Group of Yoga Joes doing postures

Kriya Yoga: Tapas, Svadhyaya and Ishvara Pranidhana

Group of Yoga Joes doing postures

Kriya Yoga* (or kriyayoga) is yoga in action. The “action figures” of yoga are the last three Niyamas: Tapas, Svadhyaya, and Ishvara Pranidhana. They make up the perfect how-to formula of doing yoga. Kriya Yoga can be practiced along the more modernized, Westernized version of yoga (i.e, primarily doing Asana postures). The three parts to Kriya Yoga separate the do-ers of yoga from the posers of yoga.

Yoga in Action off the Mat

Yoga Joe doing Warrior I

Kriya Yoga is active, rather than passive. The strengths of Tapas (spiritual discipline), Svadhyaya (self-study), and Ishvara Pranidhana (the ultimate surrender to the divine) make for a solid, yogic action plan. I find it interesting that Kriya Yoga, one of the most “active forms” of yoga, takes place off the yoga mat!

It may be that Kriya Yoga is more difficult than many of the Asana (yogic postures) in a yoga practice. Let’s see . . . hold Warrior I for three minutes, or stay fast to practicing the yoga of Tapas, Svadhyaya, and Ishvara Pranidhana everyday? Yep, Kriya Yoga is definitely harder!

Kriya Yoga kicks off the second of four Padas or “chapters” of the Yoga Sutras, the Sadhana Pada. Yoga Sutra 2.1 (YS 2.1) is tapaḥsvādhyāyeśvarapraṇidhānāni kriyāyogaḥ. This first sutra of the second pada spells out the three Niyamas of Tapas, Svadhyaya, and Ishvara Pranidhana. It is about needing the three main qualities of Kriya Yoga: enthusiasm, intelligence and humility.

Summary of these three Niyamas

  1. Tapas – “fire” of spiritual discipline, burning away impurities at all levels (body, senses, and mind) to bring transformation. The heat and energy brings to the surface the limiting beliefs, feelings and thoughts of the personality. Tapas brings a burning enthusiasm and passion for the practice of yoga.
  2. Svadhyaya – “self-study” to begin to see our true being. The inner witness observes our body, thoughts, emotions, and beliefs. This process helps us to release over-identification with a lifetime of conditioning. The practice of self-study points out the helpful and the unhelpful ways of being that we have cultivated.
  3. Ishvara Pranidhana – surrender to the intelligence that is in all of creation. With honor and humility for all of creation, we begin to see the divine in everything. This reverence helps us to recognize life as a gift and a blessing, even in challenging times.

The practice of “yoga in action” is how we take our yogic practice off the mat and into our daily lives. It is about having the passion to transform, the will to look closely at ourselves, and wisdom to yield to something greater than the everyday world we think we have created. Namaste!

*Kriya Yoga is also a named tradition of style of yoga meditation described by Paramhansa Yogananda and the Ananda organization focused on his teachings. Like many traditional styles or types of yoga, it too follows the philosophical precepts of the Kriya Yoga discussed in this post.