First introduced into the West in 1969 by the Indian yoga master Harbhajan Singh Khalsa Yogiji, texts mentioning laya yoga have arguably been dated as far back as 1400 B.C., although it is possible the practice had been passed on as an oral tradition long before then. Synonymous with the better known kundalini yoga, laya yoga conforms to the three central pillars of discipline, self awareness, and dedication that make up Patanjali's traditional yoga system. Unlike many spiritual yogic disciplines, however, laya yoga does not include renunciation of society or extreme asceticism in its practice. Instead, yogis are encouraged to perform meditative and physical exercises that are said to have been designed to arouse the latent cosmic feminine energy resting at the base of the human sacrum. This is supposed to cause that energy to rise and re-unite with the cosmic masculine void energy in the human cranial vault, generating a divine union with universal consciousness.
Pracitioners of laya yoga believe that, while the deep contemplative practices defining the style can accelerate spiritual progression, they will be completely ineffective if they do not first achieve mastery of hatha, or physical, yoga. The practices of asanas, bandhas, and pranayama in hatha yoga are said to be necessary to remove blockages within the body and prepare the subtle energetic system to withstand and channel the powerful kundalini energy when it is unleashed. The "kriya," or practices, of laya yoga differ somewhat from those of hatha yoga in their incorporation of other types of yoga like raja and mantra yoga as well as in its emphasis.
While the emphasis of hatha yogic practice is generally on the correct performance of physical postures, the emphasis of laya yoga kriya is more markedly internal and contemplative. Physical postures are focused more specifically on those directly impacting the sacrum and the central energy channel. The pathway up the central energy channels of the spine that kundalini energy is said to travel is marked by energy centers known as chakras, each of which is associated with emotional and mental stages of spiritual development.
Laya yoga must be studied under the supervision of a guru. Since both Vedic and Tantric forms of laya yoga exist, the practice itself will vary considerably according to the guru's lineage. Still, most yoga instruction will begin with mantra practice and a brief period of limbering exercises. The bulk of a the session will generally be composed of a combination of hatha yoga postures and breathing exercises accompanied by internal contemplation. Classes generally close with a final meditation, guided by the guru.