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What is Prana?

January 14, 2019

What is Prana?

Prana is present throughout the entire universe. It is the name given to the vital life force that is responsible for all life. In other spiritual practices the same energy might be referred to as Chi, Qi or Ki. In yoga the prana is also known as pranic energy, it is the vital life force that brings life and change to all things living. 

Many spiritual teachers refer to prana is as the cosmic catalyst or the universal catalyst. Although we might become aware of many different names given to the different flows of prana, each flow is created or comes from one source of prana the name for this is maha prana or muktya prana (the great or chief prana).

From this one source of pranic energy, the prana moves in many different directions to stimulate and encourage different actions. The different flows of prana are known as Vayus or winds. They can be likened to the currents that are present in the ocean.

During yoga, pranayamas are performed to encourage prana to flow freely around the body; and to balance each vayu. These techniques deepen our practice and enhance benefits physically, emotionally and spiritually.

The word pranayama translates as follows prana = vital life force, yama = restraint and ayama = expansion, so pranayama is translated to mean control of vital life force. It is through pranayama that we learn to restrain and expand the flow of prana. We also learn when to expand and when to restrain.

As the breath is the main carrier of prana it is through breathing techniques that prana is moved through the body. The use of mudras (gestures) and bandhas (locks or seals) help to direct prana and contain it in different areas of the body. We must remember that pranayamas are so much more than just breathing exercises, when beginning to work with and discover prana, breathing exercises provide the perfect starting place. 

Today we are fully aware of how the breath can positively influence our health and wellbeing. A slow steady breathing technique stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system which is responsible for relaxation, the heart rate and blood pressure naturally lower and stress levels are reduced. Whereas breathing quickly stimulates the sympathetic nervous system and the fight or flight response. The sympathetic nervous system increases stress levels in the body. As with asana practice, pranayama practice has many layers to explore.   

According to The Eight Limbs of Yoga (that are listed in chapter two of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali), the practice of pranayama is listed after asana and forms the fourth limb of yoga. Patanjali defines "asana" as "to be seated in a position that is firm, but relaxed”. This should be well established with good alignment before beginning more intense pranayama practices. 

As prana is explored through both asana and pranayama it is important to remind ourselves of the following:-

  • Prana is present throughout the whole universe. It is the universal energy.
  • A solid foundation in asana and basic breath control needs to be established before moving to more intense practices.
  • The science of Prana is intense and layered and takes years and years of dedicated practice.
  • Prana is so much more than the breath and goes way beyond the experience of controlling the breath. 
  • As with Asana practice we need to start at the beginning and work to develop a solid foundation in the practice to provide the support required for moving onto more intense practices.
  • When beginning to explore Pranayama always tune into your breath and explore how the body feels as you breathe slowly through your nose. 

Yoga 2 Hear founder Sue Fuller has created a range of Pranayama Classes. These classes have been devised to help develop and deepen understandings and experiences of how prana can enhance health and well being, induce relaxation, clear and focus the mind and allow practitioners to move deeper into their yoga practices through the art of pranayama.

This blog article was written by Sue Fuller creator of the Yoga 2 Hear range of audio yoga classes and teacher training courses.