Do you love yoga but prefer a style centralizing spirituality rather than exercise? If so, Kriya Yoga by Paramahansa Yogananda may be for you.
As an experienced yoga practitioner who has practiced many styles of yoga, Kriya is among the most profound.
Rather than focusing on the physical body, Kriya Yoga is about connecting with your inner being. You do this through learning to utilize the life force within.
Intrigued? Then, read on to learn all about this ancient yogic practice!
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What is Kriya Yoga?
Kriya Yoga is an ancient meditation technique and yoga style dating back centuries to Ancient India.
The first apparent reference to Kriya Yoga was in the Bhagavad Gita. But cryptic sentences in the Bible also suggest Jesus Christ was familiar with Kriya Yoga!
The Sanskrit term “kriya” means action or movement. In Kriya Yoga, this refers to specific meditation techniques/ spiritual practices taught. These include pranayama (breath control), mudra, mantra, and physical postures.
Kriya yogis believe that the breath and the mind are intimately connected. The concept is that by working with the breath through specific techniques, you can gain energy control. This in turn, accelerates spiritual development and connection to the divine consciousness.
This spiritual practice aims to awaken the life force (prana), which may help you reach higher states of cosmic consciousness.
Core principles of Kriya Yoga
Three core principles of Kriya Yoga, also known as the three pillars, are outlined by Paramahansa Yogananda in his teachings.
These are concepts from the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, which you may already be familiar with if you've studied yoga philosophy:
- Self-discipline (Tapas): Following a consistent and dedicated routine for their spiritual practices. Paramhansa Yogananda teaches we can increase life energy through disciplined effort.
- Self-study (Svadhyaya): Engaging in introspection, self-inquiry, and studying spiritual texts. This will deepen your understanding of the self and the nature of existence.
- Surrender to God (Ishvara Pranidhana): Cultivating a sense of humility, devotion, and surrender to the divine will. This is not passive surrender but acknowledgment and trust that divine love is guiding and supporting you.
This combination of the pillars and spiritual techniques like pranayama and mindfulness creates a balanced, transformative, and comprehensive spiritual path.
The 5 Branches of Kriya Yoga
The five branches of Kriya yoga detail the five different techniques taught in Kriya yoga practice. This includes:
- Hatha Yoga: Includes physical postures (asanas), breathing exercises (pranayama), and other yogic techniques designed to prepare the body for meditation.
- Kundalini Pranayama: Involves specific breathing exercises (pranayama) to achieve breath mastery and awaken the dormant spiritual energy (kundalini).
- Dhyana Yoga: Refers to meditation, focusing on quieting the mind.
- Karma Yoga: Refers to performing selfless service without wanting or expecting anything in return.
- Bhakti Yoga: This is the practice of devotion and love for the divine, often practiced through chanting.
Significance of each branch in Kriya Yoga
Several ancient yogis like Swami Kriyananda say each branch of Kriya Yoga plays a crucial role in connecting with the divine.
- Hatha yoga emphasizes the importance of physical health as a foundation for spiritual practice.
- Kundalini pranayama channels your life energy up the spine, leading to heightened consciousness.
- Dhyana Yoga enables you to achieve inner stillness, opening you up to exalted states of awareness.
- Doing your daily duties and responsibilities through Karma yoga helps you recognize the divine nature of all actions.
- Practicing Bhakti Yoga enables you to cultivate a deep sense of devotion and surrender to transcend the ego and speed up human evolution.
Who was Paramahansa Yogananda?
Paramahansa Yogananda was an Indian yogi and spiritual teacher known for introducing Kriya Yoga to the Western world.
Paramhansa Yogananda (real name Mukunda Lal Ghosh) was born in 1893 in Gorakhpur, India.
At age 17, he met his great guru, Swami Sri Yukteswar Giri, who introduced him to Kriya Yoga science.
After completing his training as a monk, Yogananda founded the Self-Realization Fellowship (SRF). The mission of this organization was to spread the science of Kriya Yoga to the West. He traveled extensively in the United States, giving lectures and classes on this spiritual technique.
Swami Yogananda wrote “Autobiography of a Yogi” in 1946, which later became one of the most renowned spiritual books. In “Autobiography of a Yogi,” the advanced Kriya yogi talks about his family life and spiritual experiences.
Yogananda's teachings and philosophy
Throughout his life, Paramahansa Yogananda spoke extensively about Kriya Yoga. He emphasized its transformative power and role in human evolution. He also often referred to it as a “spiritual science” that allows yogis to experience profound states of inner realization.
Aside from the science of Kriya Yoga, Paramhansa Yogananda's teachings included:
- Oneness of religions
- Realization of one's true nature as a soul
- The eternal nature of the soul
- The importance of maintaining a balance between spiritual and material aspects of life
What makes Kriya Yoga different from other styles of yoga?
As someone with years of experience practicing many different styles of yoga, I feel Kriya Yoga is unique.
It is one of the more spiritual yoga styles as there is much less emphasis on the physical benefits than in Hatha, Ashtanga, and Vinyasa yoga.
Kriya Yoga also has more emphasis on pranayama. While other yoga styles may include 5-10 minutes of breathwork, in Kriya Yoga, it is integral throughout the entire practice.
This is because ancient yogis discovered the connection between the breath and our life force. By regulating the breath, we achieve life force control. This leads to the purification of the energy channels in the body and the awakening of higher states of consciousness.
Kriya Yoga initiation
Kriya Yoga by Paramahansa Yogananda is a unique, structured practice that involves a set series of techniques taught in a specific order.
Still, the Kriya initiation is what makes Kriya Yoga stand out the most from other styles.
When you start learning Kriya Yoga, you will go through an initiation process. This is best described as a ritual or ceremony to enter the traditional sacred guru-disciple relationship.
Many people also practice it, believing it promotes spiritual progress faster than other yoga styles.
How to learn Kriya Yoga as a beginner
If you want to start Kriya Yoga, the first step is finding a reputable and qualified teacher.
Kriya Yoga teachers are less widespread than Hatha or Vinyasa yoga teachers. So you may struggle to find an instructor in your town or city.
If this is the case, you can take an online course instead. I recommend studying with Ananda.org, founded by Swami Kriyananda, Yogananda's direct disciple.
Another thing to note about Kriya Yoga is that this is not a yoga style you can practice now and again. Because Kriya Yoga serves as a spiritual path to the divine, consistent and regular practice is vital.
Basic techniques and exercises for beginners
Each Kriya technique is traditionally taught through initiation by a qualified teacher. Still, there are some simple exercises you can learn and practice on your own.
Nadi Shodhana Pranayama
One of the most well-known examples of a yogic kriya is the Nadi Shodhana pranayama. It is also used in other yoga styles, known as alternate nostril breathing. This technique involves inhaling through one nostril and exhaling through the other.
- Inhale through the left nostril.
- Close the left nostril with your right ring finger, and release the right nostril.
- Exhale through the right nostril.
- Inhale through the right nostril.
- Close the right nostril again and release the left, exhaling through the left nostril.
- This completes one cycle; repeat for several cycles.
Ujjayi breathing, also known as ocean Breath, is another essential Kriya technique. It helps to regulate the nervous system and life energy, helping you move into a meditative state.
- Inhale deeply through your nose.
- Exhale slowly through your nose while constricting the back of your throat. Create a soft, audible sound like ocean waves as you do so.
- Continue this rhythm slowly, counting to six on the in-breath and six on the out-breath.
The 7 steps of a Kriya Yoga session
Like with all yoga styles, preparation is essential. Every Kriya yoga practice starts with preliminary practices for centering and intention setting.
Start by finding a comfortable seated position. Close your eyes and connect to your breath. Then, set an optimistic and focused intention for the practice.
The 7 core components of a Kriya Yoga session
Here is an example of a typical Kriya Yoga session:
- Physical Warm-up – Gentle yogic stretches can prepare the body for sitting meditation. Specific movements include neck stretches, shoulder rolls, and seated twists.
- Diaphragmatic Breathing – Inhale deeply through the nose, allowing the diaphragm to expand. Then exhale slowly.
- Nadi Shodhana – This consists of inhaling and exhaling through alternate nostrils.
- Preparatory Breath Awareness – Here, you observe your natural breath. Bring attention to the sensation of your breath at the nostrils or the rise and fall of the chest.
- Kriya Yoga Techniques – This is the primary part of the practice. It includes various pranayama techniques, mantra repetition, and chakra visualization.
- Meditation – After the kriyas, you come into a seated meditation posture to find stillness and inner peace.
- Closing and Integration – You finish with a few moments of silent sitting before practicing gratitude or a closing prayer.
4 benefits of practicing Kriya Yoga
Like other yoga styles, Kriya Yoga can enhance your physical and mental health in many ways, such as:
- Improved functioning of the respiratory system and enhanced lung capacity (through breath control)
- Enhanced concentration and mental clarity (through meditation)
- Reduced stress (through nervous system regulation)
- Increased vitality and physical energy (through the improved flow of life force)
Spiritual growth and self-realization
While Kriya Yoga has many positive effects on our physical and mental bodies, it is a spiritual practice.
For every devoted Kriya yogi, the ultimate goal is self-realization and communion with the divine.
Through regular practice, practitioners report heightened spiritual awareness and interconnectedness with the universe.
Takeaway on Kriya Yoga by Paramahansa Yogananda
Kriya Yoga by Paramahansa Yogananda may not be the most popular style among western yogis. But, if Hatha and Vinyasa yoga no longer tick all the boxes for you, Kriya Yoga is the perfect style to advance to.
Featuring meditation, breathwork, and other techniques, Kriya Yoga is THE practice for all dedicated spiritual seekers.
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