Kriya Yoga meditation derives from an ancient Indian tradition, revived in the nineteenth century by the Indian Yogi Mahavatar Babaji. Despite its huge growth in popularity in the West and the attendant growth in numbers of teachers, many Gurus claim direct student-teacher lineage back to the students of Babaji. Its goals are to achieve inner tranquility and spiritual union with the divine. Its methods are similar to many other yoga systems, using breathing in particular as a means of achieving self-control. This technique of breathing and energy control is known as Pranayama, and has been linked to medical benefits including asthma and stress relief.
Kriya meditation is a strictly disciplined form of meditation, intended to become a regular habit within daily life. Adherents believe it must be practiced regularly and carefully, and often under the supervision of a teacher, in order to build up the required levels of focus and concentration. Teaching is generally one-to-one, in the guru-student tradition of the art.
The meditation itself is practiced in the dark, away from any direct light – even that of a candle. Any outside sensation is merely a distraction that takes away from the practitioners chances of achieving truly deep meditation – contrary to popular images of the guru meditating under a tree or by a river! Meditation is practiced sitting, on a cushion, or even a block of wood – the aim is not to get too comfortable and doze off, but to actively seek out inner calm and silence.
The Pranayama breathing techniques are designed to focus the mind on the here and now. The student sits comfortably, back erect and straight, focusing on the area between their eyebrows (the so-called “spiritual-eye, a center of spiritual power). They then begin to inhale and exhale slowly, mentally saying Hong as the breath is taken in, and Sau as it is breathed out. Together, the phrase Hong-Sau means “I am Spirit”. Gradually, more and more attention is focused on the breath, trying to feel it higher and higher in the nose as it is breathed in. As the mind becomes calmer and more focused, it begins to relax, and the amount of breath diminishes, creating a deeper meditative state. The student is encouraged to constantly refocus their mind on the breathing, not allowing their thoughts to wander too far. The meditation ends by simply sitting for a few minutes to experience the deeply relaxed and meditative state.
Deeper levels of the Kriya yoga are revealed to practitioners only. Masters of the art claim that a person must be prepared for the profoundly life-changing effects of Kriya, or they will not be able to handle it. Someone seeking these effects must therefore build up a daily meditation habit – some masters will not take students before they have spent a year building up their meditation and concentration skills. While the teachers are not jealous of their positions – many recognize the validity of other paths – they certainly guard the secrets of their art from the uninitiated. Perhaps this is just as well – it is said that Paramhansa Yogandana (the man who popularized Kriya in the West) practiced this for hours on end as a boy, at the end of which he was left in a higher state, with no breath at all!