Maharishi Mahesh Yogi introduced The Beatles, and the West, to gurus, mantras, and meditation in the late 1960s.[1][2]

Modern yoga gurus are people widely acknowledged to be gurus of modern yoga in any of its forms, whether religious or not. The role implies being well-known and having a large following; in contrast to the old guru-shishya tradition, the modern guru-follower relationship is not secretive, not exclusive, and does not necessarily involve a tradition. Many such gurus, but not all, teach a form of yoga as exercise; others teach forms which are more devotional or meditational; many teach a combination. Some have been affected by scandals of various kinds.

Guru-shishya tradition

Further information: Guru–shishya tradition

The guru–shishya tradition involved a long-term, one-to-one relationship between master and pupil.[3] Watercolour, Punjab Hills, India, 1740

Before the creation of modern yoga, hatha yoga was practised in secret by solitary, ascetic yogins, learning the tradition as a long-term pupil or shishya apprenticed to their master or guru.[4][5][6][7] The ancient relationship was the primary means by which spirituality was expressed in India.[8] Traditional yoga was often exclusive and secretive: the shishya submitted to and obeyed the guru, understanding that lengthy initiation and training under the guru was essential for progress.[3] So strong was the guru-shishya relationship that Vivekananda stated that "The guru must be worshipped as God. He is God, he is nothing less than that".[8]

Transformed role

The role of the guru in the modern world is radically transformed. Globalisation has extended the guru's reach into environments where they may be a stranger, and where the religion, purpose, and status of the guru is poorly understood. Modern yoga practices are often open to everyone, without any sort of initiation into any organisation or doctrine. The modern guru Jaggi Vasudev explicitly rejected "all that traditional whatever";[3] all the same, some yoga traditions still emphasise and respect a teacher's lineage (parampara).[3] For example, Gurumayi's Siddha Yoga pays careful attention to her predecessors, Muktananda and Bhagawan Nityananda.[9] Another major change was introduced by Vivekananda; his Ramakrishna Mission set the example of public service in education and medicine, something now practised by many other Indian religious movements. These religions thus shifted from a focus on personal salvation to public altruism.[8]

Yogendra, an acknowledged pioneer of modern yoga,[10] rejected the traditional guru role in favour of something more modern.[11]

A further radical shift was from spiritual to physical in yoga as exercise, as pioneered by Yogendra, Kuvalayananda, and Krishnamacharya.[12] The transformed role of the guru can be seen in the case of one of these pioneers,[10] Yogendra, who explicitly rejected the role of traditional guru for a single pupil or shishya.[11] The physical context, too, is transformed along with the nature of the teacher's authority; yoga as exercise is often taught in an urban yoga studio, where the instructor's yoga teacher training stands in for the old guru-shishya relationship.[3] The trend away from authority is continued in post-lineage yoga, which is practised outside any major school or guru's lineage.[13][14]

The concept of the guru, along with mantra and meditation, reached the West in the 1960s with The Beatles' trip to India, for a Transcendental Meditation training course at Maharishi Mahesh Yogi's ashram in Rishikesh.[1][2] Modern gurus since then have used the divine status of the traditional guru to claim that they were gods or goddesses. Some asserted they were avatars, earthly incarnations of a god, fulfilling the prophecy in the Bhagavad Gita that Vishnu would take on earthly form when the world was threatened by evil.[8]


Further information: Sexual abuse by yoga gurus

The potential for abuse in the transformed guru-follower relationship is large, and there have been multiple instances of apparent or proven sexual, mental, and emotional abuse by gurus.[15][16][17][18][19] Anthony Storr has documented, for example, the excesses of Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh;[20] Joel Kramer and Diana Alstad have examined the betrayal of trust that is involved.[21]

Swami Vivekananda said early in the modern era that there are many incompetent gurus, and that a true guru should understand the spirit of the scriptures, have a pure character and be free from sin, and should be selfless, without desire for money and fame.[22]

Following the downfalls of several gurus accused of misconduct, practitioners have publicly debated whether gurus are still necessary.[23]

Acknowledged gurus

Well-known gurus of modern yoga
Guru Dates Gender Country Lineage (guru) School
or order
(alleged abuses)
Anandamayi Ma[24][25][26] 1896–1982 Female India Self-realization No Yes
Sri Aurobindo[27][28] 1872–1950 Male India Sri Aurobindo Ashram No Yes
Beryl Bender Birch[29] 1942– Female US K. Pattabhi Jois Power Yoga Yes No No
Yogi Bhajan[30][31] 1929–2004 Male India Kundalini Yoga Yes Yes Guru Nanak Sexual[32][33]
Bikram Choudhury[34][24][35][18] 1944– Male India Bikram Yoga Yes No No Fixed sequence of postures, in heated room Sexual, assault, racism, homophobia[36][37]
Amrit Desai[38][39][40][41] 1932– Male India Kripalvananda Kripalu Yoga[42] Yes Kundalini yoga, Hatha yoga[38] Sexual[43][44][39]
John Friend[35][18][45] 1959– Male US Anusara Yoga Yes Yes No Sexual[46][47]
Gurmukh[48][49] 1943– Female US Yogi Bhajan Kundalini Yoga No Yes Yoga in pregnancy
Gurumayi Chidvilasananda[50][51] 1955– Female India Muktananda Siddha Yoga No Yes Yes Shaktipat, japa
B. K. S. Iyengar[34][35][52][53][54][55] 1918–2014 Male India Krishnamacharya Iyengar Yoga Yes No No Yoga props
Jaggi Vasudev[34][53][56] 1957– Male India Malladihalli Raghavendra Isha Foundation Yes Yes "Inner Engineering", japa, pranayama
K. Pattabhi Jois[34][52][53][57][1][58] 1915–2009 Male India Krishnamacharya Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga Yes No No Vinyasas Sexual[59]
Krishnamacharya[34][52][53][60] 1888–1989 Male India Vinyasa Krama Yoga Yes No No Vinyasas
Kriyananda[61][62] 1926–2013 Male US Yogananda Ananda yoga No Yes Yes Copyright disputes[63] Sexual[64][65]
Kuvalayananda[53] 1883–1966 Male India Paramahamsa Madhavdas Kaivalyadhama Yes Ayurveda
Maharishi Mahesh Yogi[34][52][53][58] 1918–2008 Male India Brahmananda Saraswati Transcendental Meditation No Yes
Meher Baba[24] 1894–1969 Male India Avatar Meher Baba Trust No Sufism
Dharma Mittra[66] 1939– Male Brazil Kailashananda Dharma Yoga Center Yes
Muktananda[67][68][69] 1908–1982 Male India Bhagawan Nityananda Siddha Yoga No Yes Shaktipat Sexual[70][71]
Nirmala Srivastava
(Shri Mataji Nirmala Devi)[72]
1923–2011 Female India Sahaja Yoga No Yes Kundalini awakening
Swami Rama[53] 1925–1996 Male India Himalayan Institute No Yes Sexual[73]
Ram Dass[74][75] 1931–2019 Male US Neem Karoli Baba No Yes Pranayama
Baba Ramdev[34][66][52][76] 1965– Male India Patanjali Yogpeeth Yes Yes Ayurveda, pranayama
Sivananda[34][77][52][53] 1887–1963 Male India Divine Life Society No Yes
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar[34][56] 1956– Male India Maharishi Mahesh Yogi Art of Living Foundation Yes Yes Sudarshan Kriya, pranayama
Satchidananda Saraswati[78][79] 1914–2002 Male India Sivananda Integral Yoga Yes Yes Yes Pranayama, Karma Yoga, Jnana Yoga, Japa Sexual[78][80]
Sathya Sai Baba[81][82] 1926–2011 Male India Sathya Sai Organization No
Shankarananda[83][84] 1942– Male US Shiva Yoga No Yes Sexual[83][84]
Vishnudevananda Saraswati[85][55] 1927–1993 Male India Sivananda Sivananda Yoga Yes Yes Pranayama, Sattvic diet Sexual[85]
Vivekananda[86][87] 1863–1902 Male India Ramakrishna Vedanta No Yes
Paramahansa Yogananda[34][24][52][53] 1893–1952 Male India Sri Yukteswar Giri Self-Realization Fellowship Yes Yes Yes Kriya Yoga
Yogendra[10][58] 1897–1989 Male India The Yoga Institute Yes Yes


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