My Experience in Kriya Yoga

Henry R. Bradley (Agnihotri), MA (Harvard)

I have been a student of yoga for just over twenty years, having first learned my practices in Bombay. Although I have benefited from yoga all this time, it was not until a year and a half ago that I experienced any dramatic change in my physical and mental outlook. This remarkable change came about as a result of my having relearned how to execute my practices at Bihar School of Yoga.

Dynamic and passive approaches to yoga

In India, there are many fine institutions teaching yoga. Basically, their approach is either dynamic or passive. No approach is necessarily better than another, but when taking up yoga, we must try to find the method best suited to our particular temperament and personality. The approach to each asana can differ according to desired results and one's capacity.

In some schools, like that of B. K. S. Iyengar, the teacher will occasionally even help the student come closer to the final pose by sitting on the back. When taught passively, however, the student is told to assume whatever stage of the pose he can comfortably maintain and then to relax and let gravity combined with a very gentle pull, exert its stretching influence on the muscles. Any sort of force, be it externally or self-imposed, is shunned. Usually, both the dynamic and passive methods recommend exhalation during the initial forward stretching phase of the asana.

At the Bihar School of Yoga, asana is taught both dynamically and passively, with the difference that the breath is co-ordinated with each and every movement and the mind is directed to those parts which are being stretched. In fact, the focusing of one's awareness on whatever one is doing is an essential part of yoga. Even in the beginning, when the series of joint loosening exercises called pawanmuktasana is taught, the co-ordination of breath movement coupled with the directing of one's awareness to those parts of the body being exercised, form an integral part of the training. Thus, awareness plays an important part in yoga practices, and progress is very much dependent upon it.

Relaxation also has to be incorporated. In shavasana (the corpse pose) the student learns how to rapidly direct his mind in a fixed pattern on the various parts of the body which are relaxed and freed from tension. This state has to be developed in every practice. It was my experience that the Bihar School of Yoga's system, brought about deeper relaxation and cultivated greater awareness of the body and its functions.

When I came to Bihar School of Yoga, I had spent almost two decades trying to perfect asanas without ever having embarked upon any course of preliminary exercises. I had been doing asanas according to the passive method. Although I had considered myself to be quite limber, I discovered that the pawanmuktasana series did not come all that easily to me. However, after only three weeks of practise I was amazed at the increase in the suppleness of my joints and the effect this new degree of flexibility had on the asanas I had been practising all those years. Moreover, I felt better than ever before and had a greater supply of energy.

My kriya yoga course

I took the kriya yoga course in Munger in January of 1982 and, for the last year have continued the practices in a fairly regular manner. The results have been encouraging. The practices increase energy, give a heightened sense of well being and develop ever increasing awareness of both the self and others. Moreover, they also seem to subtly restructure the inner and outer person. Although difficult to learn because of the complex co-ordination of pranayama, asana, mudra, bandha and mind, once mastered, they become pleasurable and exhilarating.

During the course at Bihar School of Yoga, most students found maha mudra and maha bheda mudra more difficult to execute than the other practices. I was no exception. Although I cannot yet claim to have completely mastered these techniques, I find that, by halving the number of rounds, I can execute them comfortably. Instead of doing twelve rounds I do only six. Nonetheless, even at this reduced rate, I find these two kriyas to be among the most powerful.

In maha bheda mudra I can feel the energy surging up from mooladhara to bindu and permeating the brain with pranic activity. Each time I finish these two mahas I never cease to be awed by the unknown wonders which these practices help to reveal. When I was first learning them, the saliva production increased so much that my spittle would drool during the kumbhaka phase of the practices. This has stopped, although more saliva continues to be produced during many of the kriyas.

The two mahas were of course not the only kriyas which were difficult for the beginner. Those which required visualisation, such as naumukhi, shakti chalini and shambhavi also presented problems for me. Even after a year the shining copper trident, the thin green snake and the lotus flower, although less hazy, are still far from distinct. Nevertheless, in these dharana practices I definitely feel that I am delving deeper into the psychic and pranic bodies.

One is supposed to be able to get through the entire set of nineteen kriyas within a period of two to three hours. At this stage in my development I find this unachievable. Accordingly, I either have to reduce the number of rounds per kriya or the number of kriyas. The former method produces a greater sense of exhilaration while the latter gives a greater sense of intoxication. After doing thirteen rounds of nada sanchalana, 49 rounds of pawan sanchalana, 59 rounds of shabda sanchalana and 59 rounds of chakra bhedan, I feel an elevation of consciousness whereas, if I reduce chakra bhedan and the two latter sanchalanas to 13 or 21 rounds each, and continue on with the rest of the pratyahara and dharana series, I come out of the practices feeling less 'spacey' yet more energised and fulfilled.

If ever I find that I am getting tired while doing a kriya, I simply stop a while (either resting in the position itself or in shavasana) and then carry onto complete the number of rounds I had originally set out to do. When I first began to do the kriyas, I would have to rest in between each and every one, especially after maha mudra and maha bheda mudra. Now, however, I usually only rest after every other kriya and for shorter periods of time. I end each session with 20 to 30 minutes of yoga nidra which is limited to rotation of consciousness through the body parts and breath awareness.

Occasionally, if I missed including sushumna darshan among the kriyas, I would practise it at this time in the pranic position. It should be noted that I did not uninterruptedly practise the kriyas week after week without stop. As they are powerful practices, I found it beneficial to do them for 5 to 6 days at a stretch and then to have 1 or 2 days rest before doing them again. During the learning process at Munger, the identification of the chakras was purely an intellectual exercise performed on faith. Now, however, after one year, I can actually feel the chakras and the prana moving through them. I can also feel pranic activity at bindu. In addition to the physical and psychological benefits, it is this expansion of awareness to other planes which is one of the most amazing by-products of kriya yoga, for it gives the practitioner proof that higher states through yoga are indeed not just words but actual, realisable experiences.

Prior to relearning yoga the Bihar School of Yoga way, my progress had been mild. Nonetheless, it had been productive enough to encourage me to keep up with my practices. On the other hand, since adopting the Bihar School of Yoga system, I have experienced more progress in one year than I had formerly in five. In fact, I have become so enthusiastic about the benefits gained from yoga that I am preparing myself to be a teacher. I should like to express my sincerest thanks to Swami Satyananda for having incorporated these esoteric practices in his teaching, and for having permitted me to be a part of last year's course.