“Teach them want they want to learn,” were the parting words of my paramguru as I graduated the hatha teacher training program at the Temple of Kriya Yoga in Chicago.
He added jokingly, “If they want big boobs, help them achieve that. Then,” with a serious look on his face, “help to give them what they need.”
The path of Kriya Yoga is for the householder, the average person on the street. It does not require you to become a brahmacharya (abstain from sex), to fast for long periods or really do anything to the extreme.
I remember when my mother first introduced me to yoga some 30 years ago, my father complained, half kidding, that she was a “yogi bore.” What he meant was that she was starting to preach to him how to live, and that is something that as yogis we should never do. The work that needs done is on our self, and if there is a barometer for spiritual improvement, it is that we should be able to get along with other people better than before.
Learning how to live a life of balance and contentment is the path that Patanjali outlined in his pithy four books of the Yoga Sutra.
There is only one type of yoga that Patanjali mentions in his Yoga Sutra, and that is kriya yoga.
Kriya, in general, translates as “action.” What is the right action? What needs to be done at this moment to yield a certain outcome. It is enmeshed with the doctrine of cause and effect known as karma.
There are three aspects that make up this science called Kriya Yoga.
The first element is svadhyaya, or self-study. We need to be mature enough to be able to take a good long look in the mirror and see where we need to make adjustments in our lives, balancing our ego personality in the process.
It helps to know some basic terms in astrology and have a copy of your natal chart because the writing really is “on the wall.”
The chart will tell us what type of personality we tend to have, what is important to us, how we want people to treat us and how we treat them. The most important factor is that it will indicate where the “red button” is for us, or the triggers that cause us to become emotional.
Why is this so valuable?
Because if we know where we are likely to become emotional, we will have some idea of where the personal sadhana (practice) needs to take place.
As humans we have a lifetime of experiences that are mostly cyclical. That means as an event happens, say we marry a rat fink, we get divorced and then proceed to husband number two who is also a rat fink. Learning from the experience is crucial and so we need very broad shoulders if we are serious about the path to enlightenment.
Discernment is key, and for that we need to understand the personality that we have wrapped around ourselves and recognize that we are not that personality at all. It is only a manifestation of the memory tracks of the past, or samskaras, that, as my guru explains, just want to keep asserting themselves.
The second element of Kriya Yoga is tapas, or self-discipline.
It is often referred to as heat. The process of “softening the hardened hearts of mankind,” as my paramguru teaches, is an alchemical process that involves melting and remolding our habits in the same way that gold is purified by the heating process. This can be done through asana, pranayama, fasting, mantra, etc., and is specific to each individual. The guru or teacher will help the student find the correct approach.
As a yoga teacher, my intense physical practice needs to be balanced with times of resting the physical body, and I love to take short naps when I can. Getting up early in the morning to meditate and then teaching hatha and rushing around after two teenage boys is demanding and I need to make sure I don’t burn myself out.
I also practice mouna, or silence, which is terribly important since, as teachers, we speak so much. Most of my free time is spent studying or writing. Once a month I host a sutra study group and also a women’s spiritual support group. I love to chant and have produced two CD’s to help the student focus while practicing hatha or meditation.
I spend as much time as possible on retreat with my guru (Swami Enoch Dasa Giri) and paramguru (Goswami Kriyananda, not Swami Kriyananda). Actually these retreats are intense study courses rather than relaxing get aways. One takes from them what is important as an individual and then incorporates it into one’s daily life.
The third element in Kriya Yoga is isvara pranidhana, or attunement to one’s chosen form of divinity.
It is vital that we can step beyond our ego personality, and for that we need to have a “bridge,” something that has a name and form, because it is so very difficult for most of us to conceptualize something that is beyond name and form.
God consciousness, or self realization, is a long journey and help in the form of a guru is critical. The guru will point out our shortcomings, if we are strong enough to take it, and this keeps us on track. Many souls leave the path simply because their ego cannot take it.
No matter. When the time is right, they will pick up the teachings again.
There are quite a few branches of the Kriya Yoga tradition that are alive and well today both in the East and the West.
He had many devotees and a few disciples and there is a distinct difference between the two. The devotee is not necessarily expected to be diligent in study and practice, whereas the initiated disciple is expected to exercise great self-awareness at all times.
Contrary to some branches of Kriya Yoga that claim Yogananda as their guru, if you have not been initiated by a physically incarnated soul, your guru, you are not a disciple. The flame of the Kriya lineage is passed on in the oral tradition and is a direct transmission of consciousness that is passed on from one living being to another.
Part of the reason for this is that we need a physical body to achieve enlightenment. It is for this that we took form. The guru initiates us and links our memory tracks and physical body to his astral (spiritual) body. In this manner, when he or she passes (or we before him/her) the link remains and the teachings go on in the spiritual realm.
When we incarnate the next time, we pick up the teachings again and continue on our spiritual path. Any effort on this spiritual path is not wasted, so even if we don’t become liberated in this lifetime, it will be part of our experiences, or samskaras, that will have sewn seeds for future experiences on the spiritual path.
I mentioned that there are many branches of the Kriya lineage alive today.
They all have one thing in common and that is sharing techniques that have been passed on from Yogananda. If one does not want to become a disciple (initiated by a living flame in the tradition), then one can take Kriya initiation after some period of study and practice.
The school that I was initiated into is perhaps the most mystical of all of the schools known in the West today. The student is encouraged to study astrology and follow the path of wisdom rather than bhakti, or devotion. There is an emphasis on attunement to one’s chosen form of the sacred.
Most of my inspiration has come from the branch of Kriya Yoga that stemmed from Shelly Trimmer, who was a direct disciple of Yogananda. From what I gather the two of them shared a common interest in magic and the more esoteric elements of yoga that are only practiced by a few advanced souls.
I have a great respect for all other traditions and try to learn from as many of them as possible. I was taught that I would meet many more fools than saints and so to “make everyone you meet your teacher.”
Camella Nair is an ordained Swami in the Kriya Yoga tradition and has been practicing yoga since she was 17. She has written two books on yoga as well as an online course on the yoga sutras which is part philosophy and part cooking (http://www.cookingtheyogasutras.com/). She lives with her two teenage sons in Northern California.
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Yoga in America:
In the Words of Some of its Most Ardent Teachers
Editor: Thaddeus Haas
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