The technique of Kriya Yoga is an ancient practice that was revived in the East in 1861 when Mahavatar Babaji taught the technique to his disciple Lahiri Mahasaya. It was then brought to the West in 1920 by Paramahansa Yogananda and popularised in his 1946 book ‘Autobiography of a Yogi’ — which is often cited as one of the most important spiritual books of the 20th Century.
But what exactly is Kriya Yoga?
In five minutes, you attain 12 years of evolution. Overall Kriya Yoga takes 30 minutes for one round. Think of it. Twelve years of evolution. Imagine, 12 years ago, from then until now, you attain in five minutes by the practice of Kriya Yoga.
Now by simply multiplying those things, if you practice an hour a day, an hour a day doing Kriya Yoga, that’s not much; half an hour in the morning, half an hour at night. What do you get — 144 years of evolution.
Now you’re getting interested, which you should. Now listen a little more. If you do that, one hour a day for one year – and how much time goes by, and we never realize the year’s gone by – what do you get? Over 50,000 year’s evolution.
– Paramahansa Yogananda, Autobiography of a yogi
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What is Kriya Yoga?
The only thing I knew of Kriya Yoga was Nauli Kriya, the practice of sucking in the lower abdomen and trying to separate left and right by creating waves. I like to play around with this because it’s fun and it looks cool, but there stopped my knowledge of Kriya. So I went out and did my homework.
Kriya Yoga is both a spiritual path and an ancient meditation practice.
As its own spiritual path, Kriya brings together the best of the main systems of yoga, including the meditation of Raja Yoga, the unselfish action of Karma Yoga, the self-inquiry, and self-realization of Jnana Yoga, and the devotion of Bhakti Yoga.
As a practice, Kriya is also an advanced technique of Raja Yoga based on pranayama (breathwork), mantras (sacred words or sounds), and mudras (body configurations, often with hands).
Kriya emphasizes the relationship between the breath and the mind and teaches practitioners to be able to master their own minds by mastering the control of the breath.
Like all yoga techniques, Kyria concerns the flow of life energy. However, while asanas (yoga poses) help open up the spinal channels and unblock the flow of energy, and pranayama (breathing exercises) help to awaken that energy, Kyria goes a step further in teaching us to directly control this energy.
Kriya Yoga techniques help to draw in the senses and purify the blood by recharging it with oxygen, making it easier to channel life energy (prana) into the spinal centers (chakras) and control this energy by drawing it up and down the spine. Once the life force can be controlled, it can be used for increasing awareness, self-realization, and spiritual enlightenment.
According to Paramahansa Yogananda, Kriya is the most effective technique we have for reaching the goal of Yoga — union with the Divine — and that 30 seconds of Kriya is the equivalent to one year of natural spiritual unfoldment.
What are the benefits of Kriya Yoga?
Does Kriya yoga work? The Sanskrit root ‘Kri’ means action and ‘Ya’ means the Soul, so Kriya means to perceive the power of the Divine soul in every action. Therefore, in practicing Kriya yoga exercises, the connection between the breath and the mind — and the spiritual awareness gained through this — will be brought with you into every aspect of your daily life.
With this in mind, it’s unsurprising that there are many practical benefits of Kriya Yoga, which include an enhanced ability to focus and concentrate, the release of negative emotions and habits, and ultimately bringing us inner peace that letting us experience more calmness and joy in everyday life.
How do you learn Kriya Yoga?
Learning how to practice Kriya Yoga and achieving this accelerated path to the Divine isn’t something that happens overnight by watching a Kriya Yoga video on YouTube or by reading a blog post (sorry!).
Kriya Yoga consists of advanced techniques of meditation and is traditionally only learned through the Guru-disciple relationship.
In theory (and much like in Ashtanga), to be a practitioner of Kriya Yoga, you must undergo extensive preparation and receive initiation directly from an authorised teacher. These teachers have already attained complete union with Infinite and are therefore fully qualified to help others reach this goal. During the initiation, the body, mind and chakras are purified to help deepen meditation.
Those initiated into Kriya Yoga take a pledge of confidentiality not to divulge the techniques to others in order to maintain the purity of the practice. This is why you won’t find many books or videos offering instruction in Kriya. Even in Yogananda’s ‘Autobiography of a Yogi’, despite discussing Kriya at great length, he doesn’t describe any specific Kriya Yoga techniques in detail.
How Long Does it Take to Prepare for Kriya?
Before you are initiated into Kriya Yoga, there is a preparation process every yogi needs to take part in which takes around a year to complete. The better the preparation, the more effective Kriya Yoga will be.
One of the main reasons the preparation needs to be done is that it’s important for initiants to understand and practice Kriya Yoga in its totality as a spiritual path, rather than just as a meditation technique. The life energy which is awakened in the practice of Kriya is extremely powerful and the nervous system and consciousness need to be prepared to receive this energy. This way, the practice of Kriya will be safer and far more effective.
The preparation includes the study of Paramhansa Yogananda’s teachings, lessons in the importance of the Guru-disciple relationship and meditation techniques including energization exercises, the Hong—Sau technique of concentration and the Aum technique of meditation. Only once these techniques are mastered can the more advanced Kriya Yoga techniques be learned.
While most effectively learnt in-person under the guidance of a master, initial Kriya Yoga preparation can also be done through online classes or through books at home.
How to Practice Kriya Yoga
Kriya Yoga techniques include a number of breathing techniques, concentration exercises, and simple Kriya Yoga poses that help to control life energy, reach a higher level of consciousness, and experience union with the Divine.
It’s an unstrenuous practice that puts very little pressure on the physical body and can easily be practised at home once you’ve learned the techniques.
But unfortunately, in keeping with sacred traditions, I can’t teach you exactly how to do Kriya yoga at home. You’ll have to undergo the preparation and initiation yourself to learn this.
Kriya Yoga in the Bhagavad Gita
While the Bhagavad Gita does not mention Kriya by name, Yogananda claimed that the practice was described as part of the yoga Krishna taught Arjuna.
Krishna states that by “Offering inhaling breath into the outgoing breath, and offering the outgoing breath into the inhaling breath, the yogi neutralizes both these breaths; he thus releases the life force from the heart and brings it under his control.”
Kriya Yoga in Yoga Sutras by Patanjali
Patanjali quotes Kriya in The Yoga Sutras (II:1), in which he identifies three main practices that are vital to Kriya. These are tapasya, swadhyaya and Ishwara pranidhana.
Tapasya means ‘to generate heat’ and refers to austerity and self—discipline, swadhyaya is self—study and Ishwara pranidhana means self—surrender and devotion to the Divine.
Today, these are all still important parts of the Kriya Yoga spiritual path.
Kriya Yoga Lineage
Kriya Yoga is an ancient practice that dates back thousands of years. In fact, Paramahansa Yogananda stated that this ancient meditation method was even used by Jesus himself! However, Kriya was mostly forgotten until 1861 when Mahavatar Babaji (an immortal yogi from the Himalayas) taught the practice to his disciple Lahiri Mahasaya.
Lahiri Mahasaya went on to teach the techniques of Kriya to many disciples of different religious backgrounds, including Hindu, Muslim and Christian, all across India. One of Lahiri Mahasaya’s disciples, Swami Sri Yukteswar Giri, was also visited by Babaji who asked him to teach Kriya to Paramahamsa Yogananda — the Guru who would bring the ancient science of Kriya to the West.
With the blessings of his master, Paramahamsa Yogananda moved to America in 1920 to spread Kriya to the rest of the world. Yogananda initiated thousands of people in the West into the practice and in 1946 published his best-selling book ‘Autobiography of a Yogi’, which has become one of the most important spiritual classics of the 20th century and continues to inspire more and more people to search out Kriya Yoga for themselves.
What are the differences between Kriya and Kundalini?
Getting confused between Kriya Yoga and Kundalini Yoga isn’t uncommon at all, especially as Kundalini Yoga includes the use of ‘Kriyas’ in its practice and Kriya Yoga helps to awaken ‘kundalini energy’.
As I mentioned previously, the word ‘Kriya’ means ‘action’, and in Kundalini Yoga ‘Kriyas’ refers to a set of techniques and exercises used to unblock energy channels in the body and control this energy.
The word ‘Kundalini’ means ‘coiled one’ in Sanskrit, which refers to the coiled life force which lays dormant at the bottom of our spine and can be awakened through certain yoga techniques.
Both Kriya and Kundalini are concerned with directly awakening and controlling this life energy in order to achieve spiritual awareness, however, while the two are very closely related, they’re not identical.
Practitioners of Kriya Yoga believe that the awakening of Kundalini energy needs to be done as a part of a wider spiritual path in order for it to be controlled safely, which is what makes it so effective.
Kundalini Yoga, on the other hand, is a physical and mental discipline that can be practiced without any prior spiritual learning or special initiation (although it’s still best practiced under the guidance of a trained yoga teacher).
Kriya… A Path for Spiritual Awakening?
Even with its growth in popularity after Yogananda’s move to the USA in 1920, Kriya Yoga still remains relatively unknown and unpractised in the West compared with other types of Yoga, including Kundalini. And this may be somewhat down to the preparation and initiation needed to take part in the ancient practice.
But for those who are serious about achieving self-realization and spiritual enlightenment, Kriya Yoga is one of the most effective techniques for reaching this goal and has countless benefits which include helping to bring a beautiful inner-peace into your everyday life.