An important issue within the recovery process of many Neo-Eastern groups such as 3HO, is their often excessive use of chanting and meditation. That is, self-induced trance states, which are encouraged, and the way they may subsequently affect brain chemistry.
As a former long-term member (20 years) of 3HO I am very slowly re-evaluating my past personal experiences in trance. That is, sorting through those feelings. Some of those feelings were a familiar byproduct of trance states and were often addictive, in the sense of easing my discomfort and pain and then providing joy and serenity. Such experiences can be both sharp and intense. But they may also eventually become painful. Today I often view such subjective feelings, which can be achieved through meditation, with a certain amount of distrust.
Many former members of 3HO are so damaged that connecting to objective reality and becoming grounded is really quite difficult. My personal experience certainly confirms this problem. Physically I left 3HO years ago, but psychologically and emotionally it took me much longer to really get out. And leaving family members behind in the group further complicated my recovery.
I actually continued my yogic lifestyle even after leaving the group. I would still rise at dawn for a cold shower, do my sadhana ritual, but without the old 3HO mantras. I also remained a strict vegetarian, taught yoga and lived my life much like I did within 3HO.
But then came two important "wake up calls," which helped me enormously. One was connecting with other former members of 3HO through an on-line forum. This helped me to realize that I was not alone and that my feelings and problems were not unique. My second point of increased awareness came through a cult rehabilitation facility called "Wellspring Retreat." I spent time in a recovery program there.
The forum for former members really woke me up to the realization that 3HO could easily be seen as a "cult." Not just a "dysfunctional family," which is what I wanted to believe for so many years. Wellspring Retreat then helped me understand the ways that destructive groups often manipulate and control people, and specifically how that might apply to 3HO. Frankly, I began to see how my time with Yogi Bhajan was not just my own personal experience, but that many people had gone through very similar experiences.
I finally began to see how I had become a wreck. And that realization was often both depressing and painful. I had some miserable, shitty days. But facing it all has helped me to feel more alive than I have for many years. The recovery process at times might be painful, but facing my cult involvement and working through it has been worth it.
No, Wellspring didn't give me all the answers. They didn't tell me what to do with my life. One of their papers titled "The Road to Recovery" simply said, "Eat, sleep and then sleep some more." Slowly I got the feel for it. Currently I need 8-9 hours sleep every night. And I often take a one-hour nap in the early afternoon. I avoid over-exerting myself. My eating habits have changed too. I have found that a strict vegetarian diet and heightened stress don't mix well. So now I eat some meat for protein, which helps me to maintain good brain function. I don't advocate this for everyone, but it works for me.
I am not trying to tell anyone what their lifestyle, diet, routines, yoga, meditation, or observance of Sikhism should be. But looking back I now feel that what Yogi Bhajan taught, was largely based upon making people docile, more malleable and thus easier to exploit. And what was really so treacherous about it all, was that small kernel of Indian/Aryuvedic heritage in it, which made it all seem so legitimate.
Let's face it, getting up at 3 AM and staying awake up until 9 at night can be tiring. And Yogi Bhajan's teachings that all people really need is an hour or so of sleep and that more than six hours is somehow "poisoning your body" is ridiculous. Likewise all of his insane fasts, diets, special yoga and meditation exhausted me. Of course it also made me easier to manipulate and ultimately totally dependent. I also became addicted to the "highs" and "energy that some practices often provided.
There was nothing in my life that was really free of Yogi Bhajan and his influence. This included the gurdwaras, waiting for him to finally appear after hours and give a talk, rattle his Ardas, prayer and on and on.
Today I understand what form my process of physical recovery should take. At times though, the process for my mental recovery is somewhat less clear. I am still scared, vulnerable and hypersensitive. My mind still races at times like a five-dimensional game of pool. This part of my recovery continues to be difficult. And my soul still feels abused and raped.
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."