Video and Audio

How Kriya Yoga Affects the Brain

Peter Van Houten, M.D.
August 15, 2016

Peter van Houten, M.D. talks about how meditation, and Kriya Yoga in particular, affect our brain and thought processes.

This recording is excerpted from Dr. van Houten’s presentation for Spiritual Renewal Week of August, 2016. The following is its transcript:

You know, Yogananda said a very profound thing: "The road to God is through our own nervous system." He actually said that in his explanation of the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam. And elsewhere he said: "Remember that the brain and nervous system are the altar of the Spirit." 

This process that we go through with Kriya Yoga is to accelerate this transformation of our nervous system, so that we can transmit and transmute the billion watts of spiritual power that come to us in deeper meditation. And frankly, if that kind of power comes to us before our nervous system is prepared, it is a very “thrilling” experience. And I don't mean thrilling in a good way, necessarily. So we do have to go through a process of transformation, a process of evolution. 

How does this process happen? Well, in the chapter on Kriya Yoga in the Autobiography of a Yogi, Yogananda mentioned that if you took an individual and said, “Alright, just by living rightly how long would it take for you to realize God, and be able to merge back into God?” And he said that basically the minimum would be about 1 million years. And in fact, that's actually really understating how long it takes. In fact, it's really more like 2 million or more. I had a feeling when I read that, that in fact it's much longer than that. And he just didn't want to discourage people too much, that it takes that long. But that's with living rightly. 

I mean, we're living in a situation here at Ananda and in our Ananda communities where we're living rightly and we're trying to do things rightly. And we're trying to obey the laws of good health, eat the daily diet as Yogananda recommended to us. But we also have Kriya Yoga. And this is the accelerant. This is the catalyst that allows us to grow much more rapidly. Yogananda said that with even a few years of Kriya Yoga practice, if you could do them perfectly and could meditate for eight to 12 hours a day, that you could actually do that million years (of evolution) in three years by just doing your Kriya Yoga practice. For most of us I think it's going to take quite a bit longer, but not as long as we probably expect. 

Well, what parts of the nervous system are at play in this whole process? Well, I'm going to pick up my brain model here. This is just like my brain is oriented in my head. And remember—Anandi mentioned this briefly in her talk on Tuesday—that the most anterior part of the brain, this area that's right behind your forehead, are the frontal lobes of the brain. And the most anterior portion of that are the prefrontal lobes. And this is the part of our brain that we're really activating as part of our Kriya practice, physiologically speaking. I'm not talking about the subtle energy centers at this point, that's one level deeper. Today I'm just going to talk about neurological physiology. So these are the frontal lobes. And I'm going to take the outer part of the brain off.

And you can see this sort of half-moon shaped structure here. We call that the limbic system. The limbic system is called that because it's shaped like a half moon. Most of the structures in the brain are named by what they looked like, long before we knew what they did. By the way, just in this last year there have been more centers mapped in the brain. 100 new centers were just mapped in the brain this last year—it is really a big deal in my literature that I read, that we're understanding more about areas of the brain that we thought didn't do anything.


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