THEORY OF PRANA
Prana is the vital life force, the energy that animates the entire manifest world. Prana exists everywhere and can simply transform from one form to another, it is the life-sustaining force present in all living beings and the energy that moves all natural processes of the universe.
Often related to the breath, prana is much more than the air we breathe. It is the force that gets things moving, controlling all the biological processes in the human body. Prana is responsible for our health and the integration of our physical, mental and spiritual self.
As long as prana exists in the body, life exists. No prana, no life.
The breath is our main source of prana yet breathing is just an entrance to the world of prana and its manifestation in the body. Prana regulates all vital functions in our system through five energetic expressions called vayus. Each of them governs different areas of the body and different physical and subtle functions:
Prana-vayu – Responsible for respiration and the circulatory system
Apana-vayu – Controls the elimination of urine, feces, semen and menstruation.
Samana-vayu – Responsible for digestion and reparation of cells.
Udana-vayu – Control of vocal cords, exchange of air, intake of food and deglutition.
Vyana-vayu – Permeates the whole body and it is responsible for the circulation of blood and voluntary movements, it assists all other pranas.
According to Yoga and Ayurveda, all physical problems are caused by prana imbalances. They start at energetic levels before manifesting in the physical body. To understand better how this happens we have to explore the subtle body and the relation of prana, nadis and chakras.
THE SUBTLE BODY
The five major pranas make the pranamaya kosha and can not be seen or touched as they are part of the subtle body – an energetic layer that extends beyond the physical body.
The yogic anatomy system describes the existence of three bodies: physical, subtle and causal, divided into five interrelated sheaths of awareness through which our experience is filtered, they are known as the pancha kosha.
Annamaya kosha or physical layer (physical body)
Pranamaya kosha or energy layer (subtle body)
Manomaya kosha or mental layer (subtle body)
Vijñanamaya kosha or reason layer (subtle body)
Anandamaya kosha or layer of the unconscious (causal body).
The subtle body is divided in three layers. The pranamaya kosha is our energetic layer responsible for connecting the physical body with other layers of experience, holding together our body and mind. This layer is composed of prana and it is also home of our chakra system and the nadis.
Prana nourishes the body and mind through a network of subtle energy channels called the nadis.
Although they sustain our physical and energetic system, we cannot physically detect or be sure of the exact number and location of nadis yet the 72,000 is a commonly accepted amount according to the yogi scriptures. They are all rooted in the kanda or “bulb” located above the muladhara chakra (root chakra), situated in the bottom of the spine.
Among all nadis, three are considered the most important: Sushumna, Ida and Pingala. Ida and Pingala are the left and right channels and Sushumna is the central channel.
IDA & PINGALA
Ida and Pingala swirl up from the base of the spine to the head and intersect on our main energy centers on the way, the famous chakras, ending in the left and right nostrils respectively.
They are the poles of opposites and represent our dualities. Ida is our lunar feminine side, the cooling channel, related to our parasympathetic nervous system and our right side of the brain. Our left channel is associated with relaxation, resting, comfort, introversion and restorative nourishment. Pingala is our solar masculine side, the heating channel, related to the sympathetic nervous system and the left side of the brain. Our right channel is associated with activity, rationality, dynamism, extroversion and efficiency.
Sushumna Nadi is our innermost nadi and the most important of all. It goes up the body in the spinal cord, originating on the muladhara chakra (root chakra) and ending at the sahasrara chakra (crown chakra). It’s our direct channel to the unified field of consciousness and it connects us to the source of all existence.
When prana is flowing without restrictions within the sushumna nadi we are able to transcend the body and merge with the universal awareness, and experience known as the Kundalini awakening.
Kundalini is a powerful energy concentrated on the base of the spine, also referred as the “Serpent Power”, it is typically coiled in a dormant state blocking prana to flow up through the central nadi.
While Sushumna remains blocked by this energy we have a limited perception of the world, experiencing it through the duality of Ida and Pingala, caught up in a vision of right or wrong, good and bad, masculine and feminine. When Kundalini rises up to the crown chakra it opens our main connection with the universal awareness enabling us to experience our true vastness, a vision of unity and ecstatic bliss. For this to happen all our chakras must be balanced.
Chakras are vortexes of life force at specific areas of the body which control the circulation of prana. The number of chakras varies among traditions and philosophies, but the model of the seven main chakras in the spinal cord is the most accepted these days. They are:
- Root Chakra (Muladhara)
- Sacral Chakra (Swadhisthana)
- Solar Plexus Chakra (Manipura)
- Heart Chakra (Anahata)
- Throat Chakra (Vishuddha)
- Third-Eye Chakra (Ajna)
- Crown Chakra (Sahasrara)
Each chakra is a switch that controls certain patterns of behaviour and relates to different physiological, emotional and mental features. When they are balanced, prana can flow freely enabling us to express greater qualities and achieve higher consciousness.
THE RELATION OF PRANA, NADIS AND CHAKRAS
Prana, nadis and chakras are closely related to each other and work together in our subtle system. Prana is the energy, nadis the pathway and chakras the epicentres of energy flow.
One of my teachers, Master Santhosh Kumar from Yogadarshanam, cleverly compared their correlation with an electric system; Prana can be considered as electricity and for it to flow it needs a pathway or wires which in our body would be the nadis. To control this electrical system we need switches and regulators, that would be the chakras.
Just like a house with electrical problems will not function properly, the same happens in our body, when prana is kept from flowing freely through the subtle body, our system will be disturbed, causing imbalances in our physical and mental processes.
Therefore cultivating a balanced flow of energy is essential to have a healthy life. This state of equilibrium in our subtle and physical body can be achieved through yoga practices such as asana (yoga postures), pranayama (breathing exercises) and meditation.
A FINAL THOUGHT
According to Patty Townsend from Embodyoga, to keep our nadis purified and radiant not only we must have a nourishing lifestyle and diet but also a compassionate approach to life. She mentions ‘our mindset strongly affects the process of toning, balancing and cleaning the subtle nervous system’. Additionally, our yoga practice highly affects the condition of the nadis. A practice full of self-hate, comparison, judgment or a hard attempt to get fit won’t help to purify our subtle channels. A caring and kind attitude towards our practice is necessary to clear and balance this delicate system.
So remember to bring love to your yoga practice, taking good care of your physical and energetic body, so prana can flow freely through your subtle energy channels. Namasté.
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Saraswati, S. S. (1969), Asana Pranayama Mudra Bandha. Bihar, India: Yoga Publications Trust.
Kumar, S. (2019), Yogadarshanam Advance Yoga Teachers Training Manual. Mysore, India: Yogadarshanam.
Townsend, P. (no date) Embodyoga In-Depth Study and 200hrs Teacher Training Manual. Amherst, MA, US: Embodyoga.
Anderson, S. (no date), ‘The 5 Prana Vayus’, Yoga International. Available at https://yogainternational.com/article/view/the-5-prana-vayus-chart (Accessed: 15 October, 2020).