A kundalini yoga guru who was accused of running a ‘cult within a cult’ is the subject of an upcoming HBO Max docuseries exploring the origins of the practice and its rise in popularity in western wellness circles.
Guru Jagat, the founder of the celebrity-loved Ra Ma Institute, died of a pulmonary embolism following ankle surgery on August 1 at age 41, leaving behind both devoted followers and fierce critics who were suspicious of her sudden death.
Breath of Fire, an upcoming four-part series about Jagat’s role in bringing kundalini to a new generation, is based on Vanity Fair‘s recent profile of the controversial yoga leader, a white woman whose real name was Katie Griggs.
When Vanity Fair journalist Haley Phelan interviewed Jagat for the story in April, just months before her death, the kundalini star brushed away any allegations of wrongdoing while former members claimed she was running an abusive cult.
‘I’m a controversial figure,’ Jagat said at the time. ‘This goes with the territory. I’m not, like, love-and-light Suzie. I’m very direct and I talk about s**t people don’t want to talk about.’
Guru Jagat, the late founder of the celebrity-loved Ra Ma Institute, is the subject of an upcoming HBO docuseries Breath of Fire, which explores the rise of kundalini yoga in the west
The four-part series is based on Vanity Fair’s recent profile of the controversial yoga leader, a white woman whose real name was Katie Griggs
She opened the first Ra Ma Institute yoga studio in Venice, California, in 2013, attracting a number of celebrity fans, including Alicia Keys and Kate Hudson.
Jagat went onto to create a successful online platform and open more locations in New York City and Mallorca. The Ra Ma Institute’s website features an online shop that sells crystals, jewelry, and white dresses from Jagat’s eponymous clothing line.
Before she passed away, she courted controversy by defending Yogi Bhajan, the late founder of kundalini who has been accused of rape, sexual misconduct, and financial wrongdoing.
Bhajan, who was born Harbhajan Singh Khalsa, brought kundalini yoga — a combination of repetitive movement, chanting, and breathing — to the western world when he immigrated from India to the U.S. in the late 1960s.
Phelan pointed out in her article that while followers call kundalini an ‘ancient technology’ it was entirely made up by Bhajan, a former customs agent who took elements of Sikhism, Hinduism, and Buddhism and gave them a New Age spin.
Jagat opened the first Ra Ma Institute yoga studio in Venice, California, in 2013. She went on to create an online platform and open studios in New York City and Mallorca
Celebrity following: Guru Jagat’s fans included Alicia Keys (left) and Kate Hudson (right)
Jagat claimed to be a former student of the late kundalini founder Yogi Bhajan (pictured in 1974) and has defended him following numerous sexual assault allegations
Allegations: In 2020, Pamela Saharah Dyson published her memoir, ‘Premka: White Bird in a Golden Cage: My Life with Yogi Bhaja,’ detailing his alleged sexual misconduct
When Bhajan died in 2004, he left behind a multimillion-dollar empire that included the popular Yogi Tea brand and a private security firm.
Jagat, who claimed to have been a former student of the kundalini founder, told Phelan that she received her spiritual name ‘directly from Yogi Bhajan right before he died.’
However, Phelan noted that Jagat was still promoting herself as Kundalini Katie as late as 2012 and didn’t start going by Guru Jagat on social media until 2013, nearly a decade after Bhajan had died.
The journalist also stressed that’s it’s incredibly rare to receive ‘guru’ in your given spiritual name. She speculated that Jaga may have purchased the name for $40 through Bhajan’s legacy company 3ho.com, which declined to comment on the story.
Bhajan was accused of sexual assault and sexual misconduct before and after his death, but the allegations were largely ignored for years.
Jagat also allegedly abused and underpaid her employees, promoted far-right conspiracy theories, and publicly questioned the existence of COVID-19
Nicole Norton, who was Jagat’s former personal assistant, told Vanity fair that the Ra Ma Institute was ‘like a cult within a cult’
However, in early 2020, his former secretary Pamela Saharah Dyson shined new light on his alleged sexual misconduct when she self-published her tell-all memoir, ‘Premka: White Bird in a Golden Cage: My Life with Yogi Bhajan.’
Her account emboldened others to come forward with their own claims of sexual abuse at the hands of the spiritual teacher.
An independent third party released a report that found the abuse ‘more likely than not occurred,’ Phelan reported.
After Dyson’s memoir was released, Jagat shared a video on Instagram that defended Bhajan and discredited his former secretary, writing: ‘This tale is no truer than any other tale—the Truth as always lies in the eye of the Beholder.’
Jagat, who has been accused of being a rape apologist, told Phelan that the allegations against Bhajan were irrelevant.
Norton and Becky Lovell run the Instagram account @ramawrong, which reports on Jagat and the Ra Ma Institute’s wrongdoings
Jagat defended a staffer who described Black Lives Matter protesters as ‘cockroaches’ in the company-wide WhatsApp
The yoga leader insisted COVID-19 was not real and not contagious, according to one post
A number of the reports posted by @ramawrong feature messages in which Jagat allegedly berates her employees
‘Yogi Bhajan is a historic figure, and he remains a historic figure,’ she said. ‘I’m not, like, spending my days trying to figure out whether George Washington was doing some things that I wouldn’t agree with in 2021.
It’s also been claimed that Jagat verbally abused and underpaid her employees and defended a staffer who described Black Lives Matter protesters as ‘cockroaches’ in the company-wide WhatsApp.
She promoted far-right conspiracy theories like QAnon, publicly questioned the existence of COVID-19, flouted California’s mask ordinance by holding maskless classes, and refused to get vaccinated.
Reports of the Ra Ma founder’s wrongdoings were anonymously posted on their watchdog Instagram account @ramawrong, which is run by Becky Lovell and Jagat’s former personal assistant Nicole Norton.
‘It’s like a cult within a cult,’ Norton told Phelan of the Ra Ma Institute.
Jagat married her former student Teg Nam, who was nearly two years her junior. Former employees claimed that she became ‘radicalized’ by conspiracy theories when she fell for him
Some critics questioned Jagat’s cause of death, and some even speculated that she faked her passing to avoid being canceled
However, Vanity Fair obtained Jagat’s death certificate and her cause of death was exactly what the Ra Ma Institute had reported: cardiac arrest caused by a pulmonary embolism
Two years ago, Jagat married her former student Teg Nam, who was nearly two years her junior. Former employees claimed that she became ‘radicalized’ by conspiracy theories when she started her relationship with Teg Nam, whose real name is Austin Dunbar.
‘I kept saying, Who is that woman? I don’t recognize her,’ Jagat’s mother told Phelan.
Ironically, the nature of Jagat’s death prompted its own conspiracy theories, which included drugs, suicide, and complications from COVID-19. Some even speculated that she faked her own death to escape being canceled.
However, Vanity Fair obtained Jagat’s death certificate and her cause of death was exactly what the Ra Ma Institute had reported: She died of cardiac arrest, caused by a pulmonary embolism following surgery on her left ankle.
Breath of Fire is being produced by Vanity Fair Studios and SecondNature, with Hayley Pappas and Smiley Stevens directing. Phelan will co-executive produce the series, Deadline reported.