Drawing the Parallel: Kriya Yoga and Modern Science

One of the benefits of eBooks is that we can search them for keywords. This is what I did to search for the word science in Paramhansa Yogananda’s Autobiography of a Yogi book. To my surprise, there were 74 mentions of this word. Given that the book itself is 364 pages, it meant that every fifth page had a mention of science. Being a book by a Yogi, this astonished me. My formal education being in science, further intrigued me about the frequent mention of this word in the epic book.

“Like any other science, yoga is applicable to people of every clime and time.” - Paramhansa Yogananda

Recent advances in science have been astonishing in many ways. In relation to this article, the development in Neuroscience over the last two decades has provided deeper understanding of the different parts of our brain. Research in this field has also been able to determine the specific brain parts that lead to anxiety vs. calmness, aggression vs. empathy, as an example. As a result of these insights, scientists have also started to see the biological effects of breathing, exercises, meditation and stress in a more measurable manner. From the point of view of a devotee on the path of Kriya Yoga, it is exciting to see how simple techniqes by our Gurus are so profound, as science slowly tries to unfold a few of them. Here are a few of those for which I could find a relation in the modern science.

Double Breathing

As recently as 2020, an academic paper mentioned the benefits of double-breathing, mentioning the following:

“Stanford neuroscientist and Principle Investigator of the Huberman Lab, Dr. Andrew Huberman, shared insight into how one can use breathing to change one’s mental state. This calming breathing technique involves two short inhales, ideally through the nose, followed by one extended exhale, ideally through the mouth.”
Excerpt from a paper presented at the American Association for Adult and Continuing Education 2020 Conference.

Perhaps soon the scientists will also realize the benefits of the second inhalation and exhalation being longer . Irrespective of this, isn’t it interesting to see that while double-breathing is one of the basic techniques that we learn on the path, before getting into any of the deeper techniques, this itself is so powerful, and that modern Science is finally figuring this out only now!

Talking about inhalation from the nose, another recent scientific research on the study of microbiomes is providing hints into this. If I be allowed to digress to provide a background, pandemic has made all of us aware that virus enters our body primarily through the entry points on our face - eyes, nose and mouth. Our body has natural defence mechanisms placed on each of these openings. These are through the bacteria and other microbes that are collectively called as microbiomes. So when a virus does reach our eyes/nose or mouth, these microbiomes try to win over it. And guess what, which microbiome is strongest among the three? The nasal microbiome. Not only that, scientiests (again as late as 2020) are now establishing that

“participants with more good bacteria in their nose tended to be at much lower risk of certain respiratory problems—which may indicate better overall immune functioning”
to quote from the Cell Reports 2020 journal.

So better immunity and ability to change the mental state just by double breath - and we are only scratching the surface here as far as Kriya Yoga is concerned!

The Power of AUM

Nitric Oxide has been a highly researched field over the last two decades, with over 30,000 papers being published. This received even more attention during the pandemic time as scientists were able to demonstrate in cell trials that a solution containing the gas nitric oxide can effectively stop SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19) from replicating. Many Nitric Oxide Nasal Solutions (also known as NONS) are now being clinically tested as treatment for this virus.

Interestingly, many scientists in the last decade had also researched that humming (or chanting of AUM) increases the generation of the same Nitric Oxide - naturally. To quote from their paper

“Nasal Nitric Oxide (NO) is known to be increased 15- to 20-fold by humming compared with quiet exhalation. NO is known to be broadly antifungal, antiviral and antibacterial.”
Coming back to Master’s techniques, isn’t this what we do during our healing prapers? We chant AUM loudly three times! Science is now able to identify a part of the benefit of this technique. Soon, for sure, it will be able to identify many others. During the pandemic times, many healers in Ananda were continuously praying for others and the world - chanting AUM. I wonder if that could be one reason that many of them were protected from the virus.

Brain Structure and Meditation

If we get into the specifics, brain (especially human brain) is an extremely complex machinery. In the context of this article, we can just limit our understanding to two specific parts of the brain. Amygdala is the part of the brain that is responsible for fear, aggression and anxiety. Pre-frontal lobes is the part of the brain that is responsible for self-control, capacity to plan, organize, problem solving, creativity. Interestingly, Amygdala is one of the most primitive parts of the human brain - it has been present since long, in terms of modern science. At the same time, the Pre-frontal lobes are the most evolutionary young part of the human brain.

According to Dr. Peter Van Houten (a Doctor and Kriyaban) when we meditate, especially through the techniques on the path of Kriya Yoga meditation, it highly activates our pre-frontal lobes. This area gets developed strongly and quickly as we meditate. Not only that, as the pre-frontal lobes get stronger, the Amygdala (or the larger lymbic system that contains Amygdala) begins to get quieter and quieter. So the area of the brain that gets panicked or that generates response to stress and anxiety, gets quieter and quieter. All the meditation techniques in Kriya Yoga where we focus on the spiritual eye, are strenthening our pre-frontal lobes, in scientific terms.

Faith beyond Modern Science

This article only mentions three brush strokes on a much larger and a beautiful paiting of our Master’s teachings. Science is changing and modern science has now been able to apperciate and validate some of the colors of this painting. With over a trillion reactions happening in our body, it is definitely hard work to figure out what combinations lead to a particular human behavior or action. Perhaps that is the reason why the progress in science has its own pace. Moreover, for scientific discoveries to be reflected in coursebooks and to be acceptable widely, takes decades. As Swami Sri Yukteswar mentioned,

“You will understand it someday. Science will soon discover a few of these hidden laws."

But we, as Kriya Yogis, are fortunate to have had the opportunity to see the whole painting. No wonder why Yoganandaji referred to Kriya Yoga as the airplane route to God. We can either wait for such scientific discoveries to come up and then be adapted, or we can move on the faster lane by following these practices that we are fortunate to know. What these discoveries in modern science can be used for, is to further develop faith in our techniques and therefore increase our devotion to our Gurus and to these sacred teachings. The science that Master was talking about in his autobiography book, is still a few centuries beyond the grasp of modern science. But we have the opportunity to grab it right now!

“Kriya Yoga, controlling the mind directly through the life force, is the easiest, most effective, and most scientific avenue of approach to the Infinite.”

– Paramhansa Yogananda