Kripalu Yoga is based on the yogic belief that body, mind, and spirit are connected by the flow of an intelligent life force called prana. Attuning to this energy not only enhances health, but it also stimulates psychological growth and spiritual awakening. Kripalu Yoga utilizes a wide variety of techniques, including asana practice, meditation,
Kripalu (pronounced Krih-PAH-loo) means "being compassionate" in Sanskrit. Kripalu Yoga is a contemporary, integrative approach to yoga that synthesizes traditional Eastern yoga practices with the unique needs of contemporary men living active lifestyles. It also integrates Western psychological insights into the practice of yoga. Kripalu Yoga aims to help each individual discover and release physical, mental, and emotional blockages.
Kripalu Yoga was developed as a collaborative effort of the members of the Kripalu Center, a spiritual fellowship community located in Lenox, Massachusetts. The Kripalu Center was originally founded by followers of the revered Indian spiritual teacher Swami Kripalu (1913-1981) and, in particular, his student Yogi Amrit Desai. Since Yogi Desai's departure from the Kripalu Center in 1994, Kripalu's unique approach to living continues to evolve as The Kripalu Approach to Health, Growth, and Transformation. Kripalu Yoga is practiced throughout the United States and the world by the many thousands of students and teachers who have been trained in this approach to yoga.
breathing techniques, and the principles of a yoga lifestyle to promote inner harmony and self-transformation.
Kripalu Yoga is comprised of three levels of practice. In the first level, Stage One, known as "willful practice," students learn how to practice the classic postures of hatha yoga with relaxation, deep breathing, and proper alignment. Poses are held for a relatively short period of time—generally three to five flowing breaths (approximately 10 to 20 seconds). Stage One practice strengthens the body, releases chronic tension, engenders an attitude of compassionate self-acceptance, and helps prepare practitioners for deeper practice.
In Stage Two, postures are held for a longer period of time to foster an inner balance of "will and surrender." The purpose of Stage Two practice is to become attuned to the presence and flow of prana. Holding poses for a prolonged period of time allows practitioners to focus attention inward. The mind is focused on the sensations, emotions, and thoughts that arise during holding and the body is moved in slow motion as guided from within. An ability to closely observe the interplay of body and mind, which is called witness consciousness, is acquired. Stage Two practice helps bring practitioners from a place of what is known and comfortable to one that is uncomfortable. At this pivotal point, fears and resistances emerge. Confronting physical, mental, and emotional fear and resistance can be a path to releasing blocked energies. Clearing blockages can be a tremendously therapeutic process on the path of self-transformation.
In Stage Three, "surrender to the wisdom of the body," prana grows stronger and the ability of the mind to witness its activity increases. The practitioner offers his body to Spirit and invites prana to be the guide, allowing the wisdom of the body to emerge spontaneously. Practitioners are guided by the body's innate knowing to enter traditional yoga postures or create totally new ways of being. Yoga thus becomes a meditation in motion directed by the flow of prana as it courses through the body-mind. Kripalu's approach recognizes that the essence of meditation is a state of inner absorption that can occur in either the flow of movement or moments of physical stillness. Both meditation-in-motion and sitting meditation are seen as valid and complementary practices.
The Kripalu Center has served as a location that has attracted many practitioners of yoga who have desired to share their knowledge of yoga and grow in their practice of yoga through collaboration with others. The Kripalu Center regularly sponsors conferences with titles such as "Yoga at the Leading Edge," "Yoga and Buddhism," and "Psychotherapy and Spirituality" that gather together in one location at one time some of the most well-known teachers of a wide variety of yoga styles.
Through the collaborative efforts of its residents, teachers, and directors, many innovative adaptations and approaches to yoga have developed that combine talk, assisted partnering, movement and dance, and partner massage. One major style of yoga that emerged as a result of the experience of Kripalu Yoga is Michael Lee's pioneering Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy. This approach to yoga has become so rich and widely practiced that it is treated in depth in the following chapter.
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