Kirtan Kriya is a simple meditation technique practiced as part of Kundalini yoga which is thought to have many health benefits, including improving memory, focus, and cognition as well as reducing the effects of stress and anxiety.
Kundalini yoga is a form of yoga that involves chanting, singing, breathing exercises, and repetitive poses which activate a spiritual energy located at the base of your spine. It is sometimes referred to as ‘yoga of awareness’ as it helps enhance your awareness and move past your ego. With regular practice, Kundalini yoga is believed to lead to spiritual enlightenment.
Kirtan Kriya meditation helps to stimulate the senses and activate parts of the brain. The practice combines chanting and finger movements. Kirtan Kriya meditation focuses on making four primal sounds: Saa Taa Naa Maa, which translates as Saa – Beginning, infinity; Taa – Life; Naa – Death; and Maa – Rebirth (the circle of life) (Kumari and Karunaratne, 2021). The placement of the tongue in the mouth when making these sounds stimulates 84 acupuncture meridian points on the palate which stimulates the hypothalamus, pituitary gland, and other areas in the brain.
While chanting the sounds of the mantra Saa Taa Naa Maa, the thumb moves along the tips of the fingers with a firm but gentle pressure starting first with the index finger for Saa, then the middle finger for Taa, the ring finger for Naa, and the pinky finger for Maa.
The combined finger pressure and mantra chanting enhance blood flow to the brain. It is believed to improve cognition, focus, and memory.
Traditional Kirtan Kriya practice dictates the mantra and accompanying hand movements be repeated first in a normal voice for two minutes, then a whisper for two minutes, then silently chanted in your mind for four minutes, then again whispered for two minutes, and chanted loudly for the final two minutes. After the 12-minute meditation, stretch arms up while inhaling deeply, then exhale and relax the arms (see the detailed instructions below). The eyes should be closed, spine straight, and arms relaxed with the hands placed on the thighs or knees throughout the meditation.
Kundalini yoga was first mentioned in sacred texts dating back to 1000BC, but what does modern science say about its benefits? Research on meditation is still in its infancy but studies on meditation and benefits to cognition are promising.
A study published in 2021 in International Journal of Health Sciences and Research found that Kirtan Kriya can help to improve cognition, memory, and psychological well-being. It also proved beneficial in treating patients with stress and anxiety. (Kumari and Karunaratne, 2021)
A study on the effects of kundalini yoga on participants with memory problems concluded that “significant increases were found in the cerebral blood flow ratios in the prefrontal, superior frontal, and superior parietal cortices ( P < 0.05)” (Khalsa, 2015). Participants completing the study reported increased memory function. (Khalsa, 2015)
A study on dementia caregivers randomized to receive either Kirtan Kriya meditation or relaxing music for 12 minutes daily for 8 weeks showed improved markers of stress and inflammation in the meditation group. Those receiving Kirtan Kriya displayed changes in gene expression including up-regulated immunoglobulin-related transcripts and down-regulated pro-inflammatory cytokines. Researchers concluded that brief daily Kirtan Kriya may reverse increased pro-inflammatory cytokine activity in individuals with significant life stressors. (Black et al., 2013)
Kirtan Kriya technique
- With your eyes closed, repeat the Saa Taa Naa Maa mantra while sitting with your spine straight.
- If possible, with each syllable, your focus of concentration is imagining the sound and energy flowing in through the top of your head and out the middle of your forehead.
- Chant Saa, Taa, Naa, Maa out loud for two minutes.
- On Saa, touch the index fingers of each hand to your thumbs.
- On Taa, touch your middle fingers to your thumbs.
- On Naa, touch your ring fingers to your thumbs.
- On Maa, touch your little fingers to your thumbs.
- Chant this as a whisper for two minutes.
- For four minutes, say the chant silently to yourself.
- Chant in a whisper for two minutes.
- Chant out loud for two minutes.
- To end the exercise, inhale very deeply, stretch your hands above your head, and bring them down slowly in a sweeping motion as you exhale. The exercise should take 12 minutes.
To learn more about Kirtan Kriya, or to be taken through a guided meditation,
or watch the video below:
Albert, A. (2018). “Meditation: The effects of Kirtan Kriya are instant – all care homes should do it”. Online: https://tinyurl.com/537rts8v
Black, D.S. Cole, S.W. Irwin, M.R. et. al. (2013). “Yogic meditation reverses NF-κB and IRF-related transcriptome dynamics in leukocytes of family dementia caregivers in a randomized controlled trial”, Psychoneuroendocrinology, 38(3), pp. 348-355).
Khalsa D. (2015). “Stress, meditation and Alzheimer’s disease prevention: Where the evidence stands”, J Alzheimers Dis., 48, pp. 1-12.
Kumari, M.G.W.R. and Karunaratne, H.K.B.M.S. (2021). “A review on therapeutic effect of kirtan kriya yoga”, Int J Health Sci Res., 11(1), pp. 240-247.