Kriya Yoga is the name given to the actions that purify and strengthen the body, both physically and psychologically, in preparation for the experience of the transmutative life force experienced during meditation and yoga practice. It is called the path of the good son, and referred to by Paramhansa Yogananda, as the Yoga of the householder.
Kriya refers specifically to the last three ‘nyamas’ as duties for everyday life, namely ‘Tapas’ Austerity, ‘Swadhyaya’ Self-Study, Ishwara-pranidhana’ Attentiveness to God. It is the Yoga most suitable for the western practitioner, and was revived by Lahiri Mahasaya who lived 1828-1895, and who was unusual among Indian holy men, in that he had a job, was a family man with children.
Any form of action or kriya, is not a blind re-action to an external situation, but an act of will for the greater good. It can take many forms from politeness to others, a moderate diet, control of the mind and regular yoga practice. Any form of self discipline awakens us to the established inertias that resist change; strengthens our central will, and helps us grow in self understanding. The householder does not live in isolation and has others to consider. They do not live in isolation from the world, such as in a cave on a mountain top. They live in the hurly burly of daily life, which provides the difficulties needed for development.
Patanjali defines Yoga as controlling the activities of the mind; which is quite a difficult thing to do when the senses are pulling us, first in one direction and then the other. To withdraw the mind from movement, and enter the stillness that transcends mental activity, is not abandoning ship, but rather placing oneself in a position of command. To awaken the wisdom mind, is to awaken the intuitive response from our vast storehouse of spiritual knowledge, and to which our thoughts are but the stepping stones.
Feeling is the key to unlocking the intuitive response, after first stilling the mind. A mind that is locked into one thought chasing another is confused by a variety of impulses, and feelings that obscures the clarity that lies within. The wisdom mind arises from inner clarity, and the love that transcends all differences. The techniques of yoga are there to bridge the gap between the lower mind and the all comprehending mind of the Divine, sometimes referred to as the mind of the heart.
Kriyas are actions that purify at every level from the physical to the spiritual. They are pure uncomplicated acts of will that focus heart and mind on that which is essential. Whether asana or pranayama the aim is to make the link between the underlying space (stillness), from which has arisen all movement.
Asana is held against an undifferentiated background of stillness; pranayama is an expression of life force that breathes life into all living things, or remains poised between breaths in moments of realization. It is from moments of stillness that we touch the reality that lies within, and grow in Self understanding. Kriya yoga is not different from Christian yoga as it does not serve self interest but aspires to a level of action as expressed by the words ‘Thy Will Be Done’
The householder, beset by the problems of daily life, through study, prayer or repetition of sacred mantra, refines and purifies his actions. Any form of self-discipline sets the pattern for the future; physical exercise will help to promote health. Actions that are consciously initiated (kriya), transform the spiritual body, so that the psyche or soul, not unlike the transformation of the caterpillar to butterfly, awakens the Self (atman), to much wider and freer dimensions of reality.