The Sanskrit word kriya means ‘action’ or ‘movement’. Kriya yoga is so called because it is a system where one intentionally rotates one’s attention along fixed pathways. This movement of awareness is done, however, with control. Also, kriya yoga is so called because one moves the body into specified mudras, bandhas and asanas according to a fixed scheme of practice.
The word kriya is often translated as meaning ‘practical’. This is indeed a good definition, for kriya yoga is indeed practical. It is concerned solely with practice, without the slightest philosophical speculation. The system is designed to bring results, not merely to talk about them.
Sometimes the word kriya is translated as ‘preliminary’. This too is a good definition, for kriya yoga is a preliminary practice that leads first to dharana and then eventually to the transcendental state of dhyana (meditation) and yoga (union). It is a technique which has been designed to lead to that state of being which is beyond all techniques. Finally, the word kriya is used to describe each individual practice. Thus the process of kriya yoga consists of a number of kriyas each being done one after the other in a fixed sequence.