The Legacy of a Kundalini Yoga Teacher: Baba Singh Khalsa, in Memoriam
By Anthony Chapman, Ottawa, Canada
Baba Singh Khalsa was among the first Kundalini Yoga teachers sent by Yogi Bhajan to open ashrams in the early 1970s. He was 3HO's first teacher in Ottawa. After suffering from Lyme disease for several years, Baba Singh died on June 16th, 2010. His ashes were scattered at our Summer Solstice site at Guru Ram Das Puri in Espanola, New Mexico. A few years ago one of his former students reconnected with him, and wrote him this letter, which stands as a beautiful tribute to Baba Singh and speaks of the legacy of a teacher.
For Baba Singh
The Kundalini Yoga posters you put up all over downtown Ottawa in 1972 really got my attention. Remember the one with the Tratakam photo of a young Yogi Bhajan looking intensely straight out at you? I didn’t know much about yoga at the time but I wanted to learn more and this guy looked like he meant business. I took note of the location: the room number for the class seemed auspicious then—Pestalozzi College, Room 2001 (A Yoga Odyssey?)
The first class blew me away. The yoga was so powerful and challenging, I couldn’t get enough. I attended every class you offered. From the beginning, I remember you urging us again and again to “Breathe!” and to “Keep Up!” You wanted us to know we could complete any exercise and by extension, anything in life—if we were determined enough. (Believe me, I needed every bit of encouragement to complete those monumental leg lift sets.)
When I didn’t have a place to live, you and Baba Kaur offered me space in the living room of your one bedroom apartment at the college. I jumped at the chance to be in your company and to practice sadhana together. Other students felt the same way. To make group sadhana a reality—and I suspect, to get me off your living room sofa—you established a 3HO ashram in Ottawa.
I remember the early morning routine in the ashram when you came around to wake us all for sadhana: “Sat Nam, time to get up.” First, it was stretch pose by the bed, then head down to the basement where the other men were already lining up for the daily cold shower. We were young and fierce then and kept the shower as cold as possible—and in Ottawa in January that meant ‘glacier-cold.’ I remember the feel of almond oil still on my skin after the shower; the rich smells of yogi tea, curry, and other spices as I paused in the kitchen to drink several glasses of water; and the permanent scent of incense in the sadhana room as we started our warm-up exercises in the dark.
Like your classes, Baba Singh, the sadhanas you led were challenging but always rewarding. You kept me up through the daily 2 ½ hour practice, especially the 31 minutes of Sat Kriya and 62 minutes of long Ek Ong Kar. I remember your voice picking up the pace if our chanting started to slow down or sound tired some mornings. (Note to self: next time choose the early evening movie.) You used to say that yoga is supposed to make you feel centered—not high. Can I finally admit that after sadhana I frequently felt a little high? And, has anything ever tasted better than simple homemade yogurt, almonds, and bananas after sadhana?
It makes me smile to think that at about 24 years of age then, you were the “old” guy among us. But you had more than a few extra years of experience: you had wisdom and a rock-solid character that never wavered under pressure. I never saw you become emotional, irritated, or negative, regardless of the situation and despite our constant questions and the occasional dramas we laid on you. You kept a sense of humor throughout and your laugh was so warm, infectious, and worth waiting for.
Your straightforward, rational view of things never encouraged any illusions about the level of commitment required to make spiritual progress. At the same time, you knew how to put the discipline in perspective. I recall once you said that people “out there” say we have a difficult lifestyle in the ashram. You said simply, “We don’t have it so hard; they’re the ones who have a tough time.” I understand fully now what you meant.
Whenever I pass by the ashram’s first location on Second Avenue, I think of you and how it was back then. I realize the passage of time tends to imbue past experiences with a certain glow, but it seems to me that those days in the ashram were among the best.
There are lots of wonderful Kundalini Yoga teachers in Ottawa now and more people than ever practicing. I wonder how many know that you are the one who planted the seed of Yogi Bhajan’s teachings here in Ottawa all those years ago that grew into this community.
I am still doing my best to keep up, though my knee joints complain more than before. Sometimes during a challenging exercise I remember you urging us on: “Keep Up!” and “Breathe!” Still other times during sadhana, I can hear you pick up the pace for me (“Ek Ong Kar ….”)
Thank you, Baba Singh, my teacher. I will never forget you and what you taught me. God Bless you. Sat Nam.
Anthony Chapman continues to live and practice Kundalini Yoga in Ottawa.