When you move beyond asana, you quickly realize that the world of yoga is much bigger than you first thought. There are many different yogic techniques beyond poses and meditation.
One you may have come across is the Kriyas. Kriya yoga refers to ancient Yogic and Ayurvedic cleansing techniques, which have been used by Indians for thousands of years. While Kriya yoga remains largely unknown in the western world, Indian yogis swear by this daily practice.
So what are Kriyas in Yoga, and what do they do? Let’s find out.
What Does Kriya Yoga Mean?
Kriyas are cleansing techniques used to cleanse the body or unlock/open energy channels or chakras. They can help awaken Kundalini Shakti and direct energy up to the spine. Some can also help to improve the functioning of bodily systems like digestion and reduce common illnesses.
The Sanskrit word Kriya translates to “completed action,” and they are practiced in traditional Hatha and Kundalini yoga.
In Kundalini yoga, they involve a combination of specific exercises (asana), breathing techniques (pranayama), sacred sounds (mantras), and hand gestures (mudras). In Hatha yoga, Kriyas are a specific technique focused on cleansing one body part, such as the nasal passage or internal organs.
Kriyas were initially intended to be taught on an individual basis. A guru would share them with his students when he believed they were ready, and they would have to undergo an initiation to become a Kriya yogi.
Where Does The Kriya Yoga Tradition Come From?
Ancient yogis discovered the powers of kriyas thousands of years ago, and they were first mentioned in The Yoga Sutras by Patanjali, the oldest known yogic text. Kriyas also appeared in the Upanishads and Bhagavad Gita, two other ancient Hindu texts.
Yoga sutra 2.1 outlines the three pillars of Kriya yoga – Tapas (self-discipline), Svadhyaya (Self-study), and Ishvara Pranidhana (self-surrender). It also states following these pillars will neutralize the causes of human suffering and lead to self and god realization.
Kriyas were not known in the west until the 1920s when they were introduced by Indian monk Paramahansa Yogananda. In his book, “Autobiography of a Yogi,” he defined kriya yoga as “union with the infinite through a certain action or rite.”
Kriya yoga is often called the “Yoga of Action or Awareness” and comes from the Raja yoga lineage. Raja is one of the four paths of yoga, together with Karma Yoga, Bhakti Yoga, and Jnana Yoga.
What Is The Purpose Of Kriya Practice?
You may wonder what purpose this ancient technique has in modern-day life. While the original aim of Kriya yoga is to achieve a spiritual awakening, there are many other benefits to be gained from practicing these techniques.
In short, Kriya yoga helps to detoxify and rejuvenate the body, mind, and soul by
- Stimulating the mind, which increases mental clarity and concentration
- Improving the flow of life force, which in turn, boosts energy levels
- Releasing toxins and stagnant energy from the body
- Clearing and opening the chakras.
- Strengthening the immune system and protecting against common illnesses and ailments
- Gaining control of negative emotions and thought patterns
- Aiding spiritual growth and helping to attain inner peace
The 6 Hatha Kriya Yoga Techniques
There are six types of Shat Kriyas practiced in Hatha yoga. Daily practice is believed to bring ultimate purification and self-realization, but each has unique benefits.
- Kapalabhati (Purifying the brain by stimulating the brain cells)
- Jala Neti (Cleansing of the nasal passages)
- Trataka (purification of the eyes through eye exercises)
- Nauli (Strengthening the abdominal muscles)
- Dhauti (Cleansing the digestive track)
- Basti (Cleansing the colon and large intestine)
Let’s take a closer look at each kriya technique.
Kapalabhati is a yogic breathing technique and one of the most popular kriyas practiced in the west. Kapal means skull, and Bhati means “to shine,” so it translates to skull-shining breath. It is both a purifying and energizing breathing technique, so it can be used to prepare you for asana practice or meditation.
In Kriya yoga, the primary purpose of Kapalabhati is to purify the mind and stimulate digestion. It involves taking short, forceful exhales through the nose while contracting the abdominal muscles. The pace is rapid, and the inhales occur naturally between each exhale.
Kapalabhati is also great for lung health and breath mastery. It increases lung efficiency, so the more you practice, the more reps you can do in a round. Take a look at this video to see this Kriya technique in action.
Neti is a nasal cleansing exercise performed with a specific instrument known as a Neti pot. The Neti Kriya has many health benefits, such as:
- Clearing the sinuses and removing mucus and pollutants from the nasal passage
- Preventing respiratory diseases
- Helping disorders of the eyes, nose, and throat, such as tonsillitis and inflammation of the mucus membrane
- Promoting deep nasal breathing
First, you should fill the Neti pot with a saltwater solution. Then, tilt your head sideways (over the sink) and place the spout in the upper nostril. Next, breathe through an open mouth as you gently pour the solution into your nostril, allowing it to drain through the lower nostril. Here is a visual demonstration of this Kriya technique.
Trataka is a cleansing meditation technique where you fixate your gaze on a single object, usually a lit candle. In Kriya yoga, this technique is done to strengthen the eye muscles and improve vision. However, it also has many other benefits, such as boosting concentration and memory, decreasing heart rate, and lowering stress and anxiety levels.
Trataka is the most straightforward technique in Kriya yoga. Sit in front of a lit candle (about an arm’s length away and at eye level), then look at the flame without blinking for 10 to 15 seconds. Concentrate on the upper part of the flame where it shines the brightest.
Close your eyes and notice if the image reappears in your mind’s eye. Then, repeat the process 3 times, increasing the duration to up to 1 minute each time.
Nauli is an abdominal exercise, also known as ‘stomach-churning.’ It internally massages the abdominal muscles, cleaning the digestive organs and small intestine and improving digestion. There are several versions of Nauli, but if you’re new to Kriya yoga, I recommend starting with this one.
Stand with the feet hip-width distance apart. Bend slightly forward from your hips and take a deep inhale to prepare. Pull your navel into the spine on the exhale to engage Uddiyana Bandha (abdominal energy lock). Hold for as long as you can, then gently release and breathe in. Repeat a few more times.
Dhauti is the most invasive Kriya as it induces vomiting. It involves rapidly drinking a large amount of salted water, which evokes the urge to vomit. The purpose of Dhauti in Kriya yoga is to clean the entire digestive tract. However, it also helps improve the respiratory tract, ears, and eyes.
Basti, also known as Vasti Kriya, tones the muscles in the lower abdomen, but its specific purpose is to cleanse the colon and large intestine. For this technique, you use an enema to flush the colon with water (and sometimes herbs). You then hold the liquid in for 5-30 minutes before releasing it out.
Is Kriya Yoga Dangerous?
When practiced correctly under the guidance of an experienced Kriya teacher, all of the Kriya techniques are safe. Thus, seek a trusted and knowledgeable guru or teacher if you want to learn them.
Many yoga teacher training courses teach you how to practice these techniques safely. If you’re interested in learning more about yoga in general, this could be an excellent way to learn kriya yoga, as you’ll be guided through them for the entire course duration (typically 20 to 40 days). However, confirm that kriya yoga is covered in your course, as not all TTCs teach it.
Final Thoughts: What Are Kriyas In Yoga?
For centuries, yogis in the east have believed kriyas to be an integral part of daily yoga practice. While they can help you achieve inner peace and union with cosmic consciousness, they also have many valuable health benefits relevant to modern life.
Have you tried Kriya yoga before? What did you think of it?