Prana (Vital Energy)
Holistic Health Series
Resource Note # 5
Prana is a Sanskrit term that is constructed out of the syllables pra(that means “constant”) and an(which means “movement”). Thus, the literal meaning of prana is “constant motion.”
Pranais variously referred to as the breath, the original life force, and the vital bio-energy. It essentially represents a set of energy pathways, patterns or impulses that move across the different regions of the body, and constitute the primary motive force of human existence.
Pranais the very basic element, or the original creative power that permeates the Universe at all its planes. It is the special force by means of which life in the universe is created and sustained. Pranais the agency through which individuals come into existence. It is a cosmic energy or hidden force that is simultaneously resident in everything outside of the person too.
The human being is born as a composite of nature (the elemental aspect of one’s being), energy (common called as prana) and absolute consciousness. Pranaacts as a bridge that connects matter with consciousness. Together, these three create action and stability as well as understanding and creativity. Being the medium of interchange between the physical and the mental world of a human being, it plays specific functions in the living organism. Pranamakes the body function, and creates potency as well as power.
Pranais the subtle “currency” of the psycho-physiological system. Its role is analogous to that played by money in the conversion of ideas to physical work. Pranais the master energy that is responsible for the heat and the maintenance of the body. It upholds life by maintaining the harmonious and unified functioning of various elements of the human body and mind.
The latent pranathat resides within the human individual helps the person to absorb the cosmic energy through inhalation (coupled with the release of this breath as exhalation). When inhaled in full, this cosmic energy manifests as individual energy. Pranais the tangible manifestation of the Higher Self, without which the person becomes a decaying corpse.
In contemporary terms, Pranais a complex multi-dimensional energy that consists of a combination of electrical, magnetic, electromagnetic, photonic, ocular, thermal and mental energies. According to modern scientists, the nature of pranais cloud-like and has electromagnetic energy. This gives rise to electromagnetic radiation in which the waves of electric energy and those of magnetic energy move at right angles to one another, resulting in what looks like a spiral. While this radiation structure has been seen, described and drawn by sages and savants from all parts of the world at different times across history, it was actually photographed in the mid-20thcentury through a process known as Kirlian photography.
1. Pranaand Consciousness
Pranais the life energy that performs respiration, oxygenation, and circulation. It governs all the motor and sensory functions too. This vital force also enkindles the central bodily fire that brings about the spontaneous expression of the body’s natural intelligence.
On the cosmic level, there are two basic aspects of prana. The unmanifest aspect is the energy of pure consciousness that transcends all creation. The manifest pranais the force of creation itself. In fact, Pranaand Consciousness are the two poles of the Self. These are the twin aspects of existence that determine the nature of everything.
Pranais known as the active aspect of our existence, while consciousness is the dormant one. Without an underlying force available for transformed into various objects and forms that is provided by Prana, consciousness is unable to create. When pranaand consciousness are balanced, life goes on smoothly. However, their imbalanced functioning leads to disease.
Pranaworks through four different dimensions of consciousness. In the waking state, it operates through the conscious mind. During the dream state, it works through the subconscious mind. During deep sleep, Pranaoperates through the unconscious mind. Finally, in the transcendental state, subtle pranais generated so as to provide sustenance to the body. Our consciousness changes in accordance with alterations in the level & quality of our Prana.
Practically, it is very difficult to differentiate between pranaand consciousness. While they exist as two distinctly separate entities, Consciousness and Pranaoperate as the opposite but complementary and interdependent poles of Existence. They are the positive and negative aspects of the non-dual inconceivable force that is responsible for everything that takes place on the individual as well as the cosmic dimensions. When pranacompletely leaves the body at the moment of death, consciousness too makes a departure.
Cosmic pranagives life energy to the whole universe and to all organisms present on the earth. Scientists have seen that vibrations or energy charges are constantly being emitted from every physical body, flowing both outward and inward. The transmission of pranais a natural occurrence that takes place all the time. Pranabecomes visible on the physical plane as motion and action, and manifests on the mental plane as thought.
From conception up to four months’ gestation, the human fetus survives exclusively upon the pranaof the mother. The pranathen enters the fetus. This event marks the beginning of individual life and consciousness, and the activation of its body functions. However, the pranaof the child become fully independent only when it starts to breathe on its own after birth.
2. The Bi-polar Nature of Prana
The human body is a self-synchronous organism that is created by consciousness for the purpose of experiencing life in the domain of names & forms. Its instrumental design includes precise mechanisms for synchronizing itself with the rhythmic cycles of the planet & the cosmos. The one fundamental and eternal principle that is present throughout the cosmos is the plan of the polar opposites. Thus, a bi-polar electromagnetic field is found to encompass each and every manifested form in the universe – from the smallest atom to the largest galaxy.
In each such field, a positive pole expresses energy while a negative pole draws it back into itself. Without the positive pole, there is not a negative pole, and vice-versa. The interplay between the two poles forms the phenomenal event of the creation of the world itself.
The operation of each sub-field, according to these very same natural laws, unites all creation into a coherent whole. These laws govern the play of elements in the heavenly bodies as well as in all the living organisms. Each organism contains all the elements present throughout the Cosmos. Regardless of their placement in time and space, all these elements operate according to the common rules and principles that govern their functioning.
In accordance with the bi-polar nature of existence, it is seen that the human body is bilaterally symmetrical. Everything therein appears to be divided into two. There is a right brain and a corresponding left brain, a right arm and the left arm, the right ear and the left ear, the right testicle/ovary & the left testicle/ovary. Further, the right side of the body is governed by left portion of the brain, while the left side of the body is guided by the right brain.
The operation of Pranain the human body also follows the principle of bi-polarity. All the Pranacurrents coming from the left side of the body go into the right hemisphere of the brain, which is associated with the feminine energy and is characterized by intuition and compassion. On the other hand, the left hemisphere of the brain receives the Pranaflows from the right half of the body, which is associated with masculine energy and is characterized by ambition and aggression. The right side of the brain is said to be solar, while the left side is observed to be lunar. Artistic poetry is composed using primarily the right brain, while scientific investigation (with its calculative & skeptical elements) utilizes the left side of the brain to a greater degree.
3. The Channels of Prana
The term “Nadi” comes from the Sanskrit root “nad”, that means, “to flow”. Nadisare subtle channels or ducts through which the Pranaor the vital bio-energy currents flow spontaneously throughout the body. This is akin to the way in which the endocrine glands such as the pituitary, thyroid, thymus, adrenal, and pancreas produce hormones and dispatch them into the blood stream without any intermediate ducts or channels.
These nadis are generally of two kinds – ones that conduct pranicforce, and others that are conduits of psychic energy. However, the fourteen most important of these nadiscarry pranicenergy (flowing as electromagnetic currents) and psychic energy (flowing as feelings, vibrations and frequencies) at the same time.
Three of these nadisare vitally important: a) Ida Nadi, b) Pingala Nadi,and c) Sushumna Nadi.
a) The Ida Nadioriginates at the base of the spine, and works as the left channel. It flows on the left side of the spinal column, and terminates in the left nostril. This nadiis connected with the right cerebral hemisphere, and is emotional & magnetic in nature. It becomes active when the left nostril dominates the process of breathing. Activating Idainfluences the hypothalamus and the pituitary gland, and thereby impacts the growth hormones and anabolic processes.
b) The Pingala Nadi originates at the base of the spine, and acts as the right channel. Situated on the right side of the spinal column, it terminates in the right nostril. This nadiis connected with the left cerebral hemisphere, and is therefore verbal and rational in nature. It becomes active when the right nostril dominates the process of breathing. Activating Pingalainfluences the thalamus and the hypothalamus.
c) The Sushumna Nadioriginates at the base of the spine, and is situated between the Ida and the Pingala. Known as the central canal, Sushumnaenergy flows through the interior of the spinal column. It is connected with the corpus callosum and cerebellum.
Through their connection with the endocrine glands, these three nadisinfluence body chemistry and the chemical nature of the human organism.
4. The Sub-divisions of Prana
Pranahas five principal sub-divisions that exist in different parts of the body, according to its movement and direction. These five sub-pranas(also known as vayus, or powers of air) are: a) Prana, b) Samana, c) Vyana, d) Udana, & e)Apana. These may be visualized as swirling clouds of different colours and hues. Each one has a varying density of ionic fields.
The pranicor bio-plasma clouds are free to expand or contract with or without the influence of any external factors. The different colours of the pranicclouds are due to emission of photons, when the electrons change their energy levels from the higher to the lower frequencies.
Prana Vayugoverns the intake of substances; Samana Vayugoverns their digestion; Vyana Vayugoverns the circulation of nutrients; Udana Vayugoverns the release of positive energy that follows digestion; and Apana Vayugoverns the elimination of waste materials.
The navel is the main pranacenter in the body, in which all these five sub-pranasare held like the spokes in the center of a wheel. The individual remains healthy when these five pranasoperate in mutual harmony
4.1 Prana Vayu
The first sub-division is known as Pranaitself. Pranais the vital energy present in the head, and moves down to the heart, throat, trachea, lungs and the diaphragm. Pranais responsible for the process of inhalation in the body, and is connected with the higher cerebral function. It provides the basic energy that drives us in life, and is responsible for the movement of the mind, thoughts, feelings, emotions, sensations and perception.
Prana Vayumoves downward and 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. Being propulsive in nature, Pranasets things in motion and guides them.
When Pranavayuis motionless, it becomes blissful Awareness. The moment Pranamoves in a particular direction, awareness becomes attention that in turn gives rise to perception. Through perception, Pranacreates sensation by means of which the individual senses the object of perception. In turn, these sensations become feelings that give rise to thoughts. Thoughts & feelings yield emotions – which constitute the final outcome of the flow of Prana.
4.2 Apana Vayu
The literal meaning of Apana Vayuis the “air that moves away”. Apana vayuis the force that moves downward and outward. It represents the vital energy in the lower abdomen that allows for elimination and reproduction. It is present in the pelvic cavity, cecum, ascending colon, transverse colon, descending colon, sigmoid colon, rectum and the urinary tract. Apana Vayuis also present in the vagina and cervix of a woman and the testicles, prostrate and urethra of a man. It governs the functioning of the kidneys, the elimination of the stool and the urine, and the expulsion of semen as well as the menstrual fluid and the fetus.
On a deeper level, apana governs the elimination of all the negative sensory, emotional & mental experiences. It is the basis of our immune function. In the physical body, Apana Vayu governs the movement of energy down from the navel all the way to the feet.
4.3 Udana Vayu
The literal meaning of Udana Vayuis the “upward moving air”. It represents the upward moving force. Located in the diaphragm, Udanamoves upward through the lungs, bronchi, trachea and the throat. It governs the movement of the diaphragm and intercostal muscles. Udanais responsible for the process of exhalation of carbon dioxide, and facilitates the upward movement of oxygenated blood in the body. It goes up into the brain, and stimulates memory.
Udana is the vital energy that governs speech and self-expression. In terms of the physical body, Udana governs the movement of energy from the navel up to the head.
4.4 Samana Vayu
The literal meaning of Samanais the “balancing air”. It moves in a linear and outward manner from the periphery to the center through a churning and discerning action, and governs the processes of digestion, absorption and assimilation in the body.
Samana vayuis present in the small intestine and the navel. It provides for the secretion of the digestive juices, and plays an important role in creating hunger. When one eats, Samanastimulates the hydrochloric acid and opens the pyloric valve for movement of foodstuff into the duodenum. Samana vayuworks in the lungs to digest air or absorb oxygen, and also in the mind to homogenize & digest sensory, emotional as well as mental experiences. Within the physical body, Samanaguides the movement of energy from the entire body back to the navel.
4.4 Vyana Vayu
The literal meaning of Vyanais “outward moving air.” It moves from the center to the periphery. Vyanais the vital energy in the heart and lungs. Its main function is to maintain cardiac activity, circulation, nutrition, & oxygenation of cell tissues & organ systems. It moves the food, water & oxygen throughout the body, and keeps emotions & thoughts circulating in the mind.Vyanais a strong vayuthat governs all of the body’s reflex actions. It is also responsible for the movement of the joints and skeletal muscles through the reflex arc. Vyana vayugoverns the movement of energy out from the navel throughout the entire body.
The operations of the five sub-pranasmay be likened to the working of the different elements of a mechanical system. Pranabrings in the fuel. Samanaconverts that fuel into energy. Vyanacirculates the energy to the various work sites. Apanareleases the waste materials, or the by-products of the conversion process. Finally, Udanagoverns the positive energy created in the process. It determines the work that the machine is able to do, and the outcomes it can deliver.
5. The Wheels of Energy(Chakras)
Pranais accumulated along the spinal column, in seven main centres that are known as chakras. The term “chakra” translates as a wheel or ring, which has energy coiled within it.
The chakrasare the critical junctions that that tap pranicenergy, and thereby determine the state of the body and the mind. Just as the brain controls the physical, mental and intellectual functions through the neurons, chakrasgovern the pranathat are resident within everyone. While the spine is a physical entity, the chakras are not composed of matter. Though invisible to the physical eye, the chakrasare tangible through their effects.
The seven main chakrasare notionally located along the Spinal Cord, from the brain down to the tailbone, as follows:
Sahasrara–is situated at the crown of the head.
Ajna– is situated near to the pituitary gland.
Vishuddhi– situated close to the thyroid gland.
Anahata– situated near the parathyroid glands.
Manipuraka– situated just above the navel, near the adrenal glands.
Svadhisthana– the seat of the vital energies– is situated near the sacral plexus nerve centre.
Muladhara–is located in the pelvis above the anus.
The spinal cord is a slender nerve column that passes downward from the brain into the vertebral canal by an opening in the vertebrae. In some ways an extension of the brain, it begins where nerve tissue leaves the cranial cavity of the skull and terminates near the inter-vertebral disc that separates the first and second lumbar vertebrae. The spinal column has two major functions: a) to conduct nerve impulses, and b) to serve as a centre for spinal reflexes.
Each chakravibrates at a particular rate and velocity, which generates energy that is circulated to the rest of the body through the nadis. The centres at the lowest point of the energy circuit operate on a lower frequency, and are said to create grosser states of awareness. Those at the top of the circuit operate on a higher frequency, and are responsible for subtle states of awareness and higher intelligence. In order to achieve perfect physical health, the chakras needed to be activated. The divine cosmic energy (kundalini) that exists as a latent force in every person is then awakened, & the emotions rooted in the chakrasare thereby transformed.