May 2013: Kriya Yoga (puriﬁcation practices)
Tapah-svadhyaya-Ishvara-pranidhanani kriya yogah. (YS II:1)
Austerity, Self-study, and surrender to God constitute the yoga of action.
In the Yoga Sutra, Patanjali began his chapter on practice (the Sadhana Pada)
with a simple three-step plan for the attainment of enlightenment called Kriya Yoga: Discipline, Study, and Devotion.
Like the word karma, kriya is derived from the Sanksrit root kr, which means
action. Karma means any action, while kriya means actions taken specifically
for purification purposes. Kriyas are cleansing actions that you can take to
purify your life and set it on the path to God realization.
Patanjali’s three-step plan is very straightforward. He simply states that the
hard physical work of spiritual practice must be combined with scriptural
study and motivated by devotion.
1. Tapah means to burn.
2. Swadhyaya means study of the higher Self.
3. Ishvara Pranidhana means to devote or give up all the actions of your
life to God.
How can you infuse your sadhana (conscious spiritual practice) with these
three elements; Discipline, Study, and Devotion?
Our spiritual practices should transform us in the flames of their difficulty
and light a fire within us that burns away selfishness. Your practice is tapasic
when you practice consistently over a long period of time.
Taken at its most basic definition, tapas refers to heat created in the
body through either movement (asana) or breath (pranayama). Culture
limits our physical presence to an acceptable range of motion and movement.
The asana practice takes us outside of that limited range of movement and
introduces us to a whole world of possibilities we did not realize that we were
missing. Asana improves our self-confidence and destroys the poison of low
self-esteem. Asana also stimulates the endocrine system, which boosts our
immunity so that we become less susceptible to physical toxins like the
environmental pollutants in the air, water and food we eat.
All asanas offer these benefits, but twists are particularly powerful
detoxifiers. When we twist, we put pressure on the internal organs, and when
we breathe in a twist, we modify that pressure. It is like wringing out the dirty
water from a dishtowel. Stagnant residue can be released from the organs,
and when we exhale or release the twist, the organs are refreshed and better
able to do their work. Twists also detoxify the subtle body by activating the
manipura (3rd) chakra, located at the solar plexus, which is the seat of the
ego. Twisting the torso where our ego resides can help break identifications
with power or status. It may be interesting to note that every category of
asanas has a twist variation. The heat created through these actions, however,
is considered ‘tapas’ when the intention behind the production of this heat is
one of purification and self-discipline.
The principal methods of svadhyaya are the study of scripture and chanting
the names of God. Chanting takes us “out of ourselves”, out of self-
absorption and identification with our whirling minds. Negative thoughts
create toxins. Chanting a mantra like lokah samastah sukhino bhavantu (May
all beings everywhere be happy and free), which is an affirmation
proclaiming that the chanter does not want others to suffer, creates an
atmosphere free of suffering and toxicity. This is strong medicine and can act
as a powerful detoxifier for the one reciting the mantra as well as those
receiving the blessing.
The third component of kriya yoga is devotion to God. Without devotion your
yoga practice becomes self-serving and binding.
Before you do any action offer it to God. In this way you free yourself of
selfish action. The perfection of action comes from the perfection of thought.
What is a perfect thought? One that is devoid of all selfish motive. Through
this practice you develop Bhava (a state characterized by waves of intense
emotions generated by a connection to the Divine). This mood will enable
you to reach for something higher than the apparent limitations of body and
mind. If you do actions without Ishwara Pranidana you will most likely stay
the same, bound in the ignorance of the ego.
Patanjali realized that his three-step plan for Kriya Yoga, might be too
difficult. That’s why he also included a more detailed, expanded, eight-step
plan in the Yoga Sutras called Ashtanga or Raja Yoga.
Kriya Yoga is a method for eliminating obscurations to your happiness. If you
want peace, joy and happiness, perform actions that bring about peace, joy
and happiness for all. When we devote all of our daily activities arduously
toward harmony, we are performing Kriya Yoga.
Inspired by the writings and teachings of Shanon Gannon and David Life,
Co-founders of Jivamukti Yoga