome, graceful, Godly and desirable.
There are certainly many interesting personal stories about 3HO and its women’s camp (see "In the Magical Soup") from different perspectives. However, it is important to understand that the summer program for women is not only for training/indoctrination, but also serves as a recruitment tool for the 3HO organization.
The camp was originally designed to last an entire summer, but was later cut back to eight weeks. In the late 70’s and early 80’s the program was divided into two four-week sessions--then subsequently shortened to total six weeks. Today the women's camp consists of only two one-week sessions. Why the constant reductions of this program? Are women somehow more “graceful” today than they were 25 years ago? Or, is participation and interest simply fading?
Today it seems that the women who attend this camp are primarily older 3HO members (the median age of 3HO member seems to be about 48) who have been around since its inception. Maybe some day the retreat will be moved to a retirement community like Sun City to better accommodate its attendees.
Here are two important questions concerning this aging program/retreat:
3HO’s most recent brochure outlining the women’s camp curriculum looks like a blast from the past!
This year, the camp is two weeks long and divided into six focus group topics, which are money, healing, arts and crafts, physical activities, and of course, shopping! However, there are no Kundalini Yoga classes mentioned within the brochure.
Kundalini Yoga always has been the crown jewel of all 3HO events, but apparently, not this year. The emphasis this year is instead--“Abundance and Prosperity: from intention to reality” and supposedly highlights the empowerment of women as teachers, mothers and wives. This appears to be an opportunity to listen to some 3HO women pontificate who have barely stepped outside of their cloistered “Stepford wives” ("Stepford Wives" is a movie, classic which depicts a community where men have cloned women to create submissive robots) existence. Most of these women have yet to pursue any actual career outside of their household and/or the 3HO community.
Ironically, despite such claims about empowerment there are actually few women within 3HO that have real jobs. Though some women members may have advanced degrees--they typically joined the group well into mid-life and in fact achieved their professional stature before being absorbed by the organization.
Some women who attend the summer program may feel there is somehow potential for networking professionally amongst these “sisters.” But I suggest you save yourself the trip! If you go to 3HO and are courted for your “talents,” you should get any offer of employment detailed in a binding written agreement before becoming involved in any 3HO company.
Another supposed opportunity offered at the retreat is “Guru’s Blessings,” which is "an opportunity to immerse yourself…to heal, inspire and build a sacred foundation.” Instead this seems to mean an indoctrination session where everyone lingers on the grassy knoll murmuring about their families and connections to the group. If someone attending is not living the 3HO-ashram lifestyle--this is their chance to hear all about how this life could be for you if you give up your current identity and life to become part of the group.
At camp you also have the opportunity to attend classes on how to become a part of Sikh Dharma through Gurbani, which is learning the musical side of the Sikh scriptures. This is like learning hymns at a church choir practice. Unless you are a devoted Sikh, a musician interested in spiritual music or an anthologist--Gurbani is of little interest to the average woman.
Then there is the showcasing of healing. This appears to be just another cliché for "New Age" presentations that sell/promote some service and/or practice. People bring crystals and other paraphernalia they want to sell, which is often laid out for sale in what may be an attempt to recover some of the money spent on attending the camp. Please understand that men teach about healing at the camp. Why? Aren’t there any “women” who are empowered enough as “healers” to present this focus themselves?
“Creative Am I: workshops focusing on…cooking, beauty tips and crafts.” The art of making Yogi Tea and baking cookies for those aspiring to be the next Martha Stewart in their own "New Age" community. For this people have paid $525.00 a week. And if cooking doesn’t interest you there is mala bead stringing. This is something like Girl Scout camp only you’ll get to chant and chant and chant and chant--while you string your little heart out!
The next focus is exercising and “there is something for everyone.” Why on earth would you go to a 3HO-foundation function to learn this? Isn’t this something you could take as a class at a local junior college for about a tenth of the cost, or obtain at a local gym as a part of your membership? Again, why aren’t they teaching Kundalini Yoga? Maybe this is because they want women to stay another two weeks after women’s camp, pay another substantial fee and take additional Kundalini Yoga classes during their teacher training sessions. It should be noted that many of the aging members who attend the women's camp year after year never take yoga classes and rarely do Kundalini Yoga themselves.
The final focus is not for the novice at all, but is instead strictly for 3HO women who aspire for some greater status within the group. This is a "Stepford" style journey into becoming a woman who is ready for the commitment of performing constant service without pay for 3HO. Such women will not have real power as spiritual leaders within the community, but will have more status in 3HO as they are seen as more “holy” due to their selfless devotion.
The Grand finale of any long day for a 3HO woman is getting all dressed-up and sitting on a dirt floor waiting to hear Yogi Bhajan speak. Dinner is not served until “HE” comes and talks-- meaning you could sit there well into the night listening on an empty stomach, while he preaches about what a mess you are and how he can save you if you will do what he proscribes. The brochure says--"HE sculpts us into self-mastery within his aura of wisdom, tenderness, and love during these special evening gatherings.” However, that same brochure also states, “Yogi Bhajan tells us that a woman does change her personality over eleven times per moon cycle.” How can he then “sculpt” women when they keep changing personalities? Is he “sculpting” with his aura, wisdom and love--or is this just another way to describe coercive persuasion?
During my time in 3HO, we used to fondly refer to this camp as “Lazy’s Camp.” We called it funny names because most of the women left and often went shopping with friends, or just laid around eating and complaining about their menstrual cycles. Classes didn't seem to be the reason that most women attended this camp near Espanola.
Many of the women who came appeared to need an escape from their husbands, children and/or oppressive ashram situations. At times husbands would insist that their wives go--perhaps so that they could take a break themselves. Not a bad idea--except for some of the single women back at the ashrams who endured sexual advances from such husbands while their wives were gone for the summer. There were often a number of break-ups, separations and divorces that followed camp each year.
There were also those women who attend camp to just be around Yogi Bhajan. These women were not there for any other reason than to just sit and stare at him hypnotically-- hoping for some special personal attention. There are a whole group of women, who though they are rarely seen at camp, are attending to Yogi Bhajan and his family at his ranch down the road from the camp. Sometimes they cook or clean, but usually, they take one of his Mercedes into Santa Fe for shopping, or, just lay around his pool sipping tea. A regular yoga student or new novice within 3HO is never invited to perform such ranch “duties.” And Yogi Bhajan's private pool parties are for only his special devotees.
My advice to any woman considering attending this yearly summer camp is to save your money for a real vacation. A vacation where you determine when you get up, what you do all day and who you spend your time with--rather than living in a tent for two weeks. The camp is also held during the New Mexico "monsoon season" (it rains almost every day) and if you don’t have a car you may be stuck within the 3HO's Stepford wives world for awhile.
The real question is--who wants some old man telling you how to be a woman anyway? It seems to me that a woman can be a woman without Yogi Bhajan and his spiritual Girl Scouts. There are many other more restful retreats, spas, and resorts you can experience for about the same cost with better amenities and without any droning indoctrination or manipulation.
Quotes from women who attended camp in 1998
"I was so disillusioned&I was only there for the Master's Touch Course and [Yogi Bhajan] made me so angry that I left early and I have no intentions of completing my homework assignments, even though it means I will not get my Level 1 yoga teacher certification. But, that's OK because I really don't see that I should contribute a portion of my earnings to 3HO nor do I want to write essays interpreting statements made by him over the years."
"There were many people [at the women's camp] that looked like lost souls, with more money than sense, traveling around the world looking for someone to follow. Most of these people seemed accustomed to going to events like this&I was just amazed that people have that kind of money to run around and do these events all the time."
"Many of the women seemed to be very intelligent, not hurting financially, but defiantly not strong individuals. One woman was told that after camp was over, that she was to travel to another country to start an ashram instead of going back home. She balked and said she didn't want to unless she was married. Well guess what? Yogi Bhajan supposedly picked her a man and they were married at the end of camp! These people didn't know each other prior to coming to Espanola. I was just amazed!"
"The emphasis [at yoga camp] that was placed upon buying the tapes, CD's, books and manuals was tremendous! The teachers reminded us constantly that we really needed these things, especially the music, in order to teach yoga properly. Very commercial!"
"It rained 14 out of the 15 days at camp! The bathroom facilities absolutely stunk! According to Yogi Bhajan, these little discomforts were supposed to keep us "grounded." YUCK! This was a very expensive lesson."
"Courtney Love supposedly went to women's camp and got a spiritual name from Yogi Bhajan. Apparently, she attended yoga classes in LA."
Note: Terry MIchelle Kurtz (1952-2021), received her undergraduate degree from Webster University in Webster Groves, Missouri and her Masters in Psychology from Prescott College in Prescott, Arizona. She worked with child protective services in Phoenix and was an advocate for those victimized by cults. Ms. Kurtz was also a yoga teacher and a former member of 3HO known as "Kartar Khalsa."