What Is Kriya Yoga?

Kriya Yoga, the modern school of teaching, not the literal disambiguation of the Hindi word, is a practice of Yoga that Lahiri Mahasaya teaches. It is generally a more esoteric yoga practice in comparison to others.

The word ‘kriya’ literally means ‘action’ in Hindi.

What Is Kriya Yoga?

Kriya Yoga is undoubtedly a less accessible form of Yoga than most due to its esoteric basis, but you may have heard people talk about it before. In the following article, we will explain this yoga and its practice.

Read on to learn what kriya yoga us.


The practice of Kriya yoga was initially ancient, being established around 1863. The modern yoga school of Kriya was modernized by the student of Mahavatar Bababji, Lahiri Mahasaya.

Yet, the international awareness of this yoga school only grew when the book Autobiography of a Yogi was released by Paramahansa Yogananda.

He claimed that the ancient yogi text Yoga Sutras of Patanjali contains an original description of what later became Kriya Yoga, which can generally be used as a mantra for its practice: 

“Liberation can be attained by that pranayama which is accomplished by disjoining the course of inspiration and expiration.”

Yogananda attributed his understanding of this practice to his previous gurus, the first of which was Babaji, who seems to be the progenitor of Kriya Yoga; he described it as essentially identical to another form of yoga known as Raja Yoga of the Patanjali people, which he felt was as close to the concept of Yoga described in the Bhagavad Gita.

This yoga practice consists of many different techniques but is mainly esoteric in its intention; Kriya Yoga can generally be said to accelerate your spirituality, bringing you closer to God and Nirvana.

Practice And Techniques

As Kriya yoga is more esoteric than other yoga practices, it is mainly taught through a guru-disciple relationship. For instance, Mahasaya recounts how “Babaji instructed me in the ancient rigid rules which govern the transmission of the yogic art from guru to disciple.” This is done only after a secret and sacred ceremony.

Yogananda speaks of Kriya yoga: “One half-minute of revolution of energy around the sensitive spinal cord of man affects a subtle process in his evolution; that half-minute of Kriya equals one year of natural, spiritual development.”

Kriya Yoga is often a pretty holistic yoga practice that uses asanas (body postures), pranayamas (breathing techniques), mantras (sentences of affirmation) as well as mudras (gestures)

Effects Of Kriya Yoga

Beyond making you closer to your spiritual side, Kriya has a strange metaphysical effect where the spirit meets the physical. Most of this is based in an esoteric faith.

In other words, the process of Kriya is claimed to lead to a non-scientific purification of your blood, which allows your life force to enter your body through your spine. Yogananda himself continues: 

“Kriya Yoga is a simple, psychophysiological method by which the human blood is decarbonized and recharged with oxygen. The extra oxygen atoms are transmuted into life current to rejuvenate the brain and spinal centers.”

Yogananda suggests that Jesus and other prophets such as Elijah, Kabir, and Muhammed were all masters of Kriya. He suggests “the advanced yogi transmutes his cells into pure energy […] by which they cause their bodies to materialize and dematerialize at will. 

Certain theologians find this a pretty exciting theory as many of the prophets mentioned had occurrences of dematerialization. Kriya Yoga can, theoretically, explain some of Jesus’ miracles in Christianity.

Yogananda suggests that a lesser yogi could still be able to lessen and even prevent the decay of tissues. While not mentioned directly, we assume he means the yogi’s tissue rather than healing.

Esoteric History

Yogananda wrote many books in addition to Autobiography of a Yogi, which discusses Kriya at great length, one of those was God Talks With Arjuna: The Bhagavad Gita.

In this book, he describes how he believes that Kriya was given to ‘Manu,’ whom certain Eastern religions believe was the first man who passed it down through time.

It is suggested widely that Kriya yoga was trendy in ancient India but eventually fell into secrecy. Due to this vital relationship with a Guru and disciple and the secret ceremony required, Yogananda describes how it was lost to “priestly secrecy and man’s indifference.”

While the Bhagavad Gita, the main text in Buddhism, directly mentions Kriya by name, this is perhaps to do with translation as Kriya means action. In contrast, Yoga means ‘to join,’ so ‘Kriya yoga’ can be considered more of a descriptive western label, which is a bit like describing ‘chai tea’ as ‘chai’ means ‘tea’ in Hindi. 

Regardless, this is important because Yogananda suggests Kriya is described in parts of the Bhagavad Gita, which is essential as he suggests they are described by Krishna himself, the supreme God of Hinduism.

The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali also mentions kriya or action, which defines three ‘types’ of kriya or action.

Kriya Yoga (the yoga of action) is tapas (asceticism), svadhyaya (recitation), and pranidhana (devotion) to Ishvara (generally describing the umbrella of Gods, including the supreme God.

In Conclusion

So, you may not have readily heard of Kriya Yoga. It is not the most accessible yoga to Westerners because of its esoteric intentions and basis in Eastern religion and texts. However, other forms of yoga, in general, will likely draw from certain parts of Kriya yoga.

Kriya Yoga is that the original practices are swaddled in secrecy. The practice should be passed down through the sacred relationship between Guru and his disciple. 

As Yogananda points out, this is why the practice was generally lost to history. The more modern realizations try to bring it to a broader audience and make it more accessible. Still, a few actual Kriya Yoga classes focus on their original practice.

It’s an interesting one, apparently passed down from God to man, allowing even Jesus to use it and allowing him powers of materialization: riveting stuff.

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