In Kundalini Yoga, a kriya is a specific sequence of physical actions that work toward a particular outcome. Kriya practice initiates a sequence of physical and mental changes that affect the body, mind, and spirit. There are kriyas to support the liver, balance the glandular system, stimulate the pituitary, and more. Each kriya has a different impact, but they work on all levels of your being at once.
Kriya is a Sanskrit word meaning complete action, deed, or effort. The root, kri, means to do or create. Within the context of Kundalini Yoga, kriya refers to a single or specific set of yogic exercises designed to create a predictable outcome in consciousness. The end result of a kriya is cumulative, and more than the sum of its parts.
The instructions for any given kriya will include the sequence of postures and, if applicable, the suggested time in each exercise, eye focus, and accompanying breath or sound. Kriyas make up the body of most Kundalini Yoga practice.
In practice, a teacher or practitioner will select a kriya to work with, which could be for anything from deep sleep to spinal flexibility, from relieving inner anger to radiant skin. A kriya may also support a specific body part or organ. Most involve a particular sequence of postures, sound, and breath techniques.
The wisdom of Kundalini Yoga holds that the angles of the asanas, fueled by the breath, re-tuned by the repetition of mantra, and concentrated by the eye focus and body locks, change us at the core of our being. This is empowering for the practitioner, who engages a practice with the potential to create real and immediate change.
The end goal, beyond the benefits of physical exercise, is to lubricate the joints, open the energy channels, cleanse the blood, and prepare the mind and body for meditation.
Technically, kriya is the umbrella term for any complete action, be it a yoga set or meditation. Although we often differentiate these for convenience, there is significant overlap between them, as most of our meditation practices are active, and involve a combination of physical movement or mudra, tailored breath, and sound. And while all kriyas are complete in themselves, some will involve more physical action with multiple asanas or exercises, and some are more introspective. The kriyas will be differentiated as “yoga sets” or “meditations” based on the degree of physical activity versus meditative action. You may sometimes hear Kundalini Yoga teachers use the word “kriya” to refer to yoga sets in particular, but technically it is an overarching term to describe both the yoga sets and meditations.
The general guideline for kriya practice is to follow the sequence as given, except to reduce the timing or modify postures as needed, understanding that our bodies, abilities, and circumstances are unique.
When reducing the times for a kriya, the best practice is to cut the times for all exercises in the kriya proportionally. So if you cut one exercise in half, for example, cut all of them in half (the exception is those that only call for one minute, which should still be practiced for the full time). Do not practice for longer than the times recommended.
If you want to work with full times but are physically unable to do certain postures, you can work in intervals or visualize the shape in your mind while performing whatever physical approximation suits your body.
Breaks between exercises are healthy, unless otherwise noted, to give you time to integrate the effects of the previous action. As a general rule, break for 30 seconds to one minute between exercises unless otherwise specified, though it is best to follow your own body’s wisdom and rest until you feel ready to proceed.
Sometimes we come across a kriya that moves us deeply. A kriya might move us to tears; it might create a profound sense of joy; it could just challenge us physically in a way that inspires us to keep working with it. In this case, a kriya might become the base of one’s sadhana practice, in which a person practices the same kriya for days or months on end.
One could embark on a 40-day, 90-day, 120-day, or even 1000-day practice. The purpose of such an endeavor is to strengthen the aspect of consciousness that the particular kriya works to address. To explore a complete list of kriyas and to choose one that’s suited for you, please click here to visit our new dynamic database of yoga sets and meditations. Let the journey begin!