the shannon caldwell logo(1)
how to practice kriya yoga

How to Practice Kriya Yoga

Join me on my latest podcast episode where I discuss my favorite form of yoga, kriya yoga. Discover the simple three-step process I use any time I need to find balance and harmony. Tune in and uncover how you can benefit from this soul-cleansing, transformative practice.

Links related to this episode:

How to Practice Kriya Yoga Transcript

We have landed on my favorite practice of yoga, Kriya Yoga. It is the form of yoga that I come back to again and again when I feel like my life is getting out of balance and out of harmony.

You might not be familiar with its Sanskrit name Kriya, but I bet you’ve practiced this form of yoga without even realizing.

What does Kriya Yoga Mean

Now, if you’ll indulge me in a short, Texas-accented Sanskrit lesson. Kriya, which starts with a “kr,” loosely translates to “do” or an “action.”

We’ve seen that [kr] before in, karma yoga, which roughly translates to selfless action. If you’ve done yoga teacher training and sequencing, you might recognize it from vinyasa krama, which means a logical sequencing or a logical action, something that has a beginning, middle and end.

With kriya yoga, the “ya” roughly translates to your soul, that transcendental self. So when you put the “kr” together with the “ya” and get kriya, it translates to meaning the action of your transcendental self or the action of your soul.

Like all Sanskrit terms, it has multiple meanings, layers, and interpretations depending on which yoga tradition that you follow.

Kriya yoga in the Yoga Sutras

The tradition and practice that I follow is the one listed out in the Yoga Sutras.

Anytime we talk about the Yoga Sutras, I’m using my three favorite versions:

  • Desikachar’s interpretation in the back of The Heart of Yoga
  • The Yoga Sutras, Illuminated by Gary Kassiah
  • The website swamij.com

The practice of kriya yoga, again the one I practice and teach, is found in the Yoga Sutras, specifically 2.1-2.9. Kriya Yoga was something that was developed as a way to eliminate what the Yoga Sutras called kleshas or colorings.

Desikachar talks about these colorings as “incorrect comprehension and accumulation of unconscious actions. The ways of perceiving that we’ve been mechanically carrying out for years, the habituation of actions and perceptions that is called samskara.”

He goes on to say that through “disciplined regulation of mental and sensory impulses, self analysis, study of metaphysics, meditation, and the surrender of self consciousness, individuals can eliminate the samskaras and reduce the kleshas.”

That’s a lot of words running together that might not at this moment make a lot of sense, but I’m going to break it down for you. Because, again, it’s my favorite type of yoga and I really want you to get it. Better understand so perhaps I’m not the only one that falls in love with this type of yoga.

In kriya yoga, the three practices in Sanskrit and English are:

  • Tapas, training our senses, or burning impurities
  • Svadhyaya, studying yourself
  • Isvara pranidhana, surrendering to the divine

If these three steps sound familiar to you, you’re right, because they are the last three niyamas that we talked about in the previous podcast episode.

The five Afflictions

Before I dive into more details about kriya yoga, let me do a quick overview of the five afflictions, those five colorings that we work our whole lives to overcome and eliminate. When they are eliminated, we have a clearer picture, a better connection with our soul.

The first affliction (avidya) is ignorance, and this is what Desikachar says is a vessel for all the others. When we are steeped in this ignorance, it allows the other four to take root and grow.

This ignorance is referring to ignorance of ourselves, ignorance of how we are a spiritual beings, ignorant of how we are connected in a bigger way spiritually.

The second one (asmita) roughly translates to I-ness, what you might think of as the ego, and where we identify with the ego, that we believe what our ego is telling us who we are.

SwamiJ provides a really great metaphor for understanding how ego or I-ness gets in the way, why it is one of the five colorings. He says “the klesha of I-ness is like the filament of a light bulb confusing itself with electricity. The filament is the finest, most essential part of the light bulb, but it still pales in comparison to the electricity that is the true source of the light coming into the bulb.”

The third affliction (raga) is attachment, meaning that we are attaching to pleasure, those things that we like.

The fourth affliction (dvesha) is aversion. That’s going to be the opposite side of the coin. We have attachment on one side and aversion on the other. So we’re going to avoid things that make us uncomfortable, things that we hate, things that bring about discomfort.

Finally, the fifth affliction (abhinivesha) is known as fear. The resistance to loss, to the fear of death and identity, our desire for continuity and clinging to life.

Those are our five afflictions (kleshas) and we practice kriya yoga to help eliminate them.

The Ugly Vase Story

Let’s dive into now the practice of kriya yoga, those last three niyamas: tapas or burning impurities, training your senses, getting rid of that which doesn’t serve you any longer. The second one is self study, and then the last one is the surrender to the divine.

To help drive home the lesson of kriya yoga, I always like to tell the story of the ugly vase. The ugly vase starts with a present. Maybe it was a milestone birthday present or a wedding present. It was an important present that was given to you by someone who is important to you in your life.

When you open up the present, it is the ugliest vase that you’ve ever seen. It’s totally not your taste or style, and if you were out shopping, you would never pick this vase for yourself in a thousand years. But because it was given to you by somebody important, maybe like your mother-in-law that you don’t want to upset, you smile and thank her for the gift.

Then you have to find a place to display it in your home because every time your mother-in-law comes to your house, she’s going to be looking for that vase in a place of importance.

So you find a spot in your home and put the vase there.

Step 1 in Kriya Yoga

Every time you walk past that ugly vase, you have a negative thought about it or you cringe inwardly. Over time, that vase may become background, but you’re still aware of it. It’s still something that you don’t like, something that robs you of pleasure and is not you.

So the first part of kriya—tapas—says we get rid of what  is negatively impacting us, that which doesn’t serve us. So you wake up one day and you decide that you’re no longer going to keep that vase, you’re going to get rid of it.

The negative energy that it brings up, all the days that you pass by it versus the few days your mother-in-law comes over to visit just isn’t worth it anymore. So you take that ugly vase down from its place of importance.

Now, when I’m teaching about kriya yoga, when we’re getting rid of those things that have negative energy, or drag us down, or make us think negative things, or just don’t serve us, my recommendation is we get rid of it completely.

Get it out of the house. Don’t store it in the attic or in the garage. We don’t hide it to bring it back out when the mother-in-law comes by again. We get it out of our vicinity and we pass it along because even though it may not be right for you or serving you, it may be the exact right thing that someone else is looking for.

That’s tapas. We’re getting rid of what no longer serves us.

The practices can be yoga-related. We can do breathing exercises, pranayama techniques, take yoga-asana classes, and meditate. I touched on a few of these in the previous podcast episode.

But it can also be our physical surroundings. There’s a ton of research and studies on how cluttered minds and cluttered surroundings are connected. If you can clear out your surroundings, it also helps you to clear out your mind.

That is why kriya yoga is one of my favorite practices. Back to the story of the ugly vase. We’ve gotten rid of the vase.

Step 2 in Kriya Yoga

Now we have that empty space where there’s nothing in that place of importance. That brings us to step two, which is self-study.

Self-study says we don’t go out and immediately buy something to replace the ugly vase. We’re going to take our time, we’re going to think about it. What do we really want to go into that space that we just opened up?

Maybe you decide you don’t want anything to go in that space, you want it to remain open and free. Or maybe you appreciate art and you really want to bring in something that means a lot to you in that space.

So you’re going to take your time. You’re going to find what really you want to have there.

You decide you want to have a sculpture there by one of your favorite artists. You know what you want and you’re going to keep your eye out for it.

That’s step two. That’s self-study, finding what works for you, discerning when it’s the right thing or the right course or the right job, whatever that might be for you.

You’ve decided you want that beautiful sculpture, but for whatever reason, right now is not the right time. Maybe you can’t find exactly what you want, or maybe you don’t have the money for it.

Step 3 in Kriya Yoga

Then you’re going to go into the third practice of kriya yoga, which is surrender to the divine.

Days, weeks, months, however long it may be, you’re out shopping and you come across the exact sculpture you were looking for. You’re shocked you found it in some random place. You had no idea they carried that particular artist.

When you go check out the pricing of that sculpture, you discover that it is the exact price of the bonus you just received from work.

That is surrender to the divine. You release it to the universe. You’ve expressed what you want. It knows what you want. So it’s going to deliver your very best at the right time, at the right place.

That’s the story of the ugly vase, which highlights the three practices of kriya yoga together.

Beyond Yoga

At the beginning of the podcast episode, I mentioned kriya yoga is the practice that I come back to again and again. It’s true. When I am feeling locked up or stuck and  I can’t move forward, I usually look around and see what do I need to clean up. What do I need to clear out and get rid of?

What I really love about kriya yoga, and particularly burning impurities, is I have seen this practice in so many different books and different philosophies. I read about burning impurities before I even knew about yoga philosophy.

When I made the connection between yoga and this first book that I absolutely loved about abundance, I knew it was a practice that would be important in my life.

Kriya Yoga and Decluttering

My husband and I decided that we were going to sell our house. It was time for us to downsize. We had one daughter leaving for college, and another one that was going in two more years. Then it would just be my husband, myself, and my son.

We knew the huge house we were living in was too big for three people. So again, timing, the right place, the right time.

We found a smaller house to build and the process began to pack up our house, get it ready to sell, and put it on the market. That included decluttering almost 4,300 square feet.

The most shocking thing when I was decluttering the house, getting rid of furniture and possessions, so much of what was in closets and in rooms were things that I had collected and held on to.

Looking back, I can see where I strayed from my original practices of kriya yoga. I can also look back and see where that accumulation of things, of possessions that I didn’t need, ended up being a reflection of what was going on internally for me.

As I cleared out rooms, got rid of things, donated items, threw out items that were trashed or broken, the better I felt. When it came time to move into our new house, which was almost 2000 square feet smaller, I was very particular about what I allowed into it, what I hung on the walls, what I allowed on the surfaces.

Where before I had just random knickknacks or decor, because I thought it was pretty, I got very intentional about what I allowed for decorations.

By being intentional, by being particular, and really being mindful about creating a sanctuary in my home, I am a lot happier in this house than I was in my previous home, which was bigger, showier, and had a lot more things.

That just wasn’t important [anymore]. My mental health needs the white space. It needs some clean surfaces. It needs all of my items to have a home that I can put it back to.

That is just one of the ways in which I’ve practiced kriya yoga over the last 25 years.

Wrapping up the Five Yamas

Okay, Cozy Crew, I would love to hear from you. Let me know, have you been practicing kriya yoga all this time and didn’t realize it? Share it with me in the comments and let me know some of the ways in which you have practiced my favorite form of yoga.

Join the Library Now!

Get instant access to resources (like sequences and scripts) designed to make your teaching life easier!

Thank you!