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What is prana?

April 06, 2021

¿Qué es el prana?

Without prana there is no life.

According to the sages of the East, prana is the energy, the original nucleus from which every life, every movement, every activity arises. Prana is the cosmic life force that acts on the lowest vibration in the world. The Chinese call it Chi and the Japanese call it Ki. Without prana there is no life.

It is important to understand what prana is, because during practice, on occasions, it will be named and in yogic literature terms such as nadis, chakras, etc., are usually cited, directly related to prana. In today's article, YogaYe invites you to (re)discover what prana is.

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I) What is prana: concept

To begin with, we will make a distinction: according to the philosophy of Yoga, the universe is made up of Akasa and Prana. Akasa refers to matter, while Prana refers to energy. Today we are going to talk about this second one.

Prana is the energy or life force that permeates the entire universe. It is present in all things, whether animate or inanimate, in food, in sunlight, in water... Prana makes matter animate, come to life.

It is an active principle that makes manifest all the forms of the material world, that animates living things, that allows movement, makes action possible and that determines the vital processes.

The body and mind work thanks to prana and the breathing process is the most direct way to absorb this energy. When we breathe we flood our body with prana. Therefore, prana is our true food, since without it life is not possible.

The Kaushintaki Upanishad explains: "Life is prana and prana is life. As long as prana remains in a body there is life."

It can be described as something that continually flows somewhere within us, filling us and keeping us alive: it is vitality, it is energy. The different schools of Yoga agree that prana is the flow of energy that nourishes life.

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Etymological origin

Prana (with capital letters) is the vital energy existing in the Universe. Prana (lowercase) is the vital energy of our body.

Prana has roots in the ancient Sanskrit language. Although the word is of Sanskrit origin, the concept of prana functions in various cultures around the world. Almost every tradition has a specific word for this life force.

  • In China, the word prana is known as chi,
  • in Japan as ki or Qi,
  • Mana in the Polynesians 
  • and in Catalan as Esma.

The Greek term "pneuma" means spirit, as well as air. In Hebrew, "ruach" has the same double meaning of air and spirit. The -breath of life or spirit- was blown through Adam's nostrils at the beginning of creation according to Christian tradition. The same concept exists in Persian philosophy and many others.

Understand what prana is

Knowledge about prana is fundamental to the system of Yoga and other Eastern traditions.

Prana is the sum of the different forces of nature. It is in light, in heat, in magnetism, in electricity. It is the flow of energy that is in the air, in the energy of the sun, in food, in water. It is the subtle force that makes the universe evolve, which contains the cosmic intelligence to generate transformation and bring it to its ultimate end.

This energy enters our body through oxygen, but it is not oxygen, nor part of it. And it is distributed throughout the body through breathing. Just as blood circulates through all the parts of the physical body, nourishing and strengthening it, oxygen distributes prana through the subtle body, bringing energy to each of its parts.

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Prana, energy bodies and nadis

Prana gives greater vitality and strength to our body, helps to calm the mind and is essential to raise consciousness. To understand the energetic and spiritual effects of managing prana, it is necessary to know the energy anatomy according to this ancient science. Yoga explains that in addition to our material body, we have some subtle bodies: the astral body (made up of three layers, or koshas) and the causal body, which is our most purely spiritual being.

Prana connects the physical body with our energy bodies.
This cosmic force flows in our energy system through a series of channels imperceptible to the common eye, called nadis. 
The nadis are part of the astral body. All of this makes up our energy system, just like the chakras (life force centers).

II) Forms of prana

The yoga tradition describes five movements or functions of prana known as the vayus (literally "winds"):

  • prana vayu (breath, not to be confused with the higher indivisible prana),
  • apana vayu (excretion),
  • samana vayu (swallowing),
  • udana vayu (circulation),
  • and vyana vayu (digestion).

These five vayus govern different areas of the body and different physical and subtle activities. When they work harmoniously, they ensure the health and vitality of the body and mind, allowing us to enjoy our unique talents and live life with meaning and purpose.

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IV) On the importance of prana

There is an old Vedic story about Prana in the Upanishads:

Lhe five main faculties of our nature - mind, breath (prana), speech, hearing and sight - were arguing among themselves which of them was the best and most important; This reflects the ordinary human state in which our faculties do not integrate, but fight each other, vying for dominance over our attention (...).

To resolve this dispute they decided that each one would leave the body and they would see which was the most notable absence. Speech was the first faculty that left the body, but the body continued to be mute. Then the sight was gone, but the body remained alive being blind. Then the hearing went away, but the body continued to be deaf. The mind was gone, but the body continued to be unconscious. Finally the breath began to go out and the body began to die and the other faculties began to lose their energy. So all of them hastened to ask Prana to stay, praising her supremacy. Clearly encouragement won the argument.

Prana energizes all our faculties, without which they cannot function. The moral of this story is that to control our faculties the key is the control of prana.

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V) Balancing prana

hatha yoga practices, including asana, bands, mudras, pranayama and traditional purification techniques (kriyas), can profoundly affect prana in its five forms. By working directly with the intrinsic vitality of the body, these practices balance and enhance the physiological system and functions of the mind.

  • The asana creates an internal structure that supports the efficient work of all the vayus.
  • Pranayama increases and expands the vital force and,
  • Along with the cleansing techniques of hatha yoga, it purifies the nadis, the channels where prana flows.

Through this work, we consciously or unconsciously mobilize and regulate that part of the prana that we have to manage when it reaches our body.

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Breathing is the basic function of life, forced, we would say, from the stones, through the seas, plants, animals and man himself, breathe as the beginning and end of life. At birth we must inhale in order to begin to live, when we leave this body we stop breathing; but the important thing is that we not only breathe air, but also ideas, emotions and feelings of all kinds, and of course energy, energy in all possible fields. 

May you have a good practice and a good management of prana inside and outside the mat.

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