Section 11 of the book “Yoga: History of Ideas and Views” by Andrey Safronov



The term «energy» is one of the cornerstones that modern yogic usus rests upon. The practitioners speak about «work with energy» and «energy control», aim at «managing» the same, or focus on energy «gaining» and «retaining». Cakra-s are called «energy centers», while «energy losses» are attempted to be regained by «imbibing it from Cosmos or from Nature». Energy has become attributed with «positiveness» and «negativeness». This slang has been gradually going beyond the yogic-and-esoteric scopes so that in even quite mundane environments they now speak about the «energy» of a DJ and a performative act, or on the contrary – the one of the audience. Still, and with all the variety of the word usage forms, there is a certain dissonance with it. And I believe the primary reason of its occurrence to be the fact that energy is a word of Greek origin (ενέργεια) with no etymological background in Sanskrit. And although it roots back to mystical philosophy rather than science – the philosophy which had in its turn borrowed the term from theology – the question is whether we can be sure its application to yogic usage is correct? Is the meaning and the content of this word comparable to any of classical yogic categories? Or whether by using the word we take ourselves into the realm of pseudo-yoga which tissue is woven of terms taken from European esotericism or Theosophy, the originator of numerous similar misconceptions. Or maybe the term repeats the fate of the word «meditation» in disguising the level of public ignorance in classical yoga psyche-practices?

Another point of concern is the extremely broad range of the term usage. If we juxtapose the word-combos like «sexual energy control» and «the energy of the audience hall» we might feel they are absolutely different energies in question. That is, one and the same word is used to describe totally different types of experience. This confusion results in the word’ speedy approach to the category of a false, «hollow» notion (vikalpa) that people use without delving deep into its meaning. And hence come the word monsters like «level up the energy» etc.

But does this word in general have any meaning that describes real, actual experience and exists beyond all listed «husk», mental voidness and senselessness? Is it possible to find the equivalents, the terms of the same sense range that refer to the equal experience and stem from the classical yoga domain? My statement here will be: yes, it is. The problem, however, is that the term «energy» has incorporated too wide a range of categories having thus become awkward and meaningless. Whereas in Indian tradition there are at least ten various notions that correspond to the term, each of them being significantly more accurate and precise in depicting a specific type of experience. Among them I would single out the following: prāṇa, asu, tejas, śakti, ojas, tapas, dharma, puṇya etc.

Yet these terms are also ambiguous and extremely polysemantic. So let us consider some of them in detail.



The most obvious candidate for Sanskrit version of «energy» is the term prāṇa. After all, in yoga they speak about «control of prāṇa», or «prāṇāyama». But can this word, which is far from being simple in its content, embrace all contexts of the «energy» term usage? Let us commence the study of the word proper, as well as the categories described by it.

According tо the dictionary the primary meaning of the word prāṇa is breath and respiration. In this context it can be encountered in many texts on yoga. From the point of morphology the word stems from the root √an — ‘to breathe’ being complemented with pra-, the prefix which adds the meanings of ‘ahead’, ‘in front’, ‘before‘. We can catch the essence of this prefix in the words like «primary», «prior», «precede» or «apprehension». In this sense the term prāṇa could be schematically rendered as «pre-breath», something that precedes respiration, being above the breath. It is exactly this interpretation that has underlain the process of filling this word with additional philosophical content. Or, better say, a whole set of such contents.

The earliest references to prāṇa are found in the Vedas of which the Atharvaveda is the one that mentions it most often [11]. It is there that we see three different variants of the term usage. In the first one prāṇa is taken as a synonym of breath, and in some cases it stands for inhalation only, being juxtaposed by exhalation, or apāṇa (the prefix ap– means «from», «out of» etc.). 

For example:


prāṇāpānau mṛtyor mā pātaṃ svāhā ||2.16.1||

Oh inhalation-and-exhalation, protect me from death – Svāhā!


By the way, in this very context the term prāṇa was used in a line of the   Bhagavad-Gītā [31-33]:


sparśān kṛtvā bahir bāhyāṃś cakṣuś caivāntare bhruvoḥ ‖

prāṇāpānau samau kṛtvā nāsābhyantara-cāriṇau ||5.27||

Shutting out (all) external contacts and fixing the gaze between the eyebrows, equalising the outgoing and incoming breaths moving within the nostrils…

( Swami Sivananda […])


The second context of the term usage (Atharvaveda, hymn 11.4) is more consistent with our inquiry. Here prāṇa is represented as a kind of global impersonal force that endows the world with certain dynamism and vitality.


  1. Homage to breath (prāṇa) in whose control is this All, who hath

been lord of all, in whom all stands firm.

  1. Homage, prāṇa, to thy roaring, homage to thy thunder; homage,
  2. When prāṇa with thunder roars at the herbs, they are impregnate, they receive embryos, then they are born many.
  3. When, the season having come, prāṇa roars at the herbs, then all

is delighted, whatever is upon the earth.

  1. When prāṇa hath rained with rain upon the great earth, then the

cattle are delighted: “verily there will be greatness for us.»

  1. The herbs, being rained on, have talked with prāṇa: “verily thou

hast extended our life-time; thou hast made us all fragrant.”

  1. Homage be to thee coming, homage be to (thee] going away; homage

to thee,  prāṇa, standing; to thee sitting also [be] homage.

  1. Homage to thee breathing, O prāṇa; homage be to [thee] making

expiration; homage to thee turned away, homage to thee turned toward

[usJ; to the whole of thee [be] this homage.

  1. The dear body that is thine, O prāṇa, and the dearer one that is

thine, O prāṇa, likewise what remedy is thine, assign thou of it to us in

order to life.

  1. prāṇa clothes human beings, as a father a dear

son; prāṇa is lord of all, both what breathes and what does not.

  1. prāṇa [is] death, prāṇa takmān; prāṇa the gods worship; prāṇa may set the truth-speaker in the highest world.

(Transl. by W.D. Whitney)


 I have substituted the «breath» used by W.D. Whitney in all but the first lines of the quoted translation by the original prāṇa (just like in the translation into Russian by T. Yelizarenkova cited by the author in the original text, and unlike the other translation into English by M. Bloomfield who had has opted to leave prāṇa as istransl. note) since it is obvious this is not physical breath of a certain creature but a more global phenomenon that the hymn goes about. Moreover, the 8th stanza plays with the difference between the term abstract and concrete meanings. Let me quote it in Sanskrit:


namas te prāṇa prāṇate namo astv apānate |

parācīnāya te namaḥ pratīcīnāya te namaḥ sarvasmai ta idaṃ namaḥ ||11.4.8||


 It is this global context that the term has been used in the Kaṭha-upaniṣad:


yad idaṃ kiṃ ca jagat sarvaṃ prāṇa ejati niḥsṛtam |…||3.2.2||

All that is here, whatever that lives, having arisen, moves within the breath (prāṇa)

( P. Olivelle […])


            As well as in the Taittirīya-upaniṣad:


prāṇaṃ devā anu prāṇanti | manuṣyāḥ paśavaś ca ye | prāṇo hi bhūtānām āyuḥ | tasmāt sarvāyuṣam ucyate | sarvam eva ta āyur yanti | ye prāṇaṃ brahmopāsate | prāṇo hi bhūtānām āyuḥ | tasmāt sarvāyuṣam ucyata iti |



Prāṇa — gods breathe along with it

as do men and beasts.

For prāṇa is the life of beings,

so it’s called “all life.”

A full life they’ll surely live, when they

worship brahman as prāṇa (another translation version: prāṇa as brahman – trans.note)

For prāṇa is the life of beings,

so it’s called “all life”.

( P. Olivelle [ ] with part of words returned to their original form by A.S.)


 It is this meaning that is most similar to both «energy» as implied by Aristotle and the term meaning established in Eastern Christianity. Yet there is a nuance. Among the listed functions and manifestations of prāṇa they are vital aspects that have been emphasized. Herbs, beasts, people feel «fertilisation», «extension of life-span», healing etc. Nothing here goes about emotional, mental or personal spiritual experiences.

 And finally the third illustration of the term use by the Atharvaveda represents prāṇa as a finite and vulnerable object associated with person’s life. We find it in the hymn Against Fear numbered 2.15:


 yathā dyauś ca pṛthivī ca na bibhīto na riṣyataḥ |

evā me prāṇa mā bibheḥ ||1||


yathāhaś ca rātrī ca na bibhīto na riṣyataḥ |

evā me prāṇa mā bibheḥ ||2||


yathā sūryaś ca candraś ca na bibhīto na riṣyataḥ |

evā me prāṇa mā bibheḥ ||3||


  1. As both the heaven and the earth do not fear, are not harmed, so, my breath (prāṇa), fear not


  1. As both the day and the night do not fear, are not harmed, so, my breath (prāṇa), fear not


  1. As both the sun and the moon do not fear, are not harmed, so, my breath (prāṇa), fear not

( W.D.Whitney [. ] with minor adds. of A.S.)


It is definitely neither physiological function that the breath stands here for, nor Prāṇa is implied as cosmic force. The prāṇa of the above lines is also vital, but its vitality is structured «around» man. To put it metaphorically, this is a small privatised piece of the gross and boundless Prāṇa

Hence the most comprehensive meaning of the word prāṇa can be correlated with energy as impersonal vital force. Which is quite apparent since man’s life and their respiration are obviously and undoubtedly interrelated.

Some later variants of prāṇa term use also associate it with vitality and impersonal sexuality, albeit within the body scope only. Here is a somewhat strange passage that we read in the text of Vajroli-yoga-śastra:


liṅge yonau tathā yaś cā prāṇāyāmān samabhyaset ||

śītalīkumbhakaṃ kuryāt vāmadakṣiṇayogataḥ ||8||

He who thus exercises in taking control of prāṇa-s in the phallus and vagina, may he duly perform kumbhaka and śītalī in compliance with right and left paths.

(After transl.into Russian by O. Nelina)


          Here the word prāṇāyāma may be confusing as it is commonly associated with breathwork, so one can hardly imagine doing the same in the phallus and vagina (liṅge yonau tathā). Yet if we recall the context of the treatise which dwells on control of sexual secretions we might see it is exactly the control of sexual energy called here prāṇa and not of breathing that the text goes about:


tatra vastu-dvayaṃ vakṣye durlabhaṃ yasya kasya cit |

kṣīraṃ caikaṃ dvitīyaṃ tu nārī ca vaśa-vartinī ||2||

I will further speak on two things not easy for attaining by whoever                       [tries]. The first one is milk (semen), the second one is a woman who             obeys.

 (After transl.into Russian by O. Nelina)


Prāṇa circulates within the body throughout the channels calls ī-s. This is a common motif. But in neither of classical texts have I found any reference to association between prāṇa and cakra-s.

There is another not quite obvious use of the term prāṇa which is typical of late texts on yoga. In the 4th chapter of Haṭha-yoga-pradīpikā, for instance, we find the following:


yadā saṃkṣīyate prāṇo mānasaṃ ca pralīyate |

tadā samarasatvaṃ ca samādhir abhidhīyate ||4.6||

As soon as destruction of prāṇa and dissolution of manas occurs, there [comes the state of] samarasatva which is the samādhi.


Without delving deep into the second part that we have discussed in the section on samādhi let us inquire on the agent and the reason of prāṇa destruction. Why does it happen and how can it help? The answer can be found in Jyotsna, Brahmananda’s classical commentary on this text. Here the destruction of prāṇa (as well as dissolution of manas) stands for citta-vtti-nirodha, i.e. prāṇa is equated with vtti. This, however, is not quite common and can be found in latest texts only.

Another essential context of the prāṇa term application is the correlation by the Taittirīya-upaniṣad of prāṇa with one of the ātman-s abiding within a man:

| tasmād vā etasmād anna-rasa-mayāt | anyo’ntara ātmā prāṇa-mayaḥ | tenaiṣa pūrṇaḥ | sa vā eṣa puruṣa-vidha eva | tasya puruṣa-vidhatām | anvayaṃ puruṣa-vidhaḥ | tasya prāṇa eva śiraḥ | vyāno dakṣiṇaḥ pakṣaḥ | apāna uttaraḥ pakṣaḥ | ākāśa ātmā | pṛthivī-pucchaṃ pratiṣṭhā | tad apy eṣa śloko bhavati ||2.2.1||

Different from and lying within this man formed from the essence of food is the self (atman) consisting of lifebreath, which suffuses that man completely. Now, he has the appearance of a man; so, corresponding to his manlike appearance, the self consisting of lifebreath assumes a manlike appearance. Of this self, the head is simply the out-breath; the right side is the inter-breath; the left side is the in-breath; the torso (atman) is space; and the bottom on which it rests is the earth.

( P. Olivelle [])


As we see, here the ātmān that consists of breath (ātmā prāṇa-mayaḥ) has a form and an inner structure assembled from various types of prāṇa-s that we will look at in the chapters to follow. And at the same time it is different from other ātman-s which express here the idea of both inner integrities and man’s successively apprehended self-perceptions: the anna-maya made of food, the mano-maya consisting of mind, the vijñāna-maya consisting of discernment and so on. One can easily notice this model to resemble – and probably to be the prototype of – the «subtle bodies» model which in fact is a common place of all esoteric traditions.

Now, let us recap the above. Prāṇa acts as a vital, natural, impersonal force which is pretty comparable with the energy in Greek sense. One can (and must) control it within the body. At the same time I have never come across any text mentioning eventual handing over and transfer of prāṇa to other people, or telling prāṇa to be something inherent in inanimates (but for the natural phenomena such as thunder which are by intuition treated as the animate ones) or abstract objects. Just like in no place have I encountered the idea of prāṇa attraction (gaining, absorbing), accumulation, or exchanging it for other goods.. We can assume this term to conceptualise the experience of sensing one’s vitality and vigor, including the sensation of recovering strength in the open, the feeling of health and sickness (in the self and in others) and regaining activity through breathing exercises. In European esotericism prāṇa corresponds to etheric energy, the etheric body, partially to animal magnetism and the archaeus of Paracelsus. Therefore the prāṇa-mayaḥ ātmā of the Taittirīya-upaniṣad can be conditionally correlated with the etheric or vital body.  Here, however, one should bear in mind the utmost entanglement of European esotericism terminology, so that some schools may apply the same terms in other contexts.

A common synonym for prāṇa is vāyu – the wind. In the scope of yogic treatises this word is used in absolutely identical contexts, and the two are often interchangeable within the ambit of one text.



It seems at first glance that the use of the term tapas is similar to that of prāṇa. Indeed, just like prāṇa, tapas also denotes certain impersonal primary force, the potential power of creation. In this sense we can find it in the hymns of Ṛgveda [86, 301]. It is associated with heat (the root √tap means «to be, or to make, hot or warm»), whereas the heat implied is of living, physiological nature. I have not seen any examples of the word usage in relation to inanimate objects or natural phenomena. Tapas is related with sexuality: at least it is exactly tapas that ascetics lose when they covet apsara-s. Yet this is where similarities come to an end. Unlike prāṇa, tapas is poorly structured (there is no ātmā which body is made of tapas), it can be accumulated, and even more – it is often handed over to other beings, both human and divinities, as a fee for some obtained goods and benefits. Tapas itself has never been viewed as a source of health and vitality. It is quite the contrary: the practice of its gaining, which is also referred to as «tapas», is inextricably linked to self-restraint and self-suffering by the agency of various ascetic performances like fasting, staying under the sun among fires and so on. One’s attainment of tapas is similar to Gurdjieff’s extra-exertion. While the root √tap has a number of additional meanings among which there are «to suffer pain», «to undergo penance», «to distress». The ascetics who have accumulated tapas and are referred to as tapasvin-s (verb. «those who have tapas») are never portrayed as people full of health and strength but on the contrary: we see them as stern and gaunt beings who often incinerate living objects around them (like plants, birds, men and demons). Tapas is often spent when a curse is articulated by such an ascetic. But at the same time tapas cleanses and purifies. This is how the Yoga-sūtra goes on this: 


kāyendriya-siddhir aśuddhi-kṣayāt tapasaḥ ||2.43||

As intense discipline (tapas) burns up impurities, the body and its senses become supremely refined. 

( Chip Hartranft)


Tapas itself does not motivate a person to any specific actions, but the fact of possessing it means the feasibility to fulfil them. Whereas the decision of their nature and orientation rests with the individual. Moreover, judging by myths, tapas has no ethical potential in it. None of furious and belligerent asura-s did turn into a gentle and compassionate creature after having committed feasts and accumulated tapas. Their temper remains the same, but the capabilities augment. Neither tapas brings wisdom and knowledge. The only mentioned attempt of gaining the knowledge of the Veda-s by exchanging it for tapas ended up in a curse put on the one who ventured it. 

Using the figurative language, we could say that tapas is a rampant, fiery twin of prāṇa. It has more to do with the spirit and its ability to curb the flesh than with the flesh proper. Tapas is something that circulates among sentient beings like men, Ṛṣi-s and divinities, while prāṇa is for all living beings in general.

At the same time tapas can be easily sensed and experienced. Any restrictive practices, be them fasting, celibacy or the vow of silence, cause at a certain stage a specific feeling of strength, heat and clarity. One really feels that every unnecessary word or unhealthy ingredient makes something essential go and get lost. Or on the contrary, feels the potential for active performance that can be infused into any conceived project.

In the framework of European esotericism the nearest synonym of the term tapas once again happens to be the etheric energy, but only some different aspect of it that lacks any adequate term to denote it. In the scope of everyday language we could correlate the term with one’s inner «burning», the sparkles of spirituality in a man etc. Still we must postulate that in general this aspect of inner experience has been rather poorly conceptualised by European esoteric circles. And given the progressive delicacy of the extremely mollycoddled  «civilised» man of today, their fear of suffering and trial, seems like no progress can be expected here.



The term śakti can be considered a quite legitimate referent of the word «energy» due to its morphological sense which is «power», «capacity», «ability» to do something. The word stems from the root √śak — «to be able, have power to effect» added by the primary suffix -ti which forms an abstract noun. Its English correspondence is -ty, so the translation is quite accurate. Since it is exactly the capabilities of a system, its ability to perform any action (work) that they call «energy» in modern usus.

But if we take a closer look at the term we will again see many nuances. First, we will find śakti to be the most personified notion among its colleagues. Being a feminine noun, it is used as a name of many goddesses, especially of Durgā. In Tantric philosophies this term is quite interchangeable with Prakṛti and Pradhāna of Sāṃkhyā. Second, unlike prāṇa and tapas, śakti in not homogeneous. Different traditions represent various śakti-s as types of energy that encourage man to different activities, and mention it as names of different Śakti Goddesses who personify various aspects of psyche and existence. Here is an example from Durgā-stotra, a treatise of philosophical and religious character:


yā devī sarva-bhuteśu śakti-rūpeṇa saṃsthitā

namas tasyai, namas tasyai, namas tasyai namo namaḥ


 My salutation to Goddess who is in the form of śakti present in all living           beings

yā devī sarva-bhuteśu buddhi rūpeṇa saṃsthitā,

namas tasyai, namas tasyai, namas tasyai namo namaḥ


yā devī sarva-bhuteśu nidrā rūpeṇa saṃsthitā,

namas tasyai, namas tasyai, namas tasyai namo namaḥ


The circularly repeated verses identify the image of the Goddess with śakti abiding in all living beings in the form of intellect (buddhi), sleep (nidrā), hunger, thirst, anger etc. This is a very long hymn containing an essential list of physiological and psychological states. 

Another example is the long listings of various śakti-s that we find in Mālinī-vijayottara-tantra and Ananda-lahari. As well as similar enumerations that we come across in Guhyasamāja-tantra and other texts on piṇḍa-sādhana (see the corresponding subsection in the section on cakra-s). Their common point is the fact that the names of many śakti-s are actually the notions of psyche states. Of them some would be considered positive in Western mentality, while others we would refer to as negative. But all these states are motivating, i.e. they incite man to certain activity.

Śakti can be passed on. The most obvious illustration of this is śaktipat, the ritual which translation is sometimes reduced to «initiation» while the morphology tells this to be the «transfer (drop down) of śakti» from teacher to a student. 

All above considerations allow us to correlate śakti with energy but at the same time clearly distinguish this category from prāṇa and tapas. To put it very roughly, śakti is some other type of energy. In terms of Western psychology I would refer it to the scope of personal motivations. Numerous śakti-s are the variety of one’s motives, needs and desires. They are śakti-s that are correlated with energy (or better say, energies) when we talk about cakra-s as energy centers.

When comparing it with the terms of modern Western esotericism I would relate śakti to the energy (energies) of the astral body which in fact are these very motives mentioned. At the same time this term is not to be confused with the astral body of Hermeticism and of Paracelsus teaching, as these are absolutely different notions.


Another term that we may quite well correlate with energy is tejas. The  list of its translation options is even more broad: from brilliance, light, heat and bright flame to magical power and passion in philosophy, the bright appearance of the human body and even semen virile. Whereas the root √tij that it stems from means «to endure», «suffer patiently» and even «to forgive». Seems like we are on the right track, while all these features are indeed associated with specific energy in a person. The energy that is at the same time different from the one related to prāṇa, śakti or tapas.

To specify the essence of the concept in the considered context I suggest we take three variants of the term usage that I think to be important. The first is the description, the characteristic of a person in possession of tejas. Which in the list of adjectives is not interchangeable with descriptions of external beauty but is rather the one that follows it as a part of the enumeration. Rather often have I come across portraits of male characters possessing tejas, and never a case of such being a woman (still, the corpus of Sanskrit texts it extremely vast, and maybe it is just that I have not yet encountered any). Moreover, tejasvin is an epithet often applied to heroes, katriya-s, and very rarely to brahmana-s. And I have never seen it mentioned in reference to vaiśya-s. Hence this term fits our description of a bright personality, a charismatic person etc.

Unlike tapas or puṇya, I have never seen a case describing tejas passed from one person to another. Another issue about tejas is that it can be correlated with an inanimate object, though an unusual one. These, for instance, are the words we come across in Guru-śiṣya-mantrа:


tejasvi nāvadhītam astu 

May that what we have studied be with tejas.


That is, not only man can possess tejas, but it can be inherent in knowledge as well. And in this sense it is also treated as a substance. 

Another variant of this word usage is encountered in yogic texts that recommend contemplation of a deity, yantra, an element of cakra, described as  one having tejas. Here is an example from the 6th section of the Gheraṇḍa-saṃhitā dedicated to the so called tejo-dhyāna which is traditionally translated as lustre- or fire-like contemplation (meditation):


kathitaṃ sthūla-dhyānaṃ tu tejo-dhyānaṃ śṛṇuṣva me |

yad-dhyānena yoga-siddhir ātma-pratyakṣam eva ca ||6.15||

[Gheranda said]: I have explained the gross contemplation. Listen now to the Light contemplation (tejodhyāna), (the) dhyāna by which the state of Yoga is attained and one’s Self (ātman) is perceived. 


mūlādhāre kuṇḍalinī bhujagākāra-rūpiṇī 

jīvātmā tiṣṭhati tatra pradīpakalikā-kṛtiḥ |

dhyāyet tejomayaṃ brahma tejo-dhyānaṃ tad eva hi ||6.16||

In the Mūlādhāra resides Kuṇḍalinī in form of a serpent. Jīvātmā abides there in the form of crest of the flame. Contemplate on the Brahma consisting of tejas. This is the flame-like (tejas) dhyāna.

bhruvor madhye manordhve ca yat tejaḥ praṇavātmakam |

dhyāyej jvālāvalī-yuktaṃ tejodhyānaṃ tad eva hi ||6.18||

Contemplate on the flame which is in the middle of the eye-brows above the Manas [cakra] and has the essence of pranava (Om). This is also the fire-like (tejas) contemplation dhyāna.


As we see, tejas in these practices can be interpreted as vizualization of light, rays, radiance or fire. A practice of similar kind is recommended in Tejo-bindu-upaniṣad that suggests the practitioner contemplates a shining dot (drop) in the heart cakra [200]. Тhe techniques of such kind, the meditations on a tejas-like or tejas-having object, are many in number. But what is the meaning, the essence of the lustre and glowing? Why cannot one focus on just a dot, or contemplate Brahman without radiance? And what is the link between the issue considered and the already specified meanings of the term tejas? I see the answer to be as follows: this meditation is different from serene, unemotional contemplation. It is more like meditation as emotional self-excitement. And the light here is essential not in and of itself but to the extent that it brings additional expression. Its role is similar to that of detailed descriptions of adornments on the contemplated images of deities, the recitation of extremely long lists of divine names, or meticulous drawing of minute attributes in numerous hands of Tibetan yidams. Since the times primordial light, fire, radiance have been not only of direct and actual, but also of emotional significance for man. Therefore the most logical correlation of tejas would be with a kind of emotional energy, an animated (but not vital) force, vehemence having the ability to touch hearts and melt the ice of pragmatism.



 Ojas is another and even more rare term. Its usage is more common for Ayurvedic texts, but one can sometimes find it in the treatises on yoga as well. It was yet in the Caraka-saṃhitā that they formulated the concept of ojas as a specific substance which is the source and the quintessence of person’s health:


hṛdi tiṣṭhati yac chuddhaṃ raktam īṣat-sapītakam| – ojaḥ śarīre saṃkhyātaṃ tan-nāśān nā vinaśyati ||17.74||

prathamaṃ jāyate hy ojaḥ śarīre’smiñ charīriṇām| sarpi-varṇaṃ madhu-rasaṃ lāja-gandhi prajāyate ||17.75||

The substance of white or red, slightly yellowish colour which resides in heart is known as ojas. The person dies if it is destroyed. In the body of living beings the ojas is produced first. This has the odor of ghee, taste of honey and smell of fried paddy.

(  P. Sharma [. ])


The Ayurvedic doctors of ancient times treated ojas as a certain substantial equivalent of the «health» category. As long as there is ojas, the body does function. When it lacks, man gets sick and dies. The Ayurveda-dīpikā which is a commentary on Caraka-saṃhitā postulates there are only eight drops of the «superior» ojas contained in the heart, and distinguishes it from the «fatty ojas» which amount is «half a handful». Just as it should be, ojas was associated with sexual energy and was said to be synthesised from retas, the «unutilized» seminal fluid. Excessive sexual activity diminishes ojas, while retention of semen has a counter effect and boosts its increase. Ojas is also destroyed (diminishes) by overwork, lack of sleep, by anxiety etc. The opposite is also true, that is, all these conditions result from destruction of ojas:


bibheti durbalo’bhīkṣṇaṃ dhyāyati vyathitendriyaḥ |

duśchāyo durmanā rūkṣaḥ kṣāmaś caivaujasaḥ kṣaye ||17.73||

When ojas is diminished, the person is fearful, weak, always worried, having disorders in sense organs, deranged lustre and mental ability, rough and emaciated.

(  P. Sharma [. ])


Of course it is not clear from this description whether Caraka considers ojas to be a kind of physical substance, in which case we are just dealing with naive concept of natural philosophy, or this ojas is of «energetic» nature, being thus different from things of material origin. According to Ayurveda-dīpikā it is the former that is the case. Moreover, the text postulates the specific role of ojas among other body components and elements (dhātu) asserting its primacy. In this it resembles the stem cells (sorry but I could not resist adding this fantastic speculation).

It is also curious that another Ayurvedic text, the Suśruta-saṃhitā, confidently states the equivalence between ojas and tejas:


… rasādīnāṃ śukrāntānāṃ dhātūnāṃ yat paraṃ tejas tat khalv ojaḥ… ||15.19.2||

Above [seven dhātu-s] commencing from rasa (the interstitial fluid) [and up to the seminal fluid], there is tejas, verily odjas.


Sure, at this level of natural philosophy development they may have not yet had such a distinct boundary between the material and the energetic. In any case there is an interesting hymn in the Atharvaveda (2.17 «For various gifts») in which the concept of ojas along with ayus — health and life span, and sahas – power, strength, were endowed with features of a substance and animated. Moreover, he who performed the hymn assumed the possibility of each mentioned element’ mystical handing over:


ojo ‘sy ojo me dāḥ svāhā |1||

saho ‘si saho me dāḥ svāhā ||2||

balam asi balaṃ dāḥ svāhā ||3||

āyur asy āyur me dāḥ svāha ||4||

śrotram asi śrotraṃ me dāḥ svāha ||5||

cakṣur asi cakṣur me dāḥ svāha ||6||

paripāṇam asi paripāṇaṃ me dāḥ svāha ||7||


  1. Force (ojas) art thou; force (ojas) mayest thou give me: hail (Svāha!).
  2. Power (sahas) art thou; power mayest thou give me: hail (Svāha!)
  3. Strength art thou; strength mayest thou give me: hail (Svāha!)
  4. Life-time art thou; life-time mayest thou give me: hail (Svāha!)
  5. Hearing art thou; hearing mayest thou give me: hail (Svāha!)
  6. Sight art thou; sight mayest thou give me: hail (Svāha!)
  7. Protection art thou; protection mayest thou give me: hail (Svāha!)


( W.D. Whitney [..] with minor amds.of A.S.)


 From the perspective of Chinese medicine ojas is most probably correlated with primordial qi, while the terminology of modern esotericism has no analogues to relate it to. But it has one for its antipode, the ama substance which expresses the idea of sickness. In addition to normalization of doṣa-s etc. the Ayurvedic treatment had the task of ama elimination. Therefore many cleansing procedures were recommended. I think that modern «slags» and «toxins» could be considered a good lexical match for ama, as they are what health nuts of today, each of them giving their own interpretation of this word,  try to remove from the body.



 Another category which is poorly known to modern practitioners yet  rather notable from the historical point is asu. According to R. Dandekar, a renowned Vedic scholar, this term means a certain magical force that permeates the world [278]. The term asura nowadays refers to the antagonists of gods (and in European languages is sometimes translated as «demon» which is of course a very rough analogue). In the Vedas, however, this term was used in relation to gods as well – like in case of Varuṇa, for instance. According to Dandekar, asura etymologically means «he who possesses asu», that is, force. In fairness, there is another explanation (nirukti) of the word given by Kauṇḍinya in the commentary on the Pāśupata-sūtra that tells asura to be «the snatcher of asu». Still this is a considerably late version.

The term asu is encountered in the Vedas not only in the name of asura-s but also independently in different contexts. In the Ṛgveda, for instance, they were the dogs of Yama called the «snatchers of asu». Some illustrative examples can be found in the Atharvaveda [11]. Among them is the hymn 5.30 To lengthen out some one’s life


āvatas ta āvataḥ parāvatas ta āvataḥ |

ihaiva bhava mā nu gā mā pūrvān anu gāḥ pitṝn asuṃ badhnāmi te                        dṛḍham ||5.30.1||

Thy nearnesses [are] nearnesses;

Thy distances nearnesses;

Be just here; go not now;

Go not after the former Fathers;

Thy life [asu] I bind fast.

( W.D. Whitney [..])

As we see, asu here is translated as «life».
            In this very sense the term asu is also encountered in the Bhagavad Gītā [31-33]:


aśocyān anvaśocas tvaṃ prajñā-vādāṃś ca bhāṣase |

gatāsūn agatāsūṃś ca nānuśocanti paṇḍitāḥ ||2.11||

For those who deserve no grief you have grieved [although] words of wisdom you speak. For the living and for the dead the wise grieve not.

( A.M.Sastry with minor amds.)


The words traditionally translated as «deceased» and «living» in the text are conveyed with the help of gatāsu and agatāsu which are verbatim «those whose asu has gone (gata)» or «has not gone (agata)». 


Another hymn of the Atharvaveda (7.2 Of Atharvan) suggests a specific context of the term usage:

atharvāṇaṃ pitaraṃ deva-bandhuṃ mātur garbhaṃ pitur asuṃ yuvānam|

ya imaṃ yajñam manasā ciketa pra ṇo vocas tam iheha bravaḥ ||7.2.1||


  1. Father Atharvan, god-relative, mother’s foetus, father’s spirit (asu), young, who understands (cit) with the mind this sacrifice – him mayest thou proclaim to us here, here mayest thou speak.

( W.D. Whitney [..])


While in some translation variants of the line asu is rendered as «life, or enlivening force», W. D. Whitney has interpreted it immediately as cited, thus more than implying its sexual and even masculine aspect. Yet in general the term denotes a force associated with life which unlike prāṇa is specifically human, not just biological. It could well claim to be another variant of energy, but unfortunately nothing more can be added due to very few references. 

As to yogic texts, in none of them have I encountered the term to be used independently.



Retas, śukra, bindu, bīja, virya, kṣīra — all these terms can denote male seed. And not only its explicit, obvious physical aspect, but its inherent energy as well. This energy can stream upwards along the channels and transform into more «subtle» types of energy (like ojas or tapas). While losing this energy may result in the loss of spiritual extra-abilities (siddhi-s) or even life — here one may recall there story of Minonāth and women of Kodolia.

Along with it, in the Indian natural philosophy of the body there were concepts dwelling on specific female substance that was also to be brought under control and then manipulated in a special way. This substance was often correlated with menstrual blood and was by analogy referred to as rakta or rajas. Another term that can be found, for instance, in the Dattatreya-yoga-śastra is āṅgirasa. Let me remind the quotation:


kṣīram āṅgirasaṃ ceti dvayor ādyaṃ tu labhate |

dvitīyaṃ durlabhaṃ puṃsāṃ strībhyaḥ sādhyam upāyataḥ |

yogābhyāsaratā strī ca puṃsā yatnena sādhayet ||140||

Kṣīra (verb. milk, but here it is the male semen implied) and āṅgirasa (female substance) – from these two (substances) the first one is [easily] gained. The second which is difficult to get a man must procure with the help of women using proper methods, while a woman passionate in practicing yoga should get [it] by effort with the help of a man.


 From this quotation we see it is exactly substances that are in question. Moreover, the female substance is gained through the effort of a man, probably in the process of caresses and coitus. In this sense it can be correlated with the energy of sexual arousal. Let me note that in no other text have I come across the term āṅgirasa.

Vajroli-yoga, a recently translated treatise, mentions sexual techniques that are most probably associated with preservation of this feminine substance. At all events, the text postulates the practices to result in non-cessation of monthly bleeding, that is, extension of the reproductive age and thus of life span in general:

tadā sṛtau rajo nāśaṃ na gacchati kadā cana |

mūlādhāre ca nārīṇāṃ sabinduṃ nādatāṃ vrajet ||26||

Then on the way monthly periods are never gone. In women in [their] mūlādhāra together with [male] semen the quality of sounding is gained.

(After translation into Russian by O. Nelina)


On the other hand the text suggests the practice of mixing male and female substances in woman’s womb or man’s body with further drawing of this mixture upwards. Considering the physiological infeasibility of this trick for either man or woman, we might assume they are not physical substances implied but rather certain types of «subtle» energy.


bhage raktena saha mīlitasya bindor ūrdhvaṃ nayanaṃ amarolī |
svadehe saraktasya kevalasya svabindor ūrdhvaṃ nayanaṃ sahajolīti vivekaḥ ||20||

[When] in the womb the female substance being mixed with semen is drawn upwards [this is] the amarolī. [When] in the own body one’s own semen mixed with female substance is drawn upwards [this is] sahajolī.  This is the distinction [between there techniques]. 

(After translation into Russian by O. Nelina)



I have already mentioned in the previous sections that citta often translated as «consciousness» or «mind» is not the same as consciousness in modern academic paradigm. Citta has much more to do with the term «attention» which in everyday language makes part of such expressions as «to  focus, or concentrate one’s attention», «to gain, or gather attention», «to catch attention», «scattered attention» (or better say «scattered mind»). We also remember that citta can be «bound» to an object, it can «leave» through the «body doors» and be retrieved by the agency of pratyāhāra. It can be scattered (kipta, viada) and composed (prasada). The «scattered» state of citta leads to impaired emotional states and psychosomatic problems (see the section on emotional bonds). In view of all mentioned contexts we might say citta is not just mind but rather a substantiated mind, that is, a description of sensing, experiencing one’s mind in terms usually applied to a substance. And in this sense it is exactly the citta that would be an adequate term for describing the substance that followers of many esoteric schools try to manage and control. For instance, such terms as «loss of energy» or «return of energy» (or, in this case, better say «recollect») actually refer to citta scattering and gaining back. The same is true of energy concentration on a cakra (certain place, specific area, or a situation), the more so that the Yoga-sūtra which is the source text of the mentioned practice dwells on concentration, focusing of citta.

Moreover, it is the control of citta that numerous actors’ practices of «working with energy» suggested by R. Steiner or Stanislavsky, like «radiation», «absorption» or «work with audience energy» [235], can be in fact correlated with. Although Stanislavsky erroneously believed this energy to be prāṇa. As to the techniques of Ramacharaka, they are also work with citta rather than prāṇa, as suggested by the word traditional meaning in the Indian culture [97]. 

All of the said can be also referred to manas, these terms being so close to each other that they were even interchangeable in the text of the Yoga-sūtra. These aspects have been discussed earlier in the section on Yoga as Control.



In the section on emotional bonds we have discussed the specifics of the Indian mind with its penchant for substantiation of ethical phenomena. Namely, the occurrence of the substances like dharma, adharma, puṇya, apuṇya, asrava-s etc. All these substances are also quite correlatable with «energy» since they carry potency for a certain event. As to their being attributed with features of a substance, here it comes as a natural attempt to heuristically estimate the scope of the upcoming troubles or one’s luck. In fact they are the listed energies implied when in the ambit of some modern schools terminology people speak about «positive» and «negative» energies. And here one can also see the problematic issue of substantiation which is nothing but a mental operation: it facilitates description, but does not promote understanding. You cannot «get rid of the negative attitude» by mere visualization of its mowing away, just as it is impossible to learn the temperature outside by visualising a thermometer with desired numbers on it.


The concept of five (and later even more) prāṇa-s is quite ancient. The first references to additional prāṇa-s can be found in the Taittirīya-upaniṣad and the Bhagavad-Gītā. Yet we have to admit that the essence of this concept varies intensely in different sources and Traditions, which brings a good lot of confusion in the minds of modern practitioners.

 Let me remind the reader that in addition to the afore discussed term prāṇa there are four others that the sources tell about, namely: āpana, samāna, vyāna and udāna. All these terms have been formed in the same way, that is, by complementing the root √an, which is «to breathe», with prefixes apa-, sam-, vi-, and ud- respectively. Here I would note that the term prāṇa proper has been formed similarly, with pra- as the added prefix.

 Having compared the descriptions and the contexts of the terms usage we can single out at least four variants of its understanding. As for the first one, we have already encountered it in the Taittirīya-upaniṣad, but I will take the liberty to quote it once again:

| tasmād vā etasmād anna-rasa-mayāt | anyo’ntara ātmā prāṇa-mayaḥ | tenaiṣa pūrṇaḥ | sa vā eṣa puruṣa-vidha eva | tasya puruṣa-vidhatām | anvayaṃ puruṣa-vidhaḥ | tasya prāṇa eva śiraḥ | vyāno dakṣiṇaḥ pakṣaḥ | apāna uttaraḥ pakṣaḥ | ākāśa ātmā | pṛthivī-pucchaṃ pratiṣṭhā | tad apy eṣa śloko bhavati ||2.2.1||

Different from and lying within this man formed from the essence of food is the self (atman) consisting of lifebreath [prāṇa], which suffuses that man completely. Now, he has the appearance of a man; so, corresponding to his manlike appearance, the self consisting of lifebreath assumes a manlike appearance. Of this self, the head is simply the out-breath [prāṇa]; the right side is the inter-breath [vyāna]; the left side is the in-breath [apāna]; the torso (atman) is space; and the bottom on which it rests is the earth.

( P. Olivelle [])

As we see, the five prāṇa-s here are structural components of a certain subtle body, the prāṇa-mayaḥ-kośa. There is a curious thing about these lines’ translation into Russian by A. Syrkin (which is quoted in the book original – trans. note) who, though being familiar with the later concept of five prāṇa-s, nevertheless opted to translate them as correlated with the [air] moving upwards and downwards within the body. While in the original lines of the Taittirīya-upaniṣad (and we see it in the translation by P. Olivelle – trans.note) various  prāṇa-s are differentiated by their localisation in the body upper, right and left parts. Another aspect to be noticed is the two senses of the term prāṇa usage in the Upaniṣad: the generalising term that we find in the prāṇa-mayaḥ-kośa compound, and the particular case when prāṇa is one of the five.

Another way of using the terms prāṇa and apāna can be encountered in the Bhagavad Gītā.

sparśān kṛtvā bahir bāhyāṃś cakṣuś caivāntare bhruvoḥ |

prāṇāpānau samau kṛtvā nāsābhyantaracāriṇau ||5-27||

yatendriyamanobuddhir munir mokṣaparāyaṇaḥ |

vigatecchābhayakrodho yaḥ sadā mukta eva saḥ ||5-28||

27-28. Shutting out all external contracts and fixing the sight between the eye-brows, equalising the out-going and the in-going breaths which pass through the nostrils, controlling the senses, mind and intellect, having moksha as his highest goal, free from desire, fear and anger, – the sage who ever (remains thus) is verily liberated

( A.M. Sastry)

 The context of the śloka 27 strongly indicates that prāṇa and apāna here are the names for inhalation and exhalation.

 Later texts, among them the Śāṇḍilya-upaniṣad, develop a very complex model of ten prāṇa-s which are not just localised in certain body parts but circulate throughout specific channels in mutual interaction, their primary association being that with physiological functions: 


prāṇa-apāna-samāna-udāna-vyānā nāga-kūrma-kṛkara-devadatta-dhanañjayā ete daśa vāyavaḥ sarvāsu nāḍīṣu caranti |1.4.12 

Prāṇa, apāna, samāna, udāna, vyānā, nāga, kūrma, kṛkara, devadatta and dhanañjayā — these ten vāyu-s are moving in all nāḍīs.


As we see, it is not prāṇa used here as a generalising term, but vāyu, the wind. The location of each listed prāṇa is not that obvious and has been probably formulated on the basis of empirical medical observations:


āsya-nāsikā-kaṇṭha-nābhi-pādaaṅguṣṭha- dvaya-kuṇḍaly adhaḥ ca ūrdhva-bhāgeṣu prāṇaḥ saṃcarati ।

The Prāṇa circulates in the mouth, the nostrils, the throat, the navel, the two big toes of the feet and in both parts of the kuṇḍali, the upper and the lower ones.

śrotrākṣi-kaṭi-gulpha-ghrāṇa-gala-sphig-deśeṣu vyānaḥ saṃcarati ।

The Vyāna circulates in the ears, the eyes, the hips, the ankles, the nose, the neck and the buttocks.

guda-meḍhroru-jānodara-vṛṣaṇa-kaṭi-jaṅghā-nābhy-gudāgny-agāreṣu apānaḥ saṃcarati ।
The Apāna circulates in the anus, the penis, the thighs, the knees, the belly, the testicles, the hip, the shanks, the navel, the intestines and the rectal fire (?). 

sarva-sandhisthaḥ udānaḥ ।

The Udāna has its place in all the joints.

pāda-hastayoḥ api sarva-gātreṣu sarva-vyāpī samānaḥ ।

The Samāna pervades the hands and the feet and all parts of the body.

The functions of prāṇa-s-vāyu-s described in the Śāṇḍilya-upaniṣad are mostly physiological:

tundasthaṃ jalam annaṃ ca rasādiṣu samīritaṃ tunda-madhya-gataḥ prāgastāni pṛthak kuryāt

…having mixed up the water and the food in the belly with the humours (rasa-s) of the body – the Prāṇa vital air which has reached the middle of the belly will separate them…


In this sense the vāyu of this text can be correlated with inner juices, ferments etc., but not in entirety. The section on prāṇa-s end up with the following passage: 


navabhir vyoma-randhraiḥ śarīrasya vāyavaḥ kurvanti viṇmūtrādi-visarjanam | 

niśvāsocchvāsa-kāsaś ca prāṇa-karmocyate |

viṇmūtrādi-visarjanam apāna-vāyukarma | 

hānopādāna-ceṣṭādi vyāna-karma | 

dehasyonnayanādikam udāna-karma | 

śarīra-poṣaṇādikaṃ samāna-karma | 

udgārādi nāga-karma| 

nimīlanādi kūrma-karma |

kṣut-karaṇaṃ kṛkara-karma | 

tandrā devadatta-karma | 

śleṣmādi-dhanaṃjaya-karma || 1.4.13 ||


The vital airs (vāyu-s) of the body bring about the expulsion of the faeces, urine and the like, through the nine evacuatory orifices.

Inspiration, expiration and coughing are said to be the work of the Prāṇa. 

The evacuation of the faeces, urine and the like is the work of there Apāna vital air. 

The acts of giving up, seizing and alike (probably an Ayurvedic termsused to denote certain physiological functions; not clear without commentaries – A.S.) are the work of the Vyāna

The carrying aloft and other such acts of the body is the work of the Udāna

The work of nourishment of the body is the work of the Samāna

Belching (vomiting) and the like is the work of the Nāga

Shutting the eyelids (winkling) and the like is the work of the Kūrma. 

Producing hiccup (inciting hunger)  is the work of the Kṛkara. 

Yawning is the work of the Deva-datta

Producing phlegm and the like is the work of the Dhanaṃjaya. 

(Transl. By T.R.Śrīnivāsa Ayyagār  […] with minor amds.made after the translation into Russian by A.S.)

The functions of prāṇa in this recital are no longer reduced to internal secretions, they are rather systems of neural impulses. Although, as we have seen on the example of indriya-s, the exact correlation between Indian and Western concepts is a problematic issue. 

Unlike the Śāṇḍilya-upaniṣad, the Gorakṣa-yoga-śāstra relates prāṇa and apāna with subtle nectars flowing within the body. These nectars are physiological to the extent of the body juices described above, but they are associated with both longevity and sexuality

arogī ca bhave(d)devī prāṇāpānaika yogataḥ ||12||

… Oh goddess, man becomes free from disease by means of proper joining prāṇa and apāna into one.


prāṇaś candramayo jñeyo’ pānaḥ sūryamayas tathā |
anayoḥ saṃgamaṃ sadhyaṃ rajobījasya sādhanaṃ ||13||

Let prāṇa be known as consisting of lunar [nectar], while apāna as consisting of the solar one. One should aim at the union of these two [energies] which is the mastery of the male and female seed.


Whereas the methods of prāṇa-s control are not prāṇāyāma-s but bandha-s:


oḍḍīyānaṃ dṛḍhaṃ bandhaṃ kṛtvā recaka-pūrakau |
samānāpānayor yogaḥ prāṇāpānaika-yogataḥ ||14||

When oḍḍīyāna-bandha has been firmly accomplished, the inhalation and exhalation [become] the unification of samāna and apāna, because of the [previous] joining of prāṇa and apāna into one. 

The location of prāṇa-s is much more simple than the one of the Śāṇḍilya-upaniṣad. In addition there appears the concept of their specific arrangement:


vāyoḥ prasādhanād eva āyur-vṛddhi dine dine |
hṛdiḥ (hṛdi) prāṇo guḍe’pānaḥ samāno nābhi-saṃsthitaḥ ||21||

udānaḥ kaṇṭha-deśe ca vyānaḥ sarva-śarīragaḥ |
sthāna-vāyuñ ca saṃkṣipya vasthi-deśe punaḥ punaḥ ||22||

Due to accomplishment of vāyu one’s health improves day by day. 

There is prāṇa [energy] in the heart, apāna is in the rectum, and the place of samāna abiding is the navel. Udāna [is located] in the area of the throat, and vyāna circulates through the entire body, bringing together again and again the wind-energy in the abdomen from their locations.

(After translation into Russian by T. Prykhodko)

 And finally there is one more description of the five prāṇa-s essence, the ultimate physiologization of the Śāṇḍilya-upaniṣad model, that I have learnt in a private talk from a yoga practitioner who dwells in a cave in the vicinity of Rishikesh. From his viewpoint the five prāṇa-s are the five types of quite physical airs (or rather gases) present in different body parts. The prāṇa is the air in the lungs, the apāna is the intestinal gases etc..


Summing up the above I would say that the concepts of numerous prāṇa-s-vāyu-s have incorporated a lot of various ideas of mystical, naturally-philosophical, medical, alchemical etc. origin. This topic deserves a more detailed and scrupulous study. While in applied terms it is suggested that the practitioners clarify the context of the terms usage before they set down to practice.