Hey yogi, have you been immersing yourself in studying yogic traditions and thinking to yourself what are kriyas, really? If so, you're in the right place. My intention in this article about the 6 kriyas of yoga is to simplify this sacred concept and explain these ancient yogi purification processes to you. We'll get into the benefits of each kriya, how each kriya is performed, and how kriyas are incorporated into Kundalini yoga. And I'll of course reveal into how you can integrate these cleansing techniques into your life and yoga practice too.
Kriyas are physical and spiritual cleansing practices that yogis have used for thousands of years in both the Hatha and Kundalini yoga lineages. And now, these ancient techniques are starting to become popular among yoga practitioners in the western world also.
So what are kriyas, and why should you do them? Let's find out.
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What are Kriyas in yoga?
In yoga, the meaning behind the Kriyas is to move and awaken potent energy to create a physical, psychological, and spiritual shift in our being. You do this by performing specific exercises (Kriyas) that combine repetitive movements and mantras, creating a moving meditation.
The Sanskrit word kriya translates to action or effort, and kriya yoga is often called the “Yoga of Action or Purification.” Each practice helps to cleanse the body and reduce common ailments and illnesses. Other benefits include boosting energy levels and stimulating digestion.
Kriya yoga also increases life force and strengthens the energetic body in preparation for a spiritual awakening. Hatha yoga has six kriyas, each connecting with a different energetic frequency.
What are the 6 kriyas?
According to Hatha Yoga, the six kriyas are:
- Neti (Purification of the Nose) – Using a device known as a Neti-pot, you cleanse your nostrils to remove pollutants, ease allergy symptoms, and help prevent colds and flu.
- Dhauti (Purification of the Esophagus and Stomach) – This Kriya helps reduce stomach acidity after eating something indigestible. It involves rapidly drinking salty warm water and then inducing nausea.
- Nauli (Stomach Churning) – A gentle version of this Kriya is to suck the belly in and hold, creating the Uddiyana Bandha (abdominal energy lock). A more advanced version is to create ripple movements in the stomach to turn the abdominal muscles, improving digestion.
- Basti and Shanka Prakshalana (Intestine Cleaning) – This Kriya sucks out toxins from the intestines and the entire digestive system. It involves rapidly drinking warm salty water, practicing five stretching and twisting exercises, and then releasing your bowels.
- Kapalabhati Pranayama (Breathing Technique) – This energizing pranayama (breathing technique) energizes the body, clears the mind, stimulates digestion, and cleanses the frontal sinuses. It involves quick, forceful exhales from the nose while contracting the abdomen.
- Trataka (Eye Gazing) – This is a series of eye exercises that involve concentrating your gaze on a specific point, usually a candle flame.
Kriya yoga benefits
The purpose of performing kriyas in Kundalini yoga is to move energy upwards and prepare the body for enlightenment (reaching higher levels of consciousness). However, there are many other benefits that kriyas can have on your body and mind, such as:
- Reduces illness and boosts immunity – Hatha yoga kriyas cleanse all bodily systems and remove toxins, increasing your general health.
- Reduces stress and anxiety – Various studies have found that kriya yoga can reduce symptoms of stress, anxiety, and depression. For example, a 2017 study on neurophysiology and its regulation by kriya yoga found the practice significantly reduces mental stress while improving cognitive performance.
- Energizes the body and mind – Kriya yoga stimulates and kick-starts all bodily systems and processes in a very short time. What's more, when you perform the exercises, all your internal organs become activated and secrete the necessary hormones and enzymes to keep the body fit.
- Improves circulation – Kriya yoga increases blood circulation to the brain and spine and sends a fresh supply of oxygen to every part of our bodies.
- Reduces high blood pressure – A study by Stanford University found that Kriya Yoga effectively reduces hypertension in patients.
What are Kriyas in Kundalini?
Kundalini's kriyas are dynamic practices involving breathing techniques, chants, and physical movement.
The purpose of kriyas in kundalini is to awaken the kundalini shakti energy that typically lies dormant at the base of the spine (in the root chakra). Kundalini practitioners do this to bring the energy up the spine to the crown of the head, creating the possibility for a kundalini awakening.
Have you ever been to a kundalini yoga class? If so, you may know that every posture or movement in kundalini is referred to as a kriya. If you’ve never been to a kundalini class, now you have a little insider tip! kundalini's Kriyas are dynamic practices involving breathing techniques, chants, and physical movement.
According to Yogi Bhajan, who introduced kundalini yoga to the western world in the 70s, kriyas unblock and activate the chakras. This can create changes in the body and mind (either subtle or direct) and target specific organs.
There are particular ways to perform kriyas in kundalini yoga. For example, it's essential to focus on your breath, gaze, and the specific sounds you make, such as the mantra you are chanting. Directing your attention to these things is said to help unblock stuck energies and increase focus.
What is Kriya energy?
Kriya energy is the life force you move within you by performing these yogic cleansing techniques. Kriya energy is described as a state of flow or effortless action.
Those times when it feels like everything is going smoothly in our lives are when we are likely in a kriya state. This state allows us to live moment to moment and connect deeply to our inner voice to gain clarity around our true purpose. This happens as you are being guided by your intuition and the divine.
In addition, kriya energy is also used to describe involuntary movements during meditation. It is said that these spontaneous kriyas happen when you are in a deeply meditative, blissful state. When this happens, you will automatically do specific movements, mudras, or bandhas, which you would usually consciously practice. Has this ever happened to you before?
What is Kriya yoga as per Patanjali?
The kriyas are mentioned in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, where Patanjali describes Kriyas as the yoga of purification, consisting of three elements; Tapas, Swadhyaya, and Ishwarapranidhana.
Tapas is loosely translated as “austerity” but is better described as self-discipline as it helps us assess our physical capacity. Swadhyaya is self-study, which helps us deepen our mental ability and intelligence by reflecting on who we are.
Finally, Ishvara Pranidhana is loosely translated as “surrendering to God,” but it is better described as having unshakeable faith that the universe will protect and guide us. Ishvara Pranidhana helps us see the depth of our emotional maturity.
Takeaway on what are Kriyas
Now you understand what kriyas are, you may now see that anyone, including you, can incorporate kriyas into your life and enjoy the multitude of spiritual and health benefits of a kriya practice. Kriyas are not just for dedicated yogis and yoga teachers seeking spiritual enlightenment. Introducing kriyas into your yoga or meditation practice can help to protect you from the winter flu, increase your energy, keep your stress levels under control, and much more!
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