What Is Prana?
Prana has many levels of meaning from the breath to the all pervading energy of consciousness itself. The Sanskrit term prana is derived from pra-, a prefix meaning before, and an, a verb meaning to breathe, to blow, and to live. Prana refers to what nourishes a living thing, but it has also come to mean the action that brings the nourishment in. Depending on our living entity it could be sunlight, oxygen, food, sleep, or thoughts. Consider prana as the principle of energy exhibited in all living things, which distinguishes them from a lifeless thing. It is found in all forms of life, from the amoeba to human being—from the most elementary form of plant life to the highest form of animal life. Prana is an all pervading universal energy.
Still confused? Consider prana to oxygen for a moment. In the same way that oxygen is an all-pervading agent that keeps life existent on Earth, the same is said for prana, but on a universal level. It’s a subtle energy. We simply cannot wrap our heads to the concept, because, firstly, it is not visible to our senses, and secondly, because we are immersed in the pranic field of energy like a fish is immersed in water.
Let us look deeper…
How We Engage With Prana: The Five Koshas
The human body engages with Prana in various forms: solids, liquids, gas, and light. From the pranic foods we eat, to the sunlight we recieve, to the thoughts we think, and to the depths of our breath, all of these forms are considered “koshas” that transmit and fuel the human body with either positive, negative, or zero pranic energy. Everything within the universal energy is a vibration. Therefore how the quality in how we recieve Pranic energy will influence how we respond, how we feel, and how our energy level is on that particular day.
The human being consists of five koshas or sheaths from the physical to subtle and causal principles:
- Annamaya kosha – food – physical – the five elements
- Pranamaya kosha – breath – vital – the five pranas
- Manomaya kosha – impressions – outer mind – the five kinds of sensory impressions
- Vijnanamaya kosha – ideas – intelligence – directed mental activity
- Anandamaya kosha – experiences – deeper mind – memory, subliminal and superconscious mind
How We Digest Prana – Prana(inward) & Apana (outward/downward)
What goes in must come out. This is a fundamental law of existence. The ancient yogis discovered that one primary Prana could be further divided into five energetic components called the vayus (the movement or directions of Prana in the body). In this article we will focus only on Prana Vayu and Apana Vayu:
Prana Vayu is the yogic concept that reflects inward movement of Prana. Prana, literally the “forward moving air,” moves inward and governs reception of all types from the eating of food, drinking of water, and inhalation of air, to the reception of sensory impressions and mental experiences. It is propulsive in nature, setting things in motion and guiding them. It provides the basic energy that drives us in life. Apana Vayu reflects downward/outward movement of Prana. Apana refers to the waste that’s being eliminated as well as the action of elimination. It governs the elimination of the stool and the urine, the expelling of semen, menstrual fluid, and the elimination of carbon dioxide through the breath. On a deeper level it rules the elimination of negative sensory, emotional and mental experiences.
These two fundamental yogic terms—Prana and Apana—encompass the essential functions of life on every level, from cell to organism… what goes in must go out.
How To Improve One’s Pranic Energy
The Vedas say that mortals eat food with Apana, while the Gods eat food with Prana. The mortals are the physical tissues. The immortals are the senses. The right food sustains the Apana Vayu, keeping our digestion and microbiom healthy, while, the right impressions support Prana Vayu. Everything is energy. Therefore, to increase pranic energy we must extract and attract positive prana in the way that we breathe, eat, and think.
Pranic Healing Food – Yoga emphasizes a vegetarian diet rich in Prana or foods full of the life-force and a mind rooted in ethical values like truthfulness and non-violence. An impure, toxic or disturbed body and mind cannot realize the higher Self. Furthermore, understanding which foods provide positive, zero, and negative prana is a fundamental to improves ones positive pranic energy.
Pranayama – Breathing practices work with Pranamaya Kosha. While all Pranayama aids in this regard, the most important is alternate nostril breathing, which aids in the balance of the right and left Prana currents. According to the Yogic system the body and all of its channels follow a right or left predominance. The right side of the body is masculine or solar in nature. The left side is feminine or lunar in nature. The left or the lunar nadi, is Kapha or water predominant, and increases energy on the left side of the body. It aids in such activities as rest, sleep, relaxation. The right or solar nadi is Pitta or fire predominant and increases energy on the right side. It aids in such activities as digestion, work, and concentration.
Mantra & Meditation – Color and sound (music) are important ways to direct pranic energy in the mind. The best technique is mantra, particularly single syllable or bija mantras like OM, which create vibrations that can help direct energy into the subconscious. If deciding to take up a mantra sadhana, ensuring that you stick to one main mantra for your Japa practice. It is highly encouraged that you are to be initiated your mantra for the japa. Meditation itself, creates space in the mind. When the mind is brought to a silent and receptive condition, expansion occurs, creating space for new energy to come into being.
Indeed as the Vedas say we are all under the control of Prana. Prana is said to be the Sun that imparts life and light to all and dwells within the heart as the Self of all creatures. Prana in us makes us live and allows us to act. As yogi’s we must be the alchemist when it comes to Prana, extracting prana in all of its forms to create positive transformation and healing of our being. This is one of the great secrets of Yoga.