This text was written for the Zinal Congress of the EUY in 2024

Prāṇa actualization techniques

by Iryna Sikorska

Yoga texts most often use the term “prana” (sanskr. प्राण, prāṇa – “breath” or “vitality”)  in the following contexts:

 

Prāṇa, as a universal and pervasive proto-energy, weaves the fabric of biological life on Earth, permeating  every living being and binding all that is vital in our universe (Vedic texts, “Maitrī Upaniṣad”).

 

Prāṇa, as the energy that humans absorb during breathing and distribute throughout the pranic body via the system of energy channels. Pranayama, therefore, is considered the art of controlling breathing. It is also seen as a way to influence the movement of prana in the body and control vital and emotional states. These ideas are found in various texts such as “Svacchanda Tantra”, “Haṭha Yoga Pradīpikā”, “Śiva saṃhitā”, “Yoga Sutras of Patanjali” and “Yoga Kuṇḍalini Upaniṣad”.

 

Prāṇa, as a component of the “prāṇamayakośa” – one of the subtle energy bodies of a person. In this context,  the differentiation of subtle bodies is mentioned, which can be actualized by a person in the process of yoga practice. These include the “annamayakośa” – the most tangible physical body, the “prāṇamayakośa” – the body of prana, the “kāmamayakośa” – the emotional or astral body, the “manomayakośa” – the mental body… (“Taittirīya Upaniṣad”, “Sarvasāra Upaniṣad”, “Śāradā Tilaka Tantra”)

 

Prāṇa, as “vāyu” (wind), depending on its type, distributed  in different areas of the pranic body and regulates various physiological functions of the physical body. Among the ten types of prāṇa(s), there are five major ones: “prāṇavāyu”, “apānavāyu”, “samānavāyu”, “udānavāyu”, “vyānavāyu” and five minor ones: “nāga”, “kūrma”, “kṛkara”, “devadatta”, “dhanaṃjaya”. (“Gheraṇḍa saṁhitā”, “Gorakṣa Paddhati”, “Jñāna Sankalini Tantra”, “Shandilya Upaniṣad”)

 

Considering the abstractness of these contexts and the frequent metaphorical nature of the description, how  can  the category of prāṇa be made understandable and objectively perceptible – if we speak about physical or practical aspects that can be felt or observed for modern practitioners?

 

I would like to focus on the topic of prāṇa, which forms the prāṇamayakośa – the subtle body, also termed “pranic”, “vital” or “etheric”. I would also like to mention specific techniques and provide examples, which will enable practitioners to distinguish precisely the sensations of prana from a wide range of psychosomatic experience.

 

  1. Let us begin with the visualization of prāṇa:

We can clearly observe the outline of a human pranic field against a light, uniform background, resembling a halo or haze around the contour of the physical body. These observations are most evident in twilight or dim lighting conditions.

 

If one slightly blurs their vision and views the individual  as a whole, a transparent, gray pranic silhouette will be visible along the periphery of their body. This silhouette will shift and alter with every movement and change of position of the individual being observed.

 

If one employs this technique to observe various individuals,  it is easy to notice that the size, shape, and composition of each individual’s pranic field are entirely unique.

 

  1. A slightly more nuanced, yet objective, observation allows us to discern the difference in the quantity and quality of pranic energy in the same person when they are healthy versus when they are sick. We can observe a change in their vitality:

 

If a person is tired or exhausted, we have a clear feeling that “some kind of their energy” has decreased. People who are capable of this type of actualization may also sense the onset of illness, even in the absence of obvious symptoms or physical changes. It’s as if someone who is starting to get sick is losing some of their vitality.

 

In the extreme, this sensation can be experienced when looking at a dead person’s body. We somehow unmistakably understand that there is no longer life in it. What is missing in the lifeless body is something essential and utterly objective—this is prāṇa.

 

If we look at someone who has had a good night’s sleep, practiced hatha yoga, had a nutritious meal, taken a walk, we can feel that something “good and pleasant” has increased in them.

 

Something that is difficult to put into words, but can be associated with vitality, youth and energy. We might describe our experienced feelings  in metaphors,  saying that the person seems to “bursting with health”, has  a “country-fresh look” that makes them look “as fresh as a daisy”.

 

  1. We can talk about the actualization of the boundaries of our pranic field, as well as about our willingness to open or keep them closed when communicating with other people:

 

When we approach an interlocutor, we choose a comfortable distance for communication. Initially, we take some time to establish a boundary between ourselves, often unconsciously deciding how deep we want to enter the other person’s space and how much they should engage with us.

 

Interestingly, with closer contact, these boundaries begin to soften, and we become more willing to let ourselves into each other’s space. Alternatively, in a conflict situation, the pranic field thickens and we erect a more tangible “wall” between us. Objectively, in each of the described cases, we may not even physically touch each other, yet the boundary between us is constantly shifting, and the sensation of entering our space can be intensely felt.

 

  1. Another way to experience the pranic aspect of yourself is to actualize bodily and etheric senses with a sudden increase in speed or an abrupt stop:

 

Our pranic body is somewhat more inert than the physical body during movement, which can create the sensation of an “elevator effect”. When the elevator comes to a stop, a portion of our body seems to catch up with the rest, as if something had arrived on our desired floor with a brief delay.

 

The well-known “treadmill effect” provides a similar experience – after a prolonged period of exercise on the treadmill, upon dismounting and starting to walk, some parts of the body may still feel as if they are in motion.

 

While riding amusement park attractions with fast acceleration or sudden stops, and rapid soaring ups and downs, we absolutely objectively experience subtle sensations of certain parts of ourselves “slowing down” and “not keeping up”.

 

  1. In haṭha-yoga, there are various techniques that help to actualize and redistribute prāṇa energy in the prāṇamayakośa:

 

At the same time, we are working on constructing a system of tension lines in asanas, recreating through bodily sensations a complex pattern of the energy channels in the pranic body.

 

An essential skill at this stage is the ability to maintain concentration along the energy channels, to move prana using breathing, and redistribute it by controlling and changing the tone of the entire body and its individual parts in three-dimensional space.

 

When working with prāṇa in āsana correctly, we experience significant psychosomatic effects. These may include sensations of heat spreading throughout the body, tingling sensations, feelings of warmth flowing through tension lines, and other specific sensations that alter the perception of the body. Body parts may feel larger or smaller than their physical size, or they may be perceived as longer or shorter than they actually are.

 

Thus, in order to identify the concept of prāṇa in the context of learning and practicing yoga, we can employ a variety of different techniques for its actualization.