Kriya yoga is a system of methods. Their central feature is a particular way of breathing, a quite gentle form of pranayama - the method called ujjayi. It is well known and has been used in such as hathayoga for long, really long.
The gentle method of ujjayi has got many asanas and mudras added to it. They may help, but are not essential at all. The result of it, are many and divergent kriya yoga systems. (The accompanying glossary explain these words).
Surrounding the "secret" kriya systems are words, highflung and scary and largely undocumented, and so on. You may do well not to believe overblown kriya hype like a dupe. Rather, see if you can practice the central feature, ujjayi, in the gentle, quite natural, handed-over ways. Then you should get able to experience for yourself if you get any of the benefits described, and how far such practice can take you if you are good at it or knocked into it by someone else. Two of the four Indian kriya-gurus of Self-Realization Fellowship (SRF) were, maintains the writer(s) of Autobiography of a Yogi. How far the other two Indian gurus of the SRF line were results of own practice and/or taps, remains unsaid for now.
Kriya-ujjayi for free: It stands to reason that if it is carefully and skilfully done it may not be more harmful than gentle breathing in general.
This was to let you in on the main things at the start so that maniacs do not set you up faultily and very unrealistically for or against kriya and jam your life by it.
Kriya as pranayama
Kriya yoga has been studied somewhat. The first findings, of the researcher team Das and Gastaut in the 1950s, are summed up. The research papers do not tell which type of kriya was tested and what guru line was involved, so we do not know that. These kriya findings are followed by brain wave studies on kriya at the University of Copenhagen (1) on how kriya tends to alter the brain wave patterns, and (2) on how the resting method of yoga nidra (Satyananda 2001) also may alter the brain waves. The psychologist that writes about the research, thinks the changes are for good.
As mentioned already, kriya yoga's basic technique is a very gentle form of pranayama ("breath control", "yogic breathing"). It is to go along with dhyana (yogic meditation, ie, contemplation). If you want more explanations of yoga terms, you may try the link 'Words' to the left for starters.
Articles on Effects of Kriya Yoga
What is kriya yoga?
It is slow breathing and something added to it. The essential method for beginners is explained in detail onsite. But there are different recensions and lineages of kriya yoga, as shown on the previous page, and it is difficult to ascertain just how the kriya system is practised in this diversity outside the Satyananda Yoga. For example, in the first study it is not specified which kind of kriya system is employed; it is just "kriya yoga".
Does kriya work? For how long?
For some, yes, more or less so. Study the available evidence:
N. N. Das and H. Gastaut studied seven Indian yogis who did kriya yoga, and registered no muscular electrical activity during periods of outwardly complete immobility. But their heart rates accelerated in step with their brain waves during moments of ecstasy at the time. The most accomplished among the seven yogis, moreover, exhibited "progressive and very spectacular modifications" in his EEG records during the deepest meditations. The changed were recurrent beta rhythms of 18-20 cycles per second in the Rolandic area of the brain, a generalized fast activity of small amplitude as high as 40-45 cycles per second with occasional amplitudes reaching 30 to 50 microvolt, and the reappearance of slower alpha waves after samadhi, or yoga ecstasy, ended.
In summarizing their study, Das and Gastaut concluded that:
The modifications [we] recorded during very deep meditation are much more dramatic than those known up till now, which leads us to suppose that western subjects are far from being able to attain the yogi state of mental concentration.
Das and Gastaut's conclusion does not contradict the widespread findings of subsequent meditation studies. Notable among them is a study on the effects of Transcendental Meditation, TM, by J. Banquet in 1973. The findings of Das and Gastaut (1957) and Banquet (1973) show brain wave patterns of deep meditation. When the experiments of Das and Gastaut were finished, some retained altered states of consciousness, indicated by alpha and theta waves, also with their eyes open.
N. N. Das and H. Gastaut. "Variations de l'activite electrique du cerveau, du coeur et des muscles an cours de la meditation et de l'extase yogique", Electroenceph. Clin. Neurophysiol., suppl. 6 :211-219, 1957.
The Das and Gastaut study was an eye-opener in its day. The study says some yogis may experience dramatic effects of kriya, and others experience less dramatic effects - Judged from this, some forms of kriya work under some conditions.
Does kriya work for you? Beneficially, that is?
That would depend on what kriya system you have been taught and how you do it. It complicates things a bit that various teachers teach different kriya yoga sets, with deviating techniques, the same names for different techniques, different names for about the same technique - and while SRF (Self-Realization Fellowship) teaches a simplified kriya system of four initiations, others have more kriya initiations, and have not dispensed with what is called essential kriya methods of the Lahiri lineage, which Yogananda has done. He simplified some parts of the kriya system and scrapped others.
So the effects could depend on who is your trainer or teacher. Much might, further, depend on misguidance too.
A further note
Deane H. Shapiro and Roger N. Walsh have gathered scholarly articles on meditation in their book, Meditation: Classic and Contemporary Perspectives (2008). The volume presents an academic overview and research studies from clinical psychology and psychiatry, neuroscience, psychophysiology, and biochemistry - and the current state of meditation research. Articles are about such as effects of meditation in the treatment of stress, hypertension, and addictions, adverse effects of meditation; and meditation-induced altered states of consciousness. The book offers an academic overview of the state of meditation research.
It is possible to come across other and up-to-date findings on kriya yoga too. Here are cursory abstracts from an on-line article, "The brain's activity after kriya yoga". The findings are considered "not due to chance", and should thus be of interest to not a few. The article that this extract is gleaned from, was published in the magazine Bindu in fall 1998. The magazine is published by the Scandinavian School of Yoga and meditation. It was founded in Copenhagen in 1970, as one of many offshoots of Swami Satyananda's kriya yoga lineage (Wikipedia article).
The psychologist Erik Hoffmann, Ph.D., was an assistant professor at Copenhagen University for 8 years, and has done research in the human brain and consciousness for more than 30 years. He is now research director at the Mental Fitness & Research Centre in Copenhagen. His study of kriya yoga and brain waves was published in 1998 in the magazine Bindu. It is also found on his own home page.
A common way of measuring results of meditation, is called electroencephalography (EEG). The cells of the brain get electrically charged and discharged at different speeds and in different brain patterns (waves), depending on our state of mind. What is measured with EEG is how many cycles (of charges/discharges) there are per second. The measuring unit is called Herz, hz, i.e. cycles per second). The amplitude - how large the cycles are (in microvolt) - may vary too.
Four types of brain waves
Some tendencies emerge: The more sharpened we get, the faster brain waves we also have. The more thinking, the faster brain waves. The further into the personal unconscious we get, the slower the brain waves get too. These are rough-hewn generalizations to relate the effects of kriya yoga to.
The meditative state is a bridge between our conscious and unconscious.
The psychologist wanted to study the effects of kriya yoga on the electrical activity of the brain (EEG). He and his team assumed that the brain waves before and after kriya would be considerably different. They also wanted to map the activity of the brain during kriya. This is how they did it:
Eleven yoga teachers from the Scandinavian Yoga and Meditation School, and who had years of personal experiences with kriya, were EEG-investigated right before and after TWO HOURS of kriya yoga. Eight scalp electrodes were used for the measurements. The information was analysed afterwards. The investigators found more alpha and theta activity in the brains of 10 out of the 11 yoga teachers after they had done kriya. With some of them the alpha waves were "more than doubled". This increase was greatest in the posterior part of the brain, in the parietal area, where both the alpha and theta activity increased with averagely about 40%. These waves had a general tendency to spread from the back part of the brain fore-wards.
All the mentioned results are "statistically significant", that is, not due to chance.
There was also an increase of alpha waves in the right part of the brain, temporarily. This finding is *interpreted* thus in the article: kriya yoga counteracts depressions and stress. And one has better conditions for integrating hitherto subconscious processes and may confront things better, as the case may be.
The facts and interpretations from novel kriya research support the stand that kriya works (in itself, per se).
Part 2: Kriya Yoga and Brain Maps
SCALP electrodes reveal the electrical activity patterns on the surface of the brain (one measuring unit is cycles per second, that is, Hertz (Hz)), and an analysis of the frequencies results in the delta waves, theta waves, alpha waves and beta waves as shown by oval, coloured pictures. The pictures represent the brain as viewed from above, and a little point shows where the nose is.
Brain maps like these are pictorial tools. They may be used for comparisons.
In Hoffmann's article there are four brain maps that according to him say that someone with suppressions has only poor contact with his or her subconscious, while a meditator has better contact thus. (Interpretations like these may or should be debated).
What is thought is that extremely few alpha and theta waves indicate emotional blockage(s) with poor contact with one's subconscious. Moderate alpha activity along with some theta shows a fine balance between conscious and unconscious activity, and [hopefully] enough contact with one's subconscious.
Hypnosis is shown by high theta activity - during which the unconscious is activated.
Low to medium alpha waves activity shows that there is little or no conscious experience of what goes on in one's subconscious.
In the kriya yoga that was investigated there is a high theta activity during the kriya meditation. It is taken to show activation of the unconscious, while "the super-high alpha reflects a strongly concentrated conscious awareness - with optimal contact with emotions and the subconscious," the psychologist asserts.
Especially the latter part of Hoffmann's article is marked by interpretations that are very favourable toward the sort of kriya yoga taught at an international Scandinavian kriya yoga school, which has published the article on the Internet.
Ad 1: Brain research by Das and Gaustaut and Erik Hoffmann has documented that (some form) of kriya has effects on the brain patterns and brain waves, and to different degrees for different people. We do well to adjust to facts - not to debasing opinions.
Ad 2: How well rounds of kriya work, depends among other things on how good instructions and training one gets on the one hand, and how sensibly and well one goes about it on the other hand. Proficiency tends to lessen bitter or ugly experiences and degradations. Sound knowledge in advance is a gem.
Ad 3: There is an American proverb "Twin fools: one doubts nothing, the other everything (Mieder, Kingsbury and Harder, 1996:166)" - To doubt politely may be right as long as fit and enough evidence is not forthcoming. However, building a distorting enemy picture is unfair and bad. Compare the proverb, "Give a dog a bad name and hang him [Ap 278]". Some sectarian-minded persons smear teachings and methods without bothering about credible evidence, and disregard Bob Dylan's "And don't criticize what you don't understand" (The Times They Are A-changing). If that sort of activity is right up your alley, you are creating bad karma for yourself, is a Buddhist and Hindu teaching. I for one subscribe to it.
Kriya yoga is essentially the ancient and much used pranayama method ujjayi. If well done it is so easy and gentle that it is used for all-round purposes too, the yoga instructors tell, for example James Hewitt (1991). To cut to the chase: If a couple of deep breaths fail you and cause bodily harm, flee from that place. Also, if very gentle breathing can harm and derange you, you are definitely on the wrong track. It should not be overlooked that many learn the ujjayi way of breathing in a tradition that has been on and up for at least thousands of years. You might even say that gentle, easy breathing has been around for thousands of years too.
Below is kriya-linked food for thought that may counteract primitive and faulty ways of thinking, hopefully.
There is an article, "The brain's activity during Yoga Nidra" by Robert Nilsson. Here is a solid abstract of it. Yoga Nidra is a deep relaxation state after kriya, and is taught at Scandinavian Yoga and Meditation School, headquartered at Haa in Sweden. The article documents that people enter deep RELAXATION as part of the kriya regime, and sides of it were measured at the University of Copenhagen:
Here are kriya related research findings based on one of modern medicine's most advanced instruments - the PET scanner. At present, it is only possible to lie down in a PET scanner; a person sitting in a meditation pose cannot be measured. Researchers took pictures of the brain during a meditative depth-relaxation. The pictures were taken at The State University Hospital in Copenhagen. The initiators were researchers, Dr. Hans Lou and Dr. Troels Kjaer from the Kennedy Institute in Copenhagen.
School teachers agreed with the researchers to measure people practising Yoga Nidra from a tape or CD guided by Swami Janakananda (he is a Dane). Thereby those who were measured did exactly the same thing. Those who participated practised Kriya Yoga regularly, and they were to do Kriya Yoga in the morning, before going to the hospital to have brain scans. These were the conditions.
The subjects lay one at a time in the PET scanner where they practised the deep Yoga Nidra without a pause. The brain's activity was measured by an electroencephalograph (EEG) during the whole procedure. Eight pictures were produced from the scanned material. The pictures show which areas were active before (one picture), during (four pictures) and after Yoga Nidra (three pictures). The EEG curve showed that the subjects were in a meditative state during the entire Yoga Nidra. The data from the pictures were compared and the mean values calculated. By comparing pictures taken of a normal waking state with closed eyes with pictures of four different practices in Yoga Nidra, it became possible - by certain procedures - to see in which areas of the brain the activity had increased during Yoga Nidra.
About the pictures taken: While the first picture was being taken, the subject was experiencing his/her body, especially the various parts of the face. The next photograph was taken during the experience of happiness and contentment, the third during the experience of a summer day in the countryside and the fourth at the end of Yoga Nidra, during the experience of "who am I".
The sampled data showed that the more "concrete" mind asks activated more or less the same regions in the brain; while more "abstract" tasks, such as focusing on "happiness" and "who am I", activated other brain regions.
Measurements mingled with interpretations
The measurements of the brain's activity (EEG) during Yoga Nidra indicated that the subjects were in a deeply relaxed state the whole time, similar to that of sleep. The theta activity rose significantly on all the twenty one electrodes (11%). The reduction of the alpha activity (2% NS) was insignificant; this shows that this meditative state is altogether different from that of the sleeping state and comprises conscious awareness. Further, the state [he had better say wave pattern] was constant and evenly distributed over the entire brain for the forty five minutes the relaxation lasted.
One may use the measurements to advocate the use of a technique if one wants to achieve these results . . . The scanner's pictures show that the subjects were not in a drowsy or unconscious state during the relaxation, which is something one would expect of a person in such a deep state, for specific regions of the brain were activated sequentially, according to where the subject was in Yoga Nidra. So, what happens in the brain during Yoga Nidra or where it happens is not a matter of chance.
There was a surprisingly significant similarity between the pictures of the seven yoga teachers who were measured. The EEG shows that some are completely relaxed from start to finish - active and participating, but "without effort".
The doctors said: "The 1.5 kg (brain mass) with the unknown content can control its own activity in an astonishingly precise manner . . ." And "We had not expected the meditators to be able to control their consciousness to such an extent." (Brain researcher Troels Kjær, The Kennedy Institute, Copenhagen, Denmark)
Read more: The complete article is here:[◦"Mapping the brains activity after Kriya Yoga", by Erik Hoffmann, Ph.D.
Charles Johnston, tr.: Patanjali Yoga Sutras On-line
Hewitt, James. The Complete Yoga Book: The Yoga of Breathing, Meditation and Posture. London: Rider, 1991. ⍽▢⍽ Gentle ujjayi pranayama, is told of in this wise book.
Mieder, Wolfgang (main editor), Stewart A. Kingsbury, and Kelsie E. Harder: A Dictionary of American Proverbs. (Paperback) New York: Oxford University Press, 1996.
Satyananda Saraswati, Swami. Yoga Nidra. 6th ed. Munger: Yoga Publications Trust, 2001.
Shapiro, Deane H. Jr., and Roger Walsh. Meditation: Classic and Contemporary Perspectives. Piscataway, NJ: Aldine Transaction, 2008.
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