What is Prana?
Prana is a Sanskrit word that means ‘life force’ and is the breath or vital energy in the body. The energy that exists within and around the physical body in yoga we call the prana energy.
The Chinese call it “chi” the Japanese “qi,” Egyptians named it “ka” and the Greek pneuma. You have heard of Qi Gong, Tai Chi, and Reiki in the eastern practices. To yogis it is known as “prana.”
Prana is viewed as having the qualities of a “nutrient” that can be taken into the body. Because prana is present in the air, breathing exercises are believed to have a central role in promoting health.
Prana is also said to be the life force governing inspiration and the conscious intellect. This non-physical essential energy flows through and around the body and is responsible for your “aliveness.”
Most yogis hear the term Pranayama in yoga and it is usually associated with breathing practices and exercises that yoga uses.
Prana Is More Than Breath
The term prana is used instead of just breath because it is more than just the air we breathe. Prana is generally associated with the breath, however the air you breathe is not the actual life-force energy, nor does the air actually contain the prana. Through the yogic practices of asana and pranayama – movement and breathing techniques – you utilize the breath to promote, control, and direct the flow of prana in the body. This brings the body and mind to a higher place and assists the yogi in getting to higher consciousness or awareness.
Air is breathed into the lungs but in yoga, when we are mindful of the Higher Power, we turn this breath into prana, Holy prana. It is for the body, to feed the body and enliven the body and mind in a Holy way. It’s good to think Holy when doing prana focus, and even to think Holy at all times (mindful of the Higher Power). This reminds us that yoga means ‘Union’ and was designed to lead to meditation.
Types of Prana (Vayus)
The ancient concept of prana is described in many early Hindu texts, including Upanishads and Vedas. Prana is certainly a main focus when practicing yoga.
There are five main divisions of prana and they are called the Vayus. Vayu is a Sanskrit word meaning “wind” or “air”. Prana is considered the basic vayu from which all the other vayus arise.
The five Vayus are:
Prana (inward moving energy)
apana (outward moving energy)
vyana (circulation of energy)
udana (energy of the head and throat)
samana (digestion and assimilation)
The Meaning of the Vayus
Here is a brief description of the five Vayus:
Prana Vayu: includes beating of the heart and breathing. Prana enters the body through the breath and is sent to every cell through the circulatory system. The inward, flowing energy is called, prana. This energy is responsible for receiving energies from food, oxygen from the air, input from the senses as well as mental and emotional stimuli.
Apana Vayu: includes elimination of waste products from the body through the lungs and excretory systems. When energy moves down and away, it is called Apana. Apanic energy is involved in exhalation of carbon dioxide and the reproductive fluids are governed by apana.
Vyana Vayu: includes the energy that diffuses throughout the body (i.e. circulation). The expansion and contraction processes of the body, like the voluntary muscular system. Vyana controls the circulation of your energies from the inside to the periphery; from moving the nutrients in food throughout the body to allowing your thoughts and emotions to pass through the mind. This energy keeps you from stagnating.
Udana Vayu: includes sound production through the vocal apparatus, as in speaking, singing, laughing, and crying. Also it represents the conscious energy required to produce the vocal sounds corresponding to the intent of the being. Positive, upward moving energy is the Udana. It is responsible for your physical growth, the will and ability to stand as well as your enthusiasm for expanding your physical, mental and spiritual awareness.
Samana Vayu: includes the digestion of food and cell metabolism like the repair and manufacture of new cells and growth. Samana also includes the heat- regulating processes of the body. The energy of drawing inward is known as Samana, and literally means, “balancing air.” This prana helps you digest your food as well as your experiences.
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In our physical body, blood flows through veins, capillaries, and arteries. In our energy body, prana flows through energy pathways called nadis (nadi translates as flow).
Indian philosophy describes prana flowing in channels called “nadis”. It is generally believed that there are 72,000 nadis in the body. These nadis play an important role in the application and understanding of certain yoga practices.
The ancient text Shiva Samhita explains that the three most important nadis are the Ida, the Pingala and the Sushumna, each facilitating the flow of prana vayu throughout the body.
Ida nadi relates to the right side of the brain, and the left side of the body terminating at the left nostril. Pingala nadi relates to the left side of the brain and the right side of the body, terminating at the right nostril. Sushumna nadi connects the Muladhara chakra at the base of the spine to the Sahasrara chakra, the highest psychic center at the crown of the head,
The central energy conduit, the Sushumna, is said to reside within the spinal canal of the physical body. When a person awakens deep spiritual energy, the Sushumna is the channel responsible for containing the flow of this energy from the base of the spine through the crown of the head and often leading the person to experience a state of bliss. The other two main nadis are the Ida and Pingala, which are located on the right and left of the Sushumna.
In healthy individuals, prana flows alternately between the two nadis. The Ida is the left side nadi and is said to have a cool, loving, feminine energy. The right side nadi is the Pingala and is said to be associated with heated, intense, masculine energy.
The word “Pranayama” is a Sanskrit word and it translates to the control of life force. It is also known as the extension of breath.
Pranayama practice expands the prana life force and can add a new dimension to your practice, and perhaps help you enjoy more balanced levels of health and wellbeing.
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