There are many types of yoga, but the one that Yogananda took westward was Kriya Yoga, writes SWAMI SMARANANANDA GIRI
The Sanskrit word yoga simply means ‘union’ — of the physical and spiritual. Union of body and mind for control of body by mind is Hatha Yoga, currently the most popular form of yoga. In its spiritual aspect, yoga means union of Atman, soul, with Paramatman, the Cosmic Spirit, for permanent removal of suffering and attainment of moksha, infinite bliss. This union can be achieved through various methods: Bhakti Yoga involves prayer and devotion; Mantra Yoga is through chanting and incantations of seed sounds; Laya Yoga is dissolving of ego in the Infinite; Karma Yoga is performing selfless good actions, and Jnana Yoga is all about exercising discrimination.
Yet another form of yoga, Raja Yoga, is a synthesis of all forms of yoga. This is called Ashtanga Yoga or the eight-fold path of yoga as expounded by Sage Patanjali, that enumerates eight steps to union of soul with God: Yama, moral conduct; niyama, religious observances; asana, right posture; pranayama, control of prana, subtle life currents; pratyahara, withdrawal of senses from external objects; dharana, concentration; dhyana, meditation and samadhi, superconscious experience.
Although the science of yoga was conceptualised, developed, perfected, and practised in India over millennia, but the west became aware of it only in the late 19th century when Swami Vivekananda briefly visited the US and several European countries. Later, Paramhansa Yogananda taught scientific techniques of concentration and meditation to seekers in India and in the west. He founded the Yogoda Satsanga Society (YSS) at Ranchi, Jharkhand in 1917, and went to the US in 1920 to participate in an International Conference of Religious Liberals. In 1925, he established the Self-realisation Fellowship (SRF) in Los Angeles. He lived in the US for three decades, giving discourses and training monks and nuns, introducing to seekers a special form of Raja Yoga, called Kriya Yoga.
Yogananda’s Autobiography of a Yogi introduced the world to Kriya Yoga. The book is acknowledged as a spiritual classic and has been translated into 12 Indian and 22 foreign languages. More than 60 years after he left his physical form, Yogananda’s autobiography continues to transform thousands of lives around the world. Hence he is known as ‘The Father of Yoga’ in the west. Kriya Yoga became widely known in modern India through Lahiri Mahasaya, guru of Paramhansa Yogananda’s guru, Swami Sri Yukteswar Giri. Lahiri Mahasaya received it in the year 1861 from his guru Mahavatar Babaji, who rediscovered and clarified the technique for the benefit of all.
Yukteswar Giri said Kriya Yoga is an instrument through which human evolution can be quickened. The Kriya yogi mentally directs his life energy to move and revolve upward and downward, around the six spinal centres, which correspond to the twelve astral signs of the zodiac. One-half minute of revolution of energy around the sensitive spinal cord of an individual equals one year of natural spiritual unfoldment.
Yogananda put together 182 Yogoda Satsanga lessons to enable the teaching and learning of Kriya Yoga. These lessons include the practice of four techniques:
- Energisation exercises for recharging the body with cosmic energy
- Hong-Sau technique for developing the power of concentration and shutting off the five sense telephones for avoiding distractions during meditation
- Aum technique to attune consciousness with the sounds of subtle vibrations emitted by each chakra in the spine
- The Kriya Yoga technique: Personal guidance in the right understanding and practice of these techniques is offered to truth seekers by authorised YSS sannyasis.
The writer is general secretary,Yogoda Satsanga Society of India. A PhD from IIT Karagpur, he joined the monastic path in 1985.