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Prana: the Universal Life Force

In the physical body we have two types of energies. One is known as prana and the other is known as mind or consciousness. Every organ of the body therefore has two channels supplying energy. Modern physiology describes two types of nervous systems – the sympathetic and the parasympathetic, and these two nervous systems are interconnected in each and every organ of the body. In the same way, every organ is supplied with the energy of prana and the energy of mind.

Prana is a Sanskrit word constructed of the syllables pra and an. ‘an’ means movement and ‘pra’ is a prefix meaning constant. Therefore, prana means constant motion. This constant motion commences in the human being as soon as he is conceived in his mother’s womb. Prana is therefore a type of energy responsible for the body’s life, heat and maintenance.

Nadis, Chakras and the distribution of Prana

According to yoga and the science of kundalini, prana is supposed to originate in pingala nadi. Within the framework of the spinal cord, there are three channels known as nadis. One is called ida, another pingala, and the third sushumna. Ida nadi represents the mental energy, pingala represents prana or pranic energy and sushumna represents spirit or spiritual awareness. These three nadis originate in mooladhara chakra, situated at the perineum or cervix.  Pingala nadi flows to the right from mooladhara and continues to cross ida at each chakra all the way up to ajna.

There are six chakras through which pingala nadi passes. The first one is mooladhara chakra from which it originates. The second is swadhisthana where the nadi crosses to the left. The third is manipura chakra where the nadi crosses to the right. And the fourth is anahata where the nadi crosses to the left. The fifth is vishuddhi where the nadi crosses to the right and the sixth is ajna where the nadi terminates from the right. Similarly, ida nadi also crosses at each chakra but in the reverse order.

Pingala nadi is the distributing channel for prana in the body, and from each chakra the pranas are disseminated to every organ of the body. From swadhisthana the pranic energy is distributed to the genito-urinary system. Manipura chakra supplies prana to the digestive system and anahata supplies the respiratory and cardiovascular systems. From vishuddhi, distribution takes place to the ears, eyes, nose and throat, and ajna chakra is the distributor of energy through which man’s brain is fed.

Prana is not merely a philosophical concept; it is in every sense a physical substance. The inner prana can be stimulated by the practice of pranayama and thereby increased to a greater quantum. The brain requires maximum prana, and for the practice of meditation, it needs an increased supply. It is for this reason that one practices pranayama before commencing one’s meditation practice. If one is not able to supply plenty of pranic fuel to the brain, the mind becomes very restless and disturbed.

Conscious and unconscious breathing

The brain can be split into two parts- the frontal brain and the posterior brain. The posterior brain is the instinctive brain which we have inherited through animal incarnations. The frontal brain is the seat of total consciousness. When one breathes without awareness, the breath is registered in the posterior brain, but when one is aware that one is breathing and consciously witnessing the whole process, then it is registered by the conscious brain, the frontal brain.

When one practices pranayama, the pranas are stimulated in the lower region of the body, but one must have a means of forcing the pranic energy up. Somehow, one has to create a negative force which will push the pranic energy up through the spinal cord. For this reason pranayama should be practiced in coordination with specific bandhas. The three bandhas which are incorporated into the practice of pranayama are jalandhara bandha, uddiyana bandha and moola bandha. They create a negative force like the ejecting force used to extract water from a well. There are two forces used for pumping water- the sucking force and the ejecting force. When we practice pranayama with the bandhas, we put an ejecting force into action.

So, through pranayama one generates prana in the lower region of the body, and then in order to conduct it up to the brain one must first practice moola bandha, then uddiyana bandha and finally jalandhara bandha. Moola bandha is contraction of the perineum, uddiyana bandha is contraction of the abdominal muscles and jalandhara bandha is the locking of the chin against the sternum. Prana is then conducted to the brain with the help of the circulatory system.

Uniting with the universal prana

Prana is not only the life force, it is also a very powerful healing force in the body that can even eradicate the most difficult physical problems. Moreover, the prana within us is a part of the universal prana.

In order to tune oneself to this universal prana, one must be able to reach a high state of meditation. When one controls the breath, the mind is also controlled and the awareness becomes one-pointed. That one-pointed awareness is comprehended in the mid-eyebrow center where the point is seen as a light. The light grows in intensity and becomes bigger and bigger until it completely envelops one’s consciousness. Then there is illumination all around, and at this point one can connect oneself with the universal prana.

In my practice, I do kapalabhati , anulom vilom and bhramari pranayama. Before pranayama practice, I feel lack luster and may wake up with low to medium energy and after each one I feel different energies within.

Kapalabhati: For me the inhalation and exhalation feels like cleaning the frontal air pathways and also feels like a lot of toxins got exhaled out of the body.

Anulom Vilom: I find that initially when I start this exercise, the inhalation and exhalation breadth and not even but after this pranayama, I have more even breadth from either nostril and my body feels energized from within.

Bhramari: With this pranayama I feel that the head and nasal tract are opened from the sound of ‘OM’ and my whole body feels energized.


The 8-Fold Path of Yoga

Yama Niyama Asana Pranayama Pratyahara Dharna Dhyana Samadhi
Restraints of Negative Behavior Observance of Positive Behavior Yoga Postures Breathing and energy Sensory Mastery Concentration Meditation Perfect Concentration
Ahimsa (Non-violence)
Satya (truthfulness)
Asteya (Moderation)
Brahmacharya (Non-stealing )
(Aparigraha Non-greed
Sauca (Purity)
Santosha (Contentment)
Tapah (Discipline)
Svadhyaya (Self-study)
Pranidhana (Resignation to a higher reality)