Kriya and Kundalini

Swami Satyananda Saraswati - Given at the Yoga Teachers Seminar, Collbato in August

Although there are varieties of practices for awakening the inner power, most of them have brought man into conflict with the mind. Right from the beginning, man has not been able to make any tangible progress in spiritual life, because most of his time has been spent in fighting, controlling and suppressing the grosser tendencies of the mind. Since the tendencies of the mind are endless affairs, man has had continual problems with the mind. Even if one is able to control and pacify the mind for a period of six months, it is no guarantee that the mind will not loose its gales once more. After many years of quiet, the mind again becomes restless over petty matters. Therefore, it is necessary to discover a way which does not involve and confront the mind.

With this purpose in view, the ancient yogis designed a way for bypassing the nature of the mind in spiritual life, which was known as the path of kriya yoga. This path is a combination of powerful practices based on hatha yoga. In the practice of kriya yoga you try to influence the mind through the body, just as you influence the mind through the ingestion of certain chemicals.

People have always known that the mind can be influenced. When you try to change the mind through the mind, it is raja yoga. When the mind is influenced through self-enquiry, it is gyana yoga. When you transform the mind through emotion, it is bhakti yoga. When you try to change the mind through selfless service and detachment, it is karma yoga. When you change the nature of the mind through herbs, it is part of tantra yoga. When you try to influence the mind by adjusting and balancing the chemicals of the body, that is hatha yoga.

In the practice of kriya yoga you are not at all concerned with the distractions that are tossing within your mind. If your mind lacks the fundamental qualification of concentration, and is swayed by passions, depressed by worries, psychotic or neurotic, even if you are on the worst of mental planes, it makes no difference in kriya yoga. Whether you are tamasic, rajasic or sattvic, it makes no difference.

In raja yoga you have to be constantly aware of the functions of the mind. You have to make your mind consistent and one-pointed, otherwise you will fail. But in kriya yoga the constancy of the mind is not important; you are concerned with the practices only. The practices are done on the physical plane and the mind has minimum involvement. It is not necessary to be consistent and one-pointed, but you have to practise the kriyas in the manner specified.

Vipareeta karani mudra

For example, in vipareeta karani mudra, the first practice of kriya yoga, you must be able to maintain the correct position. While practising the physical posture, you have to inhale in ujjayi from manipura chakra up to vishuddhi, stop there, and then breathe out without any passage. In vipareeta karani mudra the inspiration has a passage from manipura to vishuddhi, but the expiration has no passage. You may expire in any manner you like, and then start the second round from manipura to vishuddhi. Practise this 11 times.

Now what is the science behind this practice? The texts on hatha yoga say that the moon secretes nectar and the sun consumes it. Thus the yogi loses his spiritual power and death overtakes him. Therefore let him send the nectar back to the moon and become immortal. This is the basis of vipareeta karani mudra.

Here not only the flow of nectar and prana, but even the blood circulation is reversed to the brain. If you enrich your brain with a surplus of these three, then you can realise the higher self. Vipareeta karani mudra is a means of enriching your brain and preparing yourself for further practices.

By the practice of vipareeta karani mudra, you are able to stimulate the sahasrara chakra, known in modern science as the pituitary body, which is located in the higher centre of the brain. From different areas of the pituitary, powerful hormones are secreted which control all the other glands of the body, thereby influencing the functioning of all the organs and systems as well as the mind and emotions.

Of these multiple hormones the most important are the sex hormones. In yoga these hormones are known as retas, and it is said that they are responsible for arresting degeneration. As long as the body is saturated with retas, one remains young and the body emits a pleasant odour. The preservation of this hormone is known as brahmacharya. When this hormone goes down to the navel region, it turns into veerya or semen and leaves the body by emission. As a result of this, restlessness is created in the mind and one becomes mentally and physically broken. This cycle of degeneration is prevented by the practice of vipareeta karani mudra. Before the retas turns into veerya, you reverse the whole process and send the hormone and prana back to the brain.

In order to be tranquil in mind, you must have ample force in the brain. When there is ample force in the brain, the mind stops and kundalini wakes up. When the brain is weak and has no prana, the mind grows restless. Many people sit for dhyana, but instead of becoming peaceful, their minds become anxious, fearful and nervous. The reason for this is very simple: there is not ample prana shakti in the higher centres. If you practise vipareeta karani mudra for nine minutes every day and are able to reverse the process of prana, there is no reason why your mind should not stop. Therefore, vipareeta karani mudra is the first practice of kriya yoga.

Chakra anusandhana

Here is another example of how the awareness can be awakened without involving the mind. In this practice the consciousness is rotated through the chakras and their contact points. All the chakras except for mooladhara and bindu have contact points at the front side of the body which are parallel to the chakra points in the spine. From mooladhara to bindu you ascend through the contact points, and from bindu to mooladhara you descend through the chakra points. The upper terminal is bindu and the lower terminal is mooladhara.

As you ascend through the contact points in the frontal passage, say the name of each one to yourself and touch it mentally: 'mooladhara' - perineum, 'swadhisthana' - pubic bone, 'manipura' - navel, 'anahata' - sternum, 'vishuddhi' - throat pit, 'ajna' - eyebrow centre, 'bindu' - top back of the head.

As you descend through the chakra points in' the spine, again say the name of each one and touch it mentally: 'bindu' - top back of the head, 'ajna' - top of the spine, 'vishuddhi' - behind the throat pit, 'anahata' - behind the sternum, 'manipura' - behind the navel, 'swadhisthana' - coccyx, 'mooladhara' - perineum, and terminate.

In this practice concentration is not necessary, but the awareness should keep moving from centre to centre as quickly as possible. If you are slow the mind will wander out. Practise nine rounds of chakra anusandhana.

The tradition

Kriya yoga is a compilation of practices taken from hatha yoga and different sources in tantra. For example, vipareeta karani mudra is a posture of hatha yoga, but in hatha yoga we do not teach the other details. Similarly, maha mudra and maha bheda mudra, the two most important kriyas, are also taught in hatha yoga, but not in detail. In the same way, naumukhi mudra is also taught in hatha yoga, but not in its complete form. In hatha yoga it is called shanmukhi or yoni mudra, in which you close the seven gates: two ears, two eyes, two nostrils, and the mouth. In naumukhi, however, all nine gates including the urinary and excretory orifices are closed. This leaves only the tenth gate open for the passage of prana and kundalini. So, in kriya yoga we teach a little more than we teach in hatha yoga.

In our century the practices of kriya yoga are being taught by many people, but they have been simplified to a great extent. I do not want to simplify these practices, however, because if I do, future posterity will not know what kriya yoga really is. Although many people today are unable to practise kriya yoga in its complete form, they may be ready to practise it in a year or two, providing they know what it is.

Relationship between kundalini and kriya

Kundalini yoga is not a practice but a system, just as hatha yoga is not a practice but a system. Kriya yoga is one part of kundalini yoga; it is a practice and not a system.

The word kundalini has to be explained properly. According to the modern writers, kundalini is a coiled serpent, but according to tantra, the word kunda means 'a deeper place'. When you make a fire sacrifice you make a small square hole in the ground in which you put the fire. When the fire is burning you offer oblations. When you offer oblations the fire blazes, so the word kunda literally means 'a fireplace in a hole'. Kundalini is shakti; fire is shakti. Kundalini yoga is the science of fire in the kunda. In this deeper fireplace the fire burns in dormant potential form. This is the sleeping kundalini. This fire is not physical fire; it is known as the yogic fire, which is also generated through pranayama. The external fire is only a symbol.

In the deeper place in mooladhara chakra there is an oval shaped, astral lingam. The word lingam has two meanings - phallus and causal body, but most people only understand the first meaning. The lingam in mooladhara is the causal body or you can say the unconscious of modern psychology. This is the total libido. In kundalini tantra and in kriya yoga, we conceive of three places for the shiva lingam - in mooladhara, ajna and sahasrara. In mooladhara the lingam is hazy; in ajna it is smoky, and in sahasrara it is luminous. The word Shiva here means the 'individual soul'. This is the relationship between kundalini yoga and kriya yoga. Kriya yoga is a practice of kundalini yoga.

Kundalini yoga has many more practices, not only kriya yoga. But the practices of kriya yoga are the easiest, the best and the most powerful. Furthermore, kriya yoga is most suitable for the people of these times because it does not lay down any restrictions regarding food, habits, marital life, etc. By following the path of kundalini yoga and practising kriya yoga, you can awaken your spiritual personality without interfering with your mind. Let your passions, jealousies, pride and prejudice continue. Live with your depressions and elations, pleasure and pain. They do not stand as obstacles on the path of spiritual awakening.


Satsang on Kriya Yoga

Is kriya yoga Hindu in origin?

Kriya yoga is a very ancient practice which existed long before the present day religions did. For example we are sixty people learning kriya yoga. Later on half of you may become Christian, some will become Hindu, some Muslim and so forth. Now after about five hundred years, the children will ask the same question: 'Is this kriya yoga Muslim, Hindu or Christian?' If I were able to reply, I would say, 'I taught your ancestors kriya yoga before they became followers of their religion.'

You see, the yogic practices which are intended for the awakening of kundalini and the higher personality of man, are not confined to the boundaries of any religion. Religion prepares us; we learn to practise mantra, pray, fast and direct our consciousness towards God, to develop faith, etc. These are all very important stepping stones. Kriya yoga, however, is the method by which the awakening is actually brought about.

Is kriya yoga only mentioned la the tantric scriptures?

I don't know if everybody will accept it, but the practices of kriya yoga have been hinted at in the Bible. In Genesis there is a passage which talks about Jacob's dream. He saw a ladder which reached from the earth to heaven and there were angels ascending and descending on it. I think that a ladder is also mentioned elsewhere in the Old Testament and it says that you must climb half way up the ladder with the eyes open and the rest of the way with the eyes closed.

When we practise kriya yoga we do quite a few kriyas with the eyes open and then we practise the rest with the eyes closed. The ladder is sushumna nadi. Its lower end rests in mooladhara chakra, which, according to tantra, is the earth element, and the top of the ladder reaches heaven, sahasrara. The angels ascending and descending the ladder represent the movement of the breath through sushumna. So this is a very striking similarity between the instructions hinted at in the Bible and the practices detailed in the tantric scriptures.

Why is it that in some of the kriya yoga practices the eyes are kept open and in others they are closed?

In the beginning, if you keep your eyes closed you will become aware of most of your mental problems and worries. When the eyes are closed, the brain is quieter and the subconscious forces are able to come into operation. When you keep your eyes open, however, the brain is functioning more and the unconscious conflicts stay out of the consciousness.

Secondly, in kriya yoga the emphasis is not on concentration but on the practice. If you consciously keep your eyes open for a period of half an hour, pratyahara will become automatic and easy. For example, if you practise a mantra with the eyes closed and then with the eyes open, you will find that the state of pratyahara is much better with the eyes open than closed. In pratyahara there is a temporary disconnection between the nervous system and the brain which can be best achieved by keeping the eyes open. Remember, I am talking about pratyahara (dissociation) and not dharana (concentration). Dharana has to be done with the eyes closed. Therefore, in kriya yoga the first practices, which develop pratyahara, are performed with the eyes open, but after tadan kriya, dharana begins and you keep your eyes closed.

In the kriya yoga practices are the frontal and spinal pathways - arohan and awarohan, actual passages or are they just created mentally?

The process of ascending (arohan) and descending (awarohan) pertains to the awakening of prana shakti. There is no path in the body which does not become a passage for prana, but in kriya yoga the process is from mooladhara up to bindu through the frontal passage and from bindu down to mooladhara through the spinal passage.

The purpose of creating these passages is to develop concentrated and intensified self-awareness.

Awareness or consciousness is usually dissipated and this dissipation is responsible for wastage of energy. If you have an electrical installation and connect a hundred tape-recorders to it, the current will not be sufficient, but for one or two recorders the current would be ample. In the same way, the prana shakti which is distributed all over the body, the mental field and even the psychic field, should be led through one channel in a concentrated form. Therefore, by the practice of arohan and awarohan, you are creating an energising flow of consciousness.

Are there any restrictions on who should practise kriya yoga?

I don't think there is anybody who is unfit for kriya yoga. It is different for those who have not time or physical energy - they may not practise all the kriyas, but they can definitely practise quite a few of them.

Can women practise during menstruation?

During the monthly periods of ladies, kriya yoga is definitely helpful, especially the practices of maha mudra and maha bheda mudra. They help to overcome depression which is natural during the monthly cycle, and they help to maintain emotional balance which is often lacking during this period.

How can I learn kriya yoga?

First become proficient in the practice of asanas, pranayama, mudras and bandhas. Then you will be able to learn kriya yoga in no time. The practices of kriya yoga are not very difficult. In my opinion, dhyana yoga is far more difficult to practise than kriya yoga. Dhyana means sitting in an asana, trying to draw the mind to a certain level and then entering into a different state. Very few people can accomplish this easily. But in kriya yoga you don't close your eyes, you don't maintain a steady posture all throughout, nor are you asked to concentrate the mind on one object. The mind is allowed to remain free and to do what it likes.

These are the basic features of kriya yoga. There are twenty major kriya practices which can be learned without difficulty. They are arranged in a special order to systematically induce pratyahara, dharana and dhyana. There are no social or age restrictions for kriya yoga. However, you should be able to practise pranayama so that it does not produce heat in the body.

Just as salt is the basic spice in food, likewise pranayama is the basic practice in kriya yoga. When pranayama is practised for a long time, for 15 to 30 minutes every day, it creates heat in the system which can cause constipation and drying up of mucus in the lungs. Kidney metabolism also slows down. It is very important to remember that while doing pranayama the body should not perspire or shake. First make yourself efficient in pranayama before you take to the practice of kriya yoga, then you will easily master the practices and gain the optimum benefits.

What happens if you start practising kriya yoga before you have prepared with the practices of asanas and pranayama, etc.?

If you are practising correctly, an awakening may take place. But if you haven't trained your nervous system, if you haven't mastered kumbhaka or even prepared your mind to have experiences of a different dimension, then you probably won't be able to manage it. Many people start practising maha mudra and maha bheda mudra before they are prepared and they have fantastic experiences, but they cannot understand them. They say 'Hey! Something is happening to me, I feel very hungry these days.' 'I don't feel hungry at all', or 'I have many frightening dreams', or 'I feel that someone is in my room'. These experiences only occur when you have not prepared yourself slowly and systematically.

Must we practise all the kriyas we have learned or just a few?

The kriya yoga practices require a minimum of thirty minutes a day. There is a definite sequence of practices, but if you are short of time, certain kriyas can be omitted. However, this can be done only after some competence has been achieved. There are certain kriyas which are very important, and they should be practised every day regardless of time.

The very first practice of kriya yoga is vipareeta karani mudra, which is of vital importance. The second is chakra anusandhana in which you develop awareness of the chakras and their contact centres. This practice can be omitted completely after some time because it is basically a preparation to familiarise you with the ascending and descending passages. The third practice is nada sanchalana, 'Om' chanting. It is an important one, but after some time you can minimise it from thirteen rounds to three. The next practice is pawan sanchalana in which you inhale with ascending consciousness and exhale with descending consciousness. Then comes shabda sanchalana with 'Soham' on ascending and descending. These two practices can be combined and the number of rounds minimised to about twenty one times once you have achieved considerable tranquillity. The next practices are maha mudra and maha bheda mudra. They should be practised in the same number as they are taught. In this way some of the basic practices can be omitted, and certain practices can be minimised while others must be continued as they were taught.

Maha mudra and maha bheda mudra are the actual life of kriya yoga. If for any reason you are not able to practise the whole sequence of kriyas, continue maha mudra and maha bheda mudra without fail. Of course, one must use common sense. If the body is weak or sick the practices should be discontinued for some time.

Once we have learned kriya yoga, should we continue practising asanas, pranayama, etc.?

Kriya yoga is the ultimate practice in tantra. Once you start practising it, you don't have to continue with asanas, pranayama and so on. You have to make classifications in the practices of yoga. Even as you go to primary school to learn the alphabet and small words and sentences, you then learn geography, history, mathematics, etc. If you continue your education at university, you may study science or medicine. But are you still going to read the books you read in primary school and study everything you have already learned? No, every act of learning is a preparation for the future. So it is not wise to practise all forms of yoga. You have to arrange all the systems of yoga into grades and gradually transcend them all.