Before Guru Singh and Gurmukh Kaur, there was Shakti.
Shakti Parwha Kaur Khalsa, the first Kundalini Yoga teacher in America not named Yogi Bhajan, is a tiny elder with boundless energy. Born in 1929, she explored spiritual realms long before the Beatles met the Maharaja. Her seeking led her to cultish communes and astrologers, to Sufi celebrations and Vedanta lectures, and finally, on Christmas Day, 1968, to her teacher.
At the time she had been a single mother her entire adult life. Shakti worked hard and held waitress jobs at the Beverly Hilton and at the now defunct Pump Room in the San Fernando Valley. She met Yogi Bhajan at the East West Cultural Center. He could tell something disturbed her.
“Your son’s in trouble, isn’t he?” asked the tall, olive-skinned stranger with bright eyes.
Intrigued, she came clean. Her son, a recent army recruit, went AWOL and had been missing for weeks. Yogi Bhajan gave her a mantra meditation to chant daily for an hour before sunrise (Long Ek Ong Kaars).
“If you do this, your son will be okay,” he advised.
Shakti, not the typical 1960s forty-something, was no stranger to chanting, but the handsome yogi’s Ek Ong Kar mantra provided the most potent spiritual experience of her life. In the early morning darkness her energy aligned, her heart blossomed. Shakti had found her sadhana. Within days her son phoned and with Yogi Bhajan ‘s guidance, Shakti negotiated a discharge without legal repercussions. She was hooked.
For the next several weeks the pair was inseparable. Yogi Bhajan arrived in LA nearly broke, with nothing but the clothes on his back. Shakti became his de facto guide and personal assistant, stretched his turbans and drove him everywhere, all the while absorbing his teachings. She helped arrange yoga classes in Alhambra, North Hollywood, and at an antique shop on Melrose that became the Guru Ram Das Ashram, where she, the Beverly Hills cocktail waitress in nylons, practiced shoulder to shoulder with patchouli doused, bead laden flower children. One day at the North Valley YWCA, Yogi Bhajan guided his students through the beginning of a yoga set and told Shakti, “Now you teach the class.” She was too stunned to protest as he walked out, and she had no choice but to teach. She hasn’t stopped since.
For 35 years Shakti has taught Kundalini Yoga to beginners, and, despite being 75, does not plan to stop. Her Saturday morning beginner classes at Yoga West remain popular, and she is quick to explain to new students that yoga’s goal is not a perfect body or unshakable health. “Awareness is the ultimate goal,” says Shakti. “Flexibility is desirable, health is important, but awareness enables students to discover their true identity as an expression of the divine.” She keeps her classes simple so that students can slowly become comfortable with the nuances of Kundalini Yoga and still experience benefits. She emphasizes that the most valuable lesson is deep relaxation. “When we teach people how to relax, they can come back to that tranquility when stress arises. It’s so simple. The thing is to value the [deep] breath and know that God breathes in everyone and is always available.”
Her drive to spread the teachings that have helped her find inner balance and peace is legendary. She was Yogi Bhajan’s right hand as he built the nationally known 3HO Foundation from the ground up. She is also an author. Her first book, published in 1996 Kundalini Yoga: The Flow of Eternal Power is the definitive text on kundalini fundamentals. Guru Singh calls it “the bible.” Her third book – this one an astrological guide written in verse – is in her agent’s hands. Shakti also recorded a mantra CD, is a contributing editor for Aquarian Times, a Sikh minister who performs weddings, and she facilitates the powerful meditation practice known as White Tantric Yoga.