Kriya yoga has been called the mother of all yoga. Kriya yoga, rather than a distinct asana practice, is a meditation technique that seeks to help its devoted followers attain self-realization, which involves harmony with God.
Kriya yoga believes that humans represent the microcosms in a macrocosm and that God is within all of us. Initiating action through the breath helps to bring us closer to this God and ultimately, connect to our highest selves.
History Of Kriya Yoga
According to Paramahansa Yogananda, the guru that brought Kriya yoga and teachings on meditation to the west via his book Autobiography of a Yogi, Kriya yoga existed in ancient India for a fair amount of time, but became lost due to “priestly secrecy and man’s indifference.” Yogananda also says that Patanjali refers to Kriya yoga.
In 1861, Mahavatar Babaji reintroduced Kriya yoga technique to the world through his follower, Shri Shyamacharan Lahiri, aka Lahiri Mahasaya. Two of Lahiri Mahsaya’s followers were the aforementioned Yogananda and Paramahamsa Haricharanda. Yoganada spent around three decades in the western world teaching the concept of Kriya yoga.
Paramahamsa Haricharanda existed as an overseer as well as a teacher of Kriya Yoga. Although he died in 2002 at the age of 95, his disciple Paramahamsa Prajnananananda continues to teach Kriya yoga across the world. He is also an author and speaker.
Philosophy Of Kriya Yoga
Kriya is believed to originate in divinity, not in human creation. The two syllables in the word Kriya each help to indicate its meaning. “Kri” means karma dhatu (the action of the elements), while “ya” means soul. Thus, the word kriya literally translates to action of the soul.
Kriya yoga seeks to bring its practitioners to a higher state of consciousness and bring about awareness of the mind, body, and soul. It brings about bliss and calms the mind. There is a huge emphasis on preserving its lineage, and Kriya yoga highly regards the relationship between master and student and how the material is passed through generation to generation.
Practice Of Kriya Yoga
Kriya yoga originates in the breath, the brain, and the spinal cord. The breath connects the soul and the mind, the brain connects the sensory organs and the mind, and the spinal cord connects the sensory organs to the lower part of the brain. This all helps to create a link to the higher mind, the breath, and the soul. Kriya is not concerned with poses and is a true focus on the breath work.
Those who wish to truly delve into the Kriya yoga tradition must be “initiated.” To become initiated, a student must receive the initiation from Paramahamsa Prajananda or one of his yogacharyas. Yogacharyas tour the world to speak to people about Kriya yoga as well as to initiate followers. There is no discrimination as far as who can become initiated, and the only requirement to is a want to change your life through spiritual practice, constant study, and the selfless serving of others to achieve a balanced life.
The first step is purification through a holy ceremony. Before the purification, it is recommended that the participant refrain from caffeine, alcohol, tobacco, casual drug use, and sex in the 24 hours prior to the ceremony. Comfortable clothes are advised so as not to distract from the ceremony. The teacher starts by transmitting a combination of sound, vibration, and light into the student. The purpose of this exercise is so that the student can start to perceive the light of the soul and divine sound and movement. There are also mantras, which are often explained in English for those who do not understand Sanskrit.
Next comes the fire ceremony, which is meant to be a symbolic method that allows the participant to cleanse him or herself on a deeper level. After this, the first level of Kriya yoga techniques is taught so participants can practice the techniques throughout the purification.
After this ceremony, the person being initiated must offer symbolic gifts. There are three gifts: five fruits to represent karma, five flowers to represent the five senses, and a monetary donation. Next, there is a form to fill out as well as a promise that the participant cannot disclose the technique. Finally, there are three follow-up sessions that involve meditation.
The teaching of Kriya yoga is gradual. There are six stages, aptly titled, First Kriya, Second Kriya, etc. The First Kriya is for beginners and is the foundation of the system. It connects the practitioner to the body, to the soul, and through the seven Chakras. After practicing a level a Kriya regularly for a significant amount of time, the practitioner can receive the next level of Kriya.
Iswara pranidhana means the practice of breath control during every movement of the body. Observing the breath as it enters and exits the body will help bring the practitioner to a formless state, which enables nirvana or freedom.
Kriya yoga talks about a vacuum effect on the body. Life force flows from top to bottom and bottom to top of the spine so that life force grazes all seven chakras. The first two techniques of Kriya yoga are called pranam and correspond to yama in The Yoga Sutras. Yama means to gain inner control, which is important because the root is in the human spine. During Kriya yoga the spine is bent forward so that lifeforce can flow through the spinal cord. The vaccum is at the top of the body, which helps to maintain equilibrium. Bending the spine allows the vacuum effect to magnetize it. Kriya yoga also creates an inner fire that allows the practitioner to “burn” the results of actions past and mental problems.
Practicing Kriya yoga helps its practitioners deliver themselves beyond their egos, benefits the mind, body, and soul, preserves the tradition of passing on ancient tradition from teacher to pupil, remedies illness and other physical problems, and much more. There are now Kriya yoga centers in six continents and many cities.
By Alex Zaglin