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Paramahansa Yogananda brought it into widespread public awareness through his book Autobiography of a Yogi. The system consists of a number of yogic techniques that hasten the practitioner's spiritual development and help to bring about a profound state of tranquility and God-communion.Kriya Yoga is a very specific system of Yoga that was revived in modern times by Lahiri Mahasaya, c 1861.

"The Kriya Yogi mentally directs his life energy to revolve, upward and downward, around the six spinal centers (medullary, cervical, dorsal, lumbar, sacral, and coccygeal plexuses) which correspond to the twelve astral signs of the zodiac, the symbolic Cosmic Man. One-half minute of revolution of energy around the sensitive spinal cord of man effects subtle progress in his evolution; that half-minute of Kriya equals one year of natural spiritual unfoldment." -- Yogananda.

Ancient and medieval history

Yogananda says that Krishna refers to Kriya Yoga in the Bhagavad Gita: "Offering inhaling breath into the outgoing breath, and offering the outgoing breath into the inhaling breath, the yogi neutralizes both these breaths; he thus releases the life force from the heart and brings it under his control." Also, that Krishna was referring to Kriya Yoga when "Lord Krishna … relates that it was he, in a former incarnation, who communicated the indestructible yoga to an ancient illuminato, Vivasvat, who gave it to Manu, the great legislator. He, in turn, instructed Ikshwaku, the father of India’s solar warrior dynasty." Yogananda says that Patanjali was referring to Kriya Yoga when he wrote "Kriya Yoga consists of body discipline, mental control, and meditating on Aum." And again when he says,"Liberation can be accomplished by that pranayama which is attained by disjoining the course of inspiration and expiration." Yogananda also wrote (see Sri Yukteswar Giri in The Holy Science) that Arjuna, Adi Shankara, Jesus, Paul of Tarsus, John the Evangelist and Kabir had been initiated into Kriya Yoga (or similar techniques).  

Recent historyAccording to Yogananda, Kriya Yoga was well-known in ancient India, but was eventually lost, due to "priestly secrecy and man’s indifference." The story of Lahiri Mahasaya receiving initiation into Kriya Yoga by the immortal yogi Mahavatar Babaji in 1861 is recounted in Autobiography of a Yogi. At that meeting, Yogananda wrote that Mahavatar Babaji told Lahiri Mahasaya,

"The Kriya Yoga that I am giving to the world through you in this nineteenth century, is a revival of the same science that Krishna gave milleniums ago to Arjuna; and was later known to Patanjali and Christ."

Through Lahiri Mahasaya, Kriya Yoga soon spread throughout India. Yogananda, a disciple of Swami Sri Yukteswar Giri who was himself a disciple of Lahiri Mahasaya, then brought Kriya Yoga to the United States and Europe during the 20th century. Since that time it has spread throughout the world through various Guru lineages, most of which claim descent from Lahiri Mahasaya. Lahiri Mahasaya's most well-known disciples were Swami Sri Yukteswar Giri, Sri Panchanon Bhattacharya, Swami Pranabananda, Swami Kebalananda, Swami Keshabananda, and Bhupendranath Sanyal (Sanyal Mahasaya).