Born in 1943 in rural Illinois, the woman who calls herself Gurmukh Kaur Khalsa was christened Mary May Gibson. Her parents were middle-class Methodists who loved music and square dancing. “There was always a hoedown in our living room,” Gurmukh says. They encouraged her and her three siblings to be creative and inventive. “We were forever performing and producing events,” recalls Gurmukh, who still loves performing, whether she’s teaching at Golden Bridge, her yoga center in Los Angeles, or at conferences around the world.
You turned 20 in 1963. Were you part of the “tune in, drop out” generation? I went to San Francisco State, so I was in California when the hippie life came, and I loved it. The ’60s had magic. It was the beginning of the renaissance of humanity.
How long were you a hippie? I moved to Big Sur and lived in a tent with a guy who had no name. We lived for a year without money or a car. We found a walnut orchard and traded nuts for grains, ate weird mushrooms, cut sorrel, and ate moss. After that, I moved to Maui for three years. I bought food with food stamps and fasted a lot and bodysurfed all day.
Why did you leave Maui? After three years of wearing one piece of clothing, a blue dress with white polka dots, and never combing my hair and always saying, “Hey man, how’s it going?” I thought to myself, “This isn’t going to work.” So I called a friend who sent me money to come back to the Bay Area.
Eventually you became a Sikh. How did that happen? A friend at the time, Marc J., took me to an ashram in Tucson, Arizona, in 1970, and introduced me to Kundalini Yoga. That’s when I met Yogi Bhajan, who introduced me to sadhana [spiritual practice]. We were cleaning ourselves, sweating, working off our karma. It was quite a change for me, and I loved it.
Are you surprised you ended up living in Los Angeles? When I was a hippie, we wouldn’t go south of San Luis Obispo, but Yogi Bhajan said Los Angeles is the place to be because it has open spaces and no traditions.
What is the most challenging thing about your life? Being married. Yogi Bhajan taught us to be householders, have a family, pay bills, and still be yogis, but I didn’t want to get married. I fought it for a long time. But my marriage has been the best 23 years of my life.
What do you do for fun? My husband and I rollerblade along the boardwalk at Venice Beach. We walk our seven dogs, we watch old movies at home, and I love to swim and garden.
And last, but not least, what’s under that turban, and do you ever take it off? I have hair down below my waist. I brush and braid it every night and put coconut oil on it. I take my turban off when I do Anusara Yoga and when I swim or garden. I love to wear my turban. It makes me feel like my brain works better.