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

Prāṇa

by Atul Mulji

Prāṇa. A word you might have heard in a yoga class. And maybe it’s not very clear what the term means, except the idea that it is something related to the breath that you need to control in yoga, mainly through some exotic breathing practices called prāṇāyāma.

 

Hopefully this article will offer you an insight and introduce you to the concept of prāṇa.

So what exactly is prāṇa?

 

Prāṇa is life force, vital energy, cosmic energy of life, the primal force of all natural phenomena, the vibration that moves matter and allows you to be alive and function in this world. The term is used to refer to all the manifest energy in the universe, present in both living beings and inanimate objects. What is important to know is Prāṇa is all-pervading in Nature.

 

Abundance of prāṇa gives Happiness, Health and knowledge. Lack of prāṇa brings depression, stress and darkness. When prāṇa departs from the physical body, death comes. So we could say that prāṇa is life itself.

 

Swami Vivekananda says, “Everything you see in the universe, everything that moves, acts or is alive, is a manifestation of Prāṇa“. Prāṇa is of utmost importance to humans. It provides our body, mind and soul with life-giving energy to  invigorate us, thus protecting our cellular structure. Even though we are constantly surrounded by Prāṇa and unconsciously absorb it most of the time anyway, we can increase our health, vitality and joy of life by purposely bestowing prana upon ourselves.

Yogis may wish to gain a greater understanding of prāṇa in order to be able to control and extend their own energy level. The main purpose to control prāṇa is, however, to control the mind. The monkey mind, as some like to address it. Yogis found a very close and intimate relation between mind and prāṇa , as is clearly mentioned in the Haṭha Yoga Pradīpikā through the following verse (HYP 2.2)

            cale vāte calaṁ cittaṁ niścale niścalaṁ bhavet |

yogī sthāṇutvam āpnoti tato vāyuṁ nirodhayet

 

           “when the breath wanders the mind becomes unsteady

                       When the breath is still, so is the mind”

Further, Prāṇa is often understood in relation to the physical body and its health. It is thought that when someone is well and balanced, prāṇa flows freely through the body. However, when there are blockages or imbalances, they may manifest as physical or emotional issues.

In the human body, prāṇa is said to flow through energy channels called nāḍī. There are supposed to be 72000 such channels or nāḍī out of which 3 are considered the main ones and the most important. These are called idā, piṅgalā and suṣumṇā.

Idā is referred to as the cooling/lunar channel, activates the parasympathetic autonomic nervous system, responsible for the rest /digest function in the body. The piṅgalā nāḍī  is the heating/solar channel, activates the sympathetic nervous system and is responsible for the survival reflex, the fight /flight mechanism. Suṣumṇā is the central channel flowing inside the spine and is responsible to carry the kuṇḍalinī śaktii all the way to the crown cakra, leading to samādhi and liberation of the soul.

The breath is the main vehicle of Prāṇa. Yogis may use several techniques of prāṇāyāma to absorb prāṇa and enhance their energy levels. Performing yoga āsana can also unblock the nāḍī thus helping prāṇa to flow more freely.

Prāṇa is abundant in sunlight, in clean air with high oxygen content, in pure spring water, seawater and in natural food. In certain places in nature, we find a particularly high-density of Prāṇa. This is why after a stay at a lake or seaside, in the forest, or in the mountains, we feel rejuvenated and recharged. Maybe it’s not a coincidence after all that the European yoga  congress happens high up in the mountains in Zinal.

We can recharge ourselves with Prāṇa through Prāṇāyāma (“breathing exercises”), its main function being “control and expansion of Prāṇa“. Our consciousness also plays a crucial role here. Through the power of thoughts, we can stimulate and increase the Prāṇa flow in our body. Swami Sivananda says, “The subtle Prāṇa is closely related to consciousness.”

It is the subtle underlying energy that animates us, not the actual air/oxygen we breathe in. The mind and the prāṇa have a very close connections, and in order to bring peace to the mind we must watch and regulate our breath. When agitated, we breathe heavily (short and shallow).

Prāṇa is not mind; it is the link between body and mind. By controlling the mind one can control the prāṇa, and by controlling the prāṇa, one can control the mind. But since it’s very difficult to control the “monkey mind” the yogis opted for the latter.

 

We shall cover in more detail about what is prāṇa, where does prana live in the body, what are various types of prāṇa and their functions, what is prāṇāyāma and introduce various prāṇāyāma practices to experience how prāṇa affects and is affected by the mind during the Zinal yoga congress.

Oṃ Śāntiḥ.

Atul Mulji