Seven years ago, after a history of intermittent back pain, I hit a brick wall which manifested as debilitating pain in my low back that left me unable to walk or do much of anything. This continued every second of every day for six months. My thoughts, actions and behaviors had created a state of dis-ease.
Each morning, my ritual was the same: Open my eyes and sit there at the mercy of the terrible tales my mind crafted about how I would never be able to move well again. I knew the moment my feet hit the ground, the pain would escalate and for the rest of the day, I would be fighting against myself. It was one of the low points of my life.
Determined to find a solution, I visited every kind of healer one might find in Los Angeles (and that is every kind of healer), but nothing had any lasting positive effect. I became increasingly more fearful and somewhat depressed. Finally, I decided to see what an MRI would reveal. I had degenerative disk disease and two herniated disks. The prognosis was grim.
“This is a progressive disease,” I was told. “It only gets worse. We will have to manage your pain for the rest of your life and eventually look to surgery.” How dark it is before the dawn.
A friend suggested I see a Sikh man named Guru Prem. I was so fed up with the situation that I thought cynically to myself, “Oh that’s just what I need…a Guru!” I nodded politely, but was clear that “Guru Prem” was not going to be my next move. That same evening, I went to dinner with my wife, Kia, and we struck up a conversation with a woman at the next table. Out of the blue, she mentioned she had just gotten through some severe back trouble “thanks to a man named Guru Prem.”
Guru Prem Singh Khalsa was born on March 31, 1954, at Cedars Sinai Hospital in Los Angeles. At age six, he began a lifelong love affair with gymnastics. In high school, he was Los Angeles City Champion and second in State of California at the horizontal bar. He attended USC on a gymnastic athletic scholarship and for decades, Guru Prem has been part of the Muscle Beach gymnastic community. Now, fifty years since his first tumbling class, people still walk up to him and ask, “How do you do that?”
To fully understand Guru Prem and the path he walks, one must take into consideration his Sadhana (daily practice). Guru Prem begins most days around 3:30 A.M. by chanting the beautiful Sikh poem Japji. Next, he practices Kundalini Yoga for about an hour. Then, he will chant six mantras before heading over to Gurdwara (The Sikh Temple) to continue singing and chanting until about 7:00 A.M., this last part being one of the purest forms of Yoga to Guru Prem.
On Sundays, instead of this routine, he washes the floors and walls of the Gurdwara from 4:00 to 6:00 A.M.. After morning practice, Guru Prem proceeds to teach, study and/or practice Yoga all over town. He is fond of many teachers and styles of Yoga, Ashtanga in particular. If you are an avid Ashtanga practitioner or teacher, chances are you have seen Guru Prem in your class at some point. For about eight years, Guru Prem practiced Ashtanga Yoga six days a week. His first teacher was Jorgen Christianson, and others too numerous to name (aside from Sri K. Pattabhi Jois). At his peak, he was practicing the third series. When asked what prompted his devotion to Ashtanga, he cites two reasons: He truly loves the physicality of the Ashtanga practice and he decided that it would be a great way to spend his mid-life crisis. (I believe that remark was intended seriously.)
From watching this yogic family, who meditate, practice and discuss their mind, destiny and connection to God, I have learned much.
Guru Prem took his first Yoga class, a Kundalini one, in 1976 at a private home; soon after he began studying Kundalini Yoga in earnest. He met Yogi Bhajan during a UCLA extension class in 1977. Yogi Bhajan’s first words in that class were “You’re only as old as your spine.” Important words which, when passed on to me, were instrumental in my healing process.
As Guru Prem was not raised as a Sikh, he did not have his current bana (one’s outward appearance) until his mid-twenties. A circuitous journey of personal discovery led to the tying of his first turban in 1978. At the time, he had a bit of a beard and his hair was growing. He tied his turban on and stood before the mirror and realized, “This is going to be the first time I will be out in the world naked. This is truly me. God, I hope I have the courage to be this.”
Guru Prem is married to Simran Kaur Khalsa, also an exceptional teacher. They have two children, fourteen-year-old Hare Simran and eleven-year-old Siri Guru Dev, both of whom live nine months a year in India at a Sikh School. From watching this yogic family, who meditate, practice, think and discuss their mind, destiny, path, connection to God and place in the world, I have learned much.
In 1995, Yogi Bhajan recognized Guru Prem as “The Posture Master of Yoga” and charged him with the duty of writing a book on the topic. Guru Prem wrote Divine Alignment, which has sold thousands of copies worldwide and has been translated into five languages. Later, in 2009, Guru Prem released his second book, The Heart Rules, which holds a special place in my life because it captures Guru Prem’s spirit while communicating important yogic teachings on the heart.
If you are an avid Ashtanga practitioner or teacher, chances are you have seen Guru Prem in your class.
Guru Prem teaches worldwide; I like to say that he is the most famous teacher whose name few know, aside from those who have had the pleasure of learning from him. He has a gamut of regular private clients from billionaires to celebrities to everyday folks. And every Thursday, he teaches a joyful 12:30 P.M. class at Yoga West focusing primarily on alignment and the heart.
Three months after I started studying with Guru Prem, my back pain disappeared – without surgery or drugs. I still experience the occasional spasm if I ask too much of myself, but that horrible nervy pain has never returned. I recovered from what doctors called “a progressive disease that only gets worse;” healing as the direct result of learning how to breathe, how to move and how to align. Most importantly, I learned how to live. Guru Prem has given me tangible frameworks and systems for addressing the most complex problems of my life that seemed insurmountable for so long. For that, I am forever grateful.
Guru Prem teaches at Yoga West, 1535 South Robertson Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90035: yogawestla.com. To find out more information and schedule (and to view a video of Guru Prem’s Muscle Beach gymnastics), visit:
Tommy Rosen is the author of Recovery 2.0, published by Hay House. In 2013, Tommy founded Recovery 2.0, a global community of more than 100,000 people who embrace a holistic approach to addiction that includes the power of connection: recovery2point0.com