Essentially a meditative practice which is preceded by highly specialised cleansing techniques, also sometimes termed a psycho/physiological process whereby the mind is actively invoked to control the flow of prana and ultimately consciousness.
It is impossible to write with any authority on the subject of Kriya Yoga without acknowledging the guru lineage of Paramahansa Yogananda (1893-1952) who brought the practice to the west during the 1920’s, and in particular of his seminal book ‘Autobiography of a Yogi’. Reported to have sold over four million copies, ‘Autobiography of a Yogi’ is considered to be one of the most important treatise on spiritual development in the world. In fact, prior to his funeral in 2011 Steve Jobs, founder and CEO of Apple, is said to have ordered 500 copies to be distributed to his mourning guests!
“Let my soul smile through my heart and my heart smile through my eyes, that I may scatter rich smiles in sad hearts” - Paramahansa Yogananda
Almost all forms of Yoga have as a central premise the notion of ‘self realisation’, insomuch as we might acknowledge the existence of a soul or spark of the a greater consciousness. The aspiring student or sadhana has then to chose the path or practice to reveal whatever this, true Self is.
Kriya yoga differs from more generic class based yoga practices in that:
(a) A special guru-disciple relationship needs to be established. Sri Paramahansa himself describes in great depth his heartfelt quest and yearning to find his own teacher in Swami Sri Yukteswar Gupta who in turn had sought his master in Lahiri Mahasaya. Whilst yoga teachers are held generally with some degree of respect, they are often viewed more as signposts along the path rather than the light that guides; since in the word ‘guru’ we have a hint of this distinction. The prefix Gu - meaning darkness and Ru- meaning that which dispels. A guru is so much more than a teacher and should have many of the qualities to be found in Patanjalis, first and second limbs (niyamas and yamas) including :
(b) Actions termed Kriya are central to the practice. A distinction is made between yoga practices that place physical actions (karma) within a yogic framework and those that put the focus on internal actions (kriya).
(c) The practice is one of internal contemplation to awaken the dormant prana within. Hatha yoga systems focus initially on the physical practices before approaching Raja or meditative yoga So an aspirant gains control over his/her moral compass, thence breath, then body, before approaching the meditative practices. Kriya yoga, in a similar way to kundalini yoga shifts the focus to internal actions and the pranic body, whereas the later focusses more on external actions and consequences (karma). Kriya yoga means internal action and differs to karma in this fundamental way.
Sri Paramahansa once said that - Kriya yoga could not be learned from a book but rather by instruction by an experienced kriya yogi or Kriyabhan.
Central Components of Kriya Yoga
Kriya yoga has four fundamental guiding principles :
- Devotion to the Guru.
- The application of spiritual discipline - asceticism or tapas (fire, fervour or passion).
- Self study or svadhaya sometimes involving recitation.
- Surrender or total devotion to the Lord god - Ishwara pranidhara.
Practically this is achieved through cleansing techniques, breath control (pranayama), chanting (mantra) and spiritual hand gestures (mudra). There are several levels which have to be completed and understood before progression to the next.
Six kriyas are defined, the purpose of which is to:
- Cleanse the body.
- Purify the three central energy or pranic channels (ida, pingala and sushumna), to allow prana to flow upwards during more advanced techniques.
- Decarbonate the cardio vascular system enriching it instead with fresh oxygen.
These are termed Shatkriya (six actions) and they are :
- Kapalbhati - literally ‘skull shining’ an advanced pranayama technique involving the rapid inhalation (puraka) and exhalation (rechaka) using the lower diaphragm/abdominal wall muscles in a sharp recoil action. The practice is said also to cleanse the nasal and respiratory tracts.
- Trataka - fixed and intense gazing at a point of focus (sometimes a candle flame) without blinking. This is said to improve concentration, improve sight and to cleanse the tear glands.
- Neti - cleansing the nostrils using warm salty water, milk, ghee or a waxed thread! This is said to improve breathing and address any nasal ailments.
- Dhouti - internal cleansing techniques sometime involving swallowing lengths of linen and induced vomitting!
- Nauli - sometimes termed stomach churning. These techniques require well developed stomach muscles to churn the internal organs around and are said to improve the function of the bowel, liver and spleen.
- Vasti - yogic enema to cleanse the colon.
All of the above require direct instruction or initiation from the guru.
Other Pranayama or breath control techniques may be involved, these include the Ujjayi - or victorious breath (throat/glotis control).
In a similar vein as Kundalini yoga, the mantra
‘Ong Namo, Guru Dev Namo.’ Is of great importance.
(“I call upon my own inner guidance, the guru within me.” )
In addition to the central practice of Kriya Yoga, Sri Paramhansa brought three additional techniques to the attention of the west :
- Energization techniques - involving the focussed raising of prana to specific parts of the body.
- Hong Sau - a profound mantra meaning ‘I am spirit’.
AUM - technique, a deep contemplation of the sacred mantra.
What to expect from Kriya Yoga
A deeply spiritual discipline which expects a personal commitment and ultimately surrender to both the guru within and the guru without. Take time to find a teacher/guru who resonates with you as this is a major commitment.
Expect less physical practices such as posture (asana) although some classes may use theses within a wider context; rather, embrace the possibilities offered by the use affirmations (sankalpa), guided walking meditations, music and learning from an ancient lineage that has its roots in the ancient Vedic texts of hindu mysticism.
Try to to be open minded about techniques which may be both foreign and a little intimidating to you such as the cleansing acts.
Effects and Benefits of Kriya Yoga
Kriya Yoga requires above all the application of tapas or heat of spiritual discipline. This can lead to improved clarity of purpose and focus.
Advanced breath control can lead to both vigour and calmness.
Kriya is said to cleanse and invigorate all the organs of the body and increase the bodies ability to absorb oxygen.
The benefits of meditation are well known and documented but include clear thinking, positivity and stress relief.
Sri Yogananda famously said that ‘half a minute of one kriya practice is the same as a year of natural spiritual development’ with the complete practice accelerating spiritual evolution, bringing the disciple to a sense of supreme calm and joy!
Ultimately the purpose of Kriya Yoga is to enabling reunion with the supreme consciousness who has many names!