The Life-Changing Practice of Kriya Yoga
As yoga continues to grow in popularity around the world, many people see it as a purely physical practice like exercise. While there is nothing wrong with that, there is much more to this ancient wisdom that can offer far deeper life-changing benefits.
Kriya Yoga offers a more comprehensive approach to yoga that can dramatically enhance your path to wellness and life fulfilment. With an international following and a time-tested philosophy, Kriya Yoga is an ancient practice that can fit seamlessly into modern life.
Seeing All that Yoga has to Offer
Yoga has been practiced on the Indian subcontinent for thousands of years, and has been surging in popularity across the rest of the world over the past couple of decades. It seems that everywhere you look, people are heading into a studio with their yoga mat and water bottle to spend time on the floor and connect with their breath.
This is not surprising, as the physical benefits of yoga are without question, including improved strength, flexibility and balance, and longevity. But many don’t realize the ancient roots of this practice that include meditative and mindful living aspects. Of course, engaging in yoga purely for its physicality is perfectly fine, but why settle for a one-dimensional experience when you could explore all that yoga has to offer?
Moving Beyond “Woo-woo” Spirituality
When the word spiritual comes up on conversation, many people immediately balk. “Wait – did you say spiritual? I’m not into all of that dogma and religion.” While some people relish in referring to their yoga practice as ‘spiritual,’ others are understandably put off by the religious undertones of the term. Or worse, the term carries a sort of pseudoscientific “woo-woo” connotation that challenges the scientific rationality of modern minds.
For these reasons it can be helpful to think of the word “spiritual” to simply mean a felt sense of connection to the life process that connects us – to the planet, to each other, and to the dynamics of biological evolution. The meditative experiences that one can have when practicing yoga help us feel “at home” with the greater continuum of life and the universe.
Think of it this way – just as your physical health can be improved and optimized with exercise, you can also ‘exercise’ your mind and awareness through regular meditative practice. Rather than seeing your mind and body as two different systems, Kriya Yoga (as well as other schools of yoga) can help you integrate the two together and become your authentic ‘whole being.’
Kriya Yoga – What is it?
One of the most powerful and effective systems of yoga for cultivating your ‘whole being’ is Kriya Yoga. Teacher Paramahansa Yogananda first introduced Kriya Yoga to Westerners in his 1920 book Autobiography of a Yogi. It is thought to be one of the oldest lineages of yoga, closest to the practice as described in the Bhagavad Gita (an ancient Hindu text). The two words directly translate as such: Kriya = “action” and Yoga = “a conscious union of body, mind, soul.”
While Paramahansa Yogananda did the important work of introducing this powerful yoga to the West, other teachers have sought to make Kriya Yoga more accessible to people in modern life. One such teacher is Yogacharya Ellen Grace O’Brian, who has developed a straightforward approach to learning this ancient wisdom by guiding students through the four essential practices that define Kriya Yoga.
The Four Dimensions of Kriya Yoga
Kriya Yoga is an integration of several foundational aspects of the myriad different systems of yoga found throughout the world. Yogacharya O’Brian describes that by developing these four key practices, we can begin to know and express our highest potential as spiritual beings.
- Raja Yoga – experiencing a natural state of calm, serenity, peace and communion with all of life
- Bhakti Yoga – adopting a position of surrendered devotion and love to a higher reality beyond the personal sphere
- Jnana Yoga – cultivating a capacity for focused self-inquiry and mastery of mindful attention
- Karma Yoga – practicing selfless service to one’s greater community
By developing your ability to apply these four dimensions of practices, you begin to embody an all-encompassing realization of mind-body health and mindful living with transformative benefits that extend to all areas of our life. This approach challenges you to see patterns and intentions underlying our behavior that have gone unnoticed, and consciously free ourselves from them, opening the door to living a healthier and more compassionate life. By practicing Kriya Yoga, you will not only live a better life, you will improve the lives of those around you.
The Benefits of Kriya Yoga in Modern Life
We all know that modern life can be trying and stressful. From bills to be paid and children to be ferried about, to careers to nurture and relationships to build. Certainly, even if you only focus on the physical aspects of your yoga practice, you will experience great benefits that help you deal with these stressors.
But if you want to improve all dimensions or your being and experience a deeper sense of wellness, wholeness and power, a Kriya Yoga practice can be a satisfying path to follow. Connect with your highest capacities of mindful awareness, improve your focus, and make your life (and the lives of those around you) the best that it can be, not just while you’re on the yoga mat.
Editor’s note: This is a guest post by Marko Blagojevic, a writer for Ursa Minor, a San Francisco-based organization that collaborates with people and organizations who are working to increase wellness, raise consciousness, and steer humanity toward wiser, more sustainable modes of living and being in the world.
Image: Yoga Journal