Inside the Dubious World of RA MA Yoga, and Its Girl Boss Guru to the Stars
According to sources, founder Katie Griggs aka Guru Jagat exploited her loyal followers under the guise of improving “wellness” and facilitating “healing.”
By Cassidy George
July 13, 2021, 7:00am
The RA MA umbrella also includes a business school, non-profit foundation and a feminist group called the Aquarian Women’s Leadership Society. According to a pitch deck created by RA MA staff in December of 2019, RA MA claimed to have 150,000 social media followers, 50,000 email subscribers and 500,000 podcast streams. That year, they offered 300 events, four retreats, and a festival.
But in the past year and a half, Jagat’s reputation has rapidly transformed. The spiritual leader has been accused by ex-employees and devotees of spiritual abuse, workplace harassment and mismanagement of funds. Most of these grievances were first made public by an Instagram account called @ramawrong; the account’s founder told VICE they created it in July of 2020 to provide a safe space for Jagat’s alleged victims to share their stories and connect with one another.
VICE spoke with 15 sources who have since left the RA MA community who feel that RA MA is cult, arguing that, for those most devoted, it facilitates a culture of extreme devotion, where practitioners are constantly encouraged to donate increasing amounts of time, energy, labor, and money to the community. Sources allege they were indoctrinated with a sense of spiritual superiority and an “us vs. them” mentality, which created an echo chamber effect that further radicalized and insulated followers. They say that RA MA is operated not only by Jagat, but also by her spiritual teacher and employee, Harijiwan, a convicted felon who spent 18 months in federal prison in 2000 for his involvement in one of Yogi Bhajan’s telemarketing schemes. They claim that Jagat regularly consults Harijiwan before making any business decisions and that he holds an elevated position in the company, despite taking a less public role. “When Harijiwan was released from prison, he was a convicted felon in his 40s with no education or work experience. All he had were the lessons he learned as a scammer in Yogi Bhajan’s cult,” said Rony Corcos, who worked as a videographer for RA MA from 2018 to 2020. According to Corcos, Guru Jagat was the ideal partner in RA MA, as she could act as “the ‘modern’ face of it. She was perfect because she was young, white, blonde, seemingly secular, and lip syncs to rap videos online.”
Among the cross-legged disciples of Hollywood housewives and aspiring actresses were head-turning celebrities, like Alicia Keys, Kate Hudson, and Kelly Rutherford, as well as rising beauty entrepreneurs like the Moon Juice founder Amanda Chantal Bacon and Shiva Rose, whose products were sold in RA MA’s artisanal boutique, near the studio’s entry. Here, students could browse through a treasure trove of spiritual nicknacks and clothing that aligned with RA MA’s Instagrammable aesthetic. Glittering crystals lay next to “sacred adornments” (otherwise known as jewelry) and “altar offerings.” The latter included items like palo santo, sage, printed photos of now-infamous yoga teacher Yogi Bhajan—who introduced Kundalini yoga to Americans in the late 60s—and, most importantly, Guru Jagat, RA MA Institute’s founder.
In the early 2010s, Bhajan’s once esoteric practice, which combines Sikh mantras and tantric theories with various yoga poses and techniques, was peaking in popularity, thanks to A-list practitioners like Russell Brand, Demi Moore, and Jennifer Aniston.
efore adopting her spiritual name, which means “bringer of light to the universe” in Sanskrit, Guru Jagat was Katie Griggs, a woman born in Fort Collins, Colorado and raised in the D.C. suburbs, who always dreamt of becoming a rock star. “She always wanted to be famous,” said Corcos. “And the spiritual world is a great place for people who want to be adored, but didn’t ‘make it’ elsewhere.”
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After a bout of time in the Osho cult and brief but intense Ashtanga phase, Griggs eventually found fame in the subculture of Kundalini. Soon after discovering the practice in 2000, she began teaching. In the press and in her classes, she represented herself as an “heir” to Yogi Bhajan and suggested that she moved to Los Angeles and started teaching at Yoga West at his urging. “She spoke about how Yogi Bhajan was her mentor and told her she needed to become an equivalent teacher,” said Jaclyn Gelb, a certified Kundalini instructor and previous devotee of Griggs, who stopped practicing in 2020. But in a Business of Fashion article published in January of this year, Griggs renounced her origin story, claiming she and Bhajan never met. “I was under the false pretense that she was summoned by the master,” Gelb said.
The legacy of the Kundalini master Yogi Bhajan has been fraught with controversy for decades. Before his death in 2004, Bhajan founded the Siri Singh Sahib Corporation, which includes Yogi Tea (Bhajan’s portrait is on every box), Akal Security (a private security firm which has earned over $1 billion in federal contracts since its formation in 1980), and 3HO (his own religious community called the Happy Healthy Holy Organization). But he also oversaw numerous criminal operations, and fabricated Kundalini’s “ancient” lineage. In January of 2020, Bhajan’s legacy was fully shattered by a posthumous Me Too moment, spawned by the publication of Pamela Dyson’s memoir, Premka: White Bird in a Golden Cage, in which she accuses Bhajan of rape, battery, and imprisonment.
Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 07/14/2021 09:35AM by corboy.