Kriya Yoga is described by its practitioners as the ancient Yoga system revived in modern times by Mahavatar Babaji through his disciple Lahiri Mahasaya, c. 1861. It was brought into popular awareness through Paramahansa Yogananda’s book Autobiography of a Yogi and through Yogananda’s introductions of the practice since 1920.
The system consists of a number of levels of Pranayama based on techniques that are intended to rapidly accelerate spiritual development and engender a profound state of tranquility and God-communion. In the ancient text on yoga called the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, Patanjali gives a description of Kriya Yoga in the second chapter. Yogananda wrote that Patanjali refers to the Kriya technique when he wrote in the Yoga Sutras II:49: Liberation can be attained by that pranayama which is accomplished by disjoining the course of inspiration and expiration. In modern times what has been described as Kriya Yoga was brought into popular awareness through Paramahansa Yogananda’s book Autobiography of a Yogi and through Yogananda’s introductions of the practice since 1920.
This modern description differs from the original description of Patanjali. Yogananda attributes his description of Kriya Yoga to his lineage of gurus, deriving it via Yukteswar Giri and his master Lahiri Mahasaya, from Mahavatar Babaji (fl. 1860s). Kriya Yoga, as taught by Lahiri Mahasaya, is traditionally exclusively learned via the Guru-disciple relationship. He recounted that after his initiation into Kriya Yoga, “Babaji instructed me in the ancient rigid rules which govern the transmission of the yogic art from Guru to disciple.” As Yogananda describes Kriya Yoga, “The Kriya Yogi mentally directs his life energy to revolve, upward and downward, around the six spinal centers (medullary, cervical, dorsal, lumbar, sacral, and coccygeal plexuses) which correspond to the twelve astral signs of the zodiac, the symbolic Cosmic Man. One half-minute of revolution of energy around the sensitive spinal cord of man effects subtle progress in his evolution; that half-minute of Kriya equals one year of natural spiritual unfoldment.” In Kriya Quotes from Swami Satyananda, it is written, “Kriya sadhana may be thought of as the sadhana of the “practice of being in Atman”.