The Niche Art of Kripalu Yoga

Kripalu yoga (Kripula, meaning “compassion” in Hindu) started in the 1980s by Amrit Desai. Classes are made around a physical practice, but they are designed to really engage and create more awareness of your whole self, rather than just the body. Although there are many similarities between Kripalu and other styles of yoga, one interesting difference is Kripalu yoga practitioners will say “jai bhagwan” (Hindu) rather than “Namaste” (Sanskrit) at the end of the practice - considering this yoga style was created based out of India, using the Hindu language. This style of yoga is one of many derived from the Hatha sequence.

To get to the point of self awareness all around, many classes utilize partners and props. These features can allow for a deeper experience; you can interact with others and enhance your comfortability with finding the right positions with certain postures and helping each other bring greater awareness to the mind. If you are not feeling comfortable just yet with a partner, props assist with allowing you to bring awareness to your body’s needs as you find the right positions for those postures.

Yoga class does child's pose on blue yoga mats
The benefits of Kripalu yoga extend beyond the physical practice of yoga, itself. Photo courtesy of: Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health

Benefits of Beyond the Physical Practice

Create personal growth and self-awareness

Kripalu yoga is a journey of self empowerment and personal growth. As I discussed in my latest blog, Kripalu accentuates the importance of putting an equal balance together of your mind, body, and spirit through initiating a gradual process of psychological growth, physical healing, and spiritual awakening. Kripalu can help you enhance your awareness of yourself through explorations and inquires, awareness of pain, as well as pleasurable sensations - more specifically, acknowledgment of your pain while on the path to discovering those pleasurable sensations.

Outside of bringing awareness to yourself, Kripalu yoga has many other benefits to it. Through Kripalu, there is an emphasis on flow and release of prana - your life force (breath). Prana is meant to increase your sensitivity and hone in on how much pain you are in. It is not there to comfort you, but really create the engaging aspect of bringing awareness to you. On the other hand, Kripalu can also bring you greater emotional stability. With the release of prana and being more self aware, it can allow you to figure out how to deal with any issues that may be arising and find ways to cope with issues that would otherwise put you down.

Outside during the day, a yoga teacher works with student in personal session
Find yourself through Kripalu yoga at all levels of your yogi experience. This photo is of Pittsburgh Kripalu Yoga Teacher with a student in a Personal Growth Yoga Session. Photo courtesy of: Gardenalia

The Three Stages of Kripalu

Where to focus and what to focus on at every level - Beginner vs Advanced

There are three stages of Kripalu Yoga:

  1. Willful Practice (“Body and Breath Awareness”)
  2. Will and Surrender (“Holding the Posture”)
  3. Surrender to the Wisdom of the Body (“Meditation in Motion”)

Although these stages are not necessarily linear, the first stage, or the learning stage, is typically introduced to beginners while the other two stages (in addition to the first stage) tend to be for more advanced students.

In the first stage, the focus is put on learning the specifics of each post - relaxation techniques, proper alignment/where the body goes, deep breathing/how to breathe, etc. Poses tend to be held for a shorter time frame during this stage as you are first learning how to stretch, release stress, relax, and improve mental concentration through allowing a strong flow of prana throughout the body.

In the second stage, you are guided to really focus on your inner sensations, thoughts and emotions, and deepen meditation through holding postures for an extended period of time. Holding positions longer allows you to recognize and release any deep-set emotional or mental tensions and restore your emotional balance and mental clarity. This stage emphasizes becoming more attuned to the flow and presence of prana.

The third, and final stage, builds on what was gained from the first two stages. In this stage, the body may experience postures it was never formally taught nor experienced. Prana awakens in a deeper form, the energy through your body flows more freely, and the body will move spontaneously while your mind witnesses the activities. There is a deeper practice of self acceptance and consciousness and your spirit will lead you into fluid moving yoga.

Woman does Dancer's pose outside in a field in front of building
Kripalu Yoga is available throughout the United States. Photo courtesy of: Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health

The Start of Kripalu Yoga

All about the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health

Based in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, the Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health is self described as “the largest, most established yoga and holistic retreat and educational center in North America.” As a non-profit organization, their mission is to help empower power people through the practice of yoga and realize their full potential and awareness. The center has a number of offerings from retreats, to workshops, to general programs. It houses the Kripalu School of Yoga (yoga teacher training certification), Kripalu School of Ayurveda (interconnecting between the mind, body, senses, and spirit., and Kripalu School of Integrative Yoga Therapy (facilitating the balance at the physical, energetic, psycho emotional, intuitive, and spiritual levels).

If you have find this niche style of yoga is something you are interested in learning, but are not located in Massachusetts, do not worry as there are many Kripalu yoga teachers, ayurvedic health counselors, mindful outdoor guides, and integrative yoga therapists located throughout the country!

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Brianna Holzman
Brianna is a master's student at Carnegie Mellon University, music enthusiast, and lover of all things animals and Groot.
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