Let’s talk about prana and what it is.
In the spiritual world today, the words prana, chakra and kundalini are making serious waves. While a lot of people who speak about these things may seem like they’re floating in their own worlds, ancient yoga philosophy very concisely outlines what these things are and why they are still relevant to you today.
So, what is prana?
I’m going to break it down for you in the following way.
- What is prana?
- Layers of the Self – Where is prana?
- Pancha Prana – What does prana do?
- What are Nadis? – How does prana flow?
- What is Kundalini Shakti?
- The 7 Chakras – How does prana manifest?
- Imbalances in your system – What happens when prana doesn’t flow?
- How can you raise the prana in your system?
What is prana?
Prana is the life force energy. It is referred to in different traditions as chi, ki, mana, and other names, but it is the same energy.
It is the energy that animates your body and allows you to perform all the different functions that you do on a daily basis– reading this article, eating, exercising, speaking, sleeping, breathing, digesting, you name it. Every function that you perform consciously or unconsciously is facilitated by your prana.
Bodily limitations are also dictated by the prana and blockages in the nadis or the energy channels, but we’ll get to that later.
Layers of the Self – Where is prana?
Not too long ago, I published a post talking about the layers of your existence. You are more than your body and in the panchakosha (five layers) theory of existence, there are 5 layers to you.
From gross to subtle the layers are:
- Annamaya kosha – the physical layer
- Pranamaya kosha – the energy layer
- Manomaya kosha – the mind layer
- Vignanamaya kosha – the intellect / wisdom layer
- Anandamaya kosha – the bliss layer
where each layer is larger and more subtle than the previous.
The prana in your system lives in the pranamaya kosha or the energy layer. It is one step more subtle than the physical layer and sustains the physical body.
If you’d like to read more about the layers, click here. If not, let’s dive into prana, what it is, what it does and all its different functions and manifestations.
Pancha Prana – What does prana do?
In the pranamaya kosha, the prana manifests in 5 main forms. These forms are categorized by their movement, direction and function.
Reference for this can be found in the Shiv Samhita.
What are the pancha prana (5 forms of prana)?
The pancha prana are also known as vayus or “winds” of the body.
Prana vayu literally means “air flowing forward”. It governs the flow of energy from the head down to the navel and is responsible for everything flowing into the system from breath, food, drink and all sensory input (anything that you touch, hear, see, smell, or swallow).
Prana vayu influences Vishuddhi and Anahata Chakras and sustains the function of the heart and the lungs. It is related to Ida Nadi.
Apana vayu literally means “air that moves away”. It governs the flow of energy from the navel to the perineum and is responsible for everything moving down and out of the system. Apana is responsible for all forms of elimination and reproduction including elimination of negative sensory, emotional and mental experiences. Thus, it is the basis of the human immune system at all levels.
Apana vayu influences Svadhistana and Mooladhara Chakras and is related to Pingala Nadi.
Udana vayu means “upward moving air”. Udana operates in the head and the limbs of the body and governs all growth and anti-gravitational movement of the body. This includes standing up, speaking, manifestation of emotions, brain activity and sensory organs. Udana is the main positive energy in your life.
Udana resides in the region of the Sahasrara and Ajna Chakras and is related to Sushumna Nadi.
Samana means balanced. This form of prana resides between the diaphragm and navel and balances the prana and apana vayus. It is responsible for digestion of everything that flows into the body (see prana vayu) as well as secretion of digestive juices and metabolism.
Samana is associated with the digestive fire (jataragni) and Manipura Chakra.
Vyana vayu permeates the entire system. It moves from the centre to the periphery and is responsible for circulation on all levels: blood, food, water and oxygen in the annamaya kosha and thoughts and emotions in the manomaya kosha.
Vyana vayu’s all-pervading nature facilitates the function of all the prana in the system.
5 Sub Pranas
Besides these main 5 pranas, there are 5 sub-pranas that moderate some of the function of the physical body.
- Naga – causes belching and hiccups
- Koorma – blinking
- Krikara – yawning, hunger and thirst
- Devadutta – sneezing, divine smells in meditative states
- Dhananjay – related to sense of touch, swelling, last lingering breath to leave the body after death, facilitates decomposition of the body
The 5 major pranas and the 5 sub pranas are referred to as the ten prana vayus.
What are Nadis? – How does prana flow?
The word nadi means “flow” and it follows that the nadis are energy channels that enable prana to flow. There are 72 000 nadis in the body. Think about your body as a city and the nadis as the highways, roads and alleyways in the city.
Prana flowing in the nadis nourishes everything in its path. When nadis become blocked via emotional, physical and mental toxins, like water, the prana finds the route of least resistance and continues to flow. Blockages in the nadis and reduced flow of prana manifest in the physical body as weakness, tightness, tension and poor mental health.
There are 3 main nadis in the body: Ida, Pingala and Sushumna. These nadis control the movement of prana and consciousness to all parts of the body.
These three main nadis begin at the base of the spine at Mooladhara Chakra and travel up the spine to Ajna Chakra. Sushumna travels directly up the spine while Ida begins and ends on the left side of the spine and Pingala begins and ends on the rights side of the spine. Ida and Pingala cross paths at each of the chakras between Mooladhara and Ajna Chakras.
Ida Nadi is the lunar or feminine nadi (Chandra Nadi) and is cooling and nurturing by nature. Ida’s vibrational quality is represented by the colour white and controls the more feminine aspects of your personality. Ida nourishes the right hemisphere of the brain responsible for more creative pursuits.
Pingala Nadi is the solar or masculine nadi (Surya Nadi) and is heating and stimulating by nature. Pingala’s vibrational quality is represented by the colour red and controls the more masculine aspects of your personality. Pingala nourishes the left hemisphere of the brain responsible for logical and analytical thinking.
Both nadis are not active at the same time, you can directly observe this by observing the flow of breath in the nostrils. You will notice that both nostrils are not flowing freely; one is while the other is not. You can also observe the activity of the nadis in your behaviour: sometimes you prefer to have calming, introverted afternoons while other days, you can indulge in analytical and logical discussions.
These two nadis also play a vital role in the body’s digestive system. Feeding the body while Pingala is active ensures optimal digestion whereas drinking water while Ida is active is optimal.
What is Kundalini Shakti?
Kundalin means “circular or coiled” and Shak means “that which has power”. Kundalini shakti is the latent energy that resides at Mooladhara Chakra and travels up the Sushumna Nadi. Its coiled nature is often represented as serpentine.
Kundalini shakti manifests differently at each of the individual chakras and the awakening journey from Mooladhara (gross) to Sahasrara Chakra (subtle) is the symbolic reunion of Parvati and Shiva – the transcendence of human consciousness to supreme bliss. This is the goal of many yogic and spiritual practices.
The seat of supreme bliss in the body corresponds to the pituitary gland in the brain. In the Vedas as well as Tanta, this is called Hiranyagarbha – the womb of consciousness.
The 7 Chakras – How does prana manifest?
Chakra means “wheel or circle” and the chakras are junctures in the subtle body where nadis intersect. With 72 000 nadis, you can imagine that there are many, many chakras in the body. However, there are 7 main chrakras.
As mentioned above, the 3 main nadis Ida, Pingala and Sushumna intersect 6 times in the body. These 6 locations correspond to the 6 main chakras in the body. The seventh chakra corresponding to supreme bliss is right above the head.
Each chakra has an associated beej mantra (vibrational signature), characteristic emotional manifestation as well as a different role in our lives.
As mentioned above, the ascension of prana from Mooladhara to Sahasrara is the symbolic journey of human life from heaviness, inertia and attachment to dispassion, divinity and supreme bliss. As you go through the chart below, notice how the positive emotions corresponding to each chakra have higher vibrations as you travel to the top of the head. Similarly, moving down from Sahasrara to Mooladhara, the negative emotions get heavier and denser.
From the base of the spine to the top of the head, the 7 chakras are:
|Related beej mantra
|Location in the body
|Manifestation of prana
|Related aspects of the mind and body
|Mooladhara or Root Chakra
|Base of the spine – perineum
|Enthusiasm or inertia
|Stability and balance in life Body structure, skeleton, production of blood, hair skin, etc
|Svadhisthana or Sacral Chakra
|4 inches above the base of the spine
|Creative or procreative
|Fluid elements in body – blood, urine, semen and organs of reproductive system
|Manipura or Naval Chakra
|Greed, jealousy, joy, generosity
|Digestion, absorption and assimilation – liver, pancreas and stomach function, immune system
|Anahata or Heart Chakra
|Love, hatred, fear
|Functioning of the heart, lungs, thymus and immune system
|Vishuddhi or Throat Chrakra
|Associated with larynx, vocal cords, rational thinking, intelligence and communication
|Ajna or Third Eye Chakra
|Between the eyebrows
|Centre of wisdom and intuition
|Sahasrara or Crown Chrakra
|Crown of the head
|Dawning of divinity
|Awakening the Sahasrara chakra signals dawning of divinity. It is beyond space and time
Imbalances in your system – What happens when prana doesn’t flow?
The mind-body complex is one system. Keeping the chakras open and allowing the prana to flow freely will keep you mentally and physically healthy.
In the physical body, the locations of the chakras correspond to nerve bundles and major organs as listed in the final column in the table above. Any blockages in the chakras result in corresponding illness in the body and the mind.
Another sign of imbalance includes manifestation of prana as the negative emotions listed in the table above. Prolonged experience of those emotions indicates the scale of the blockage of the related chakra.
Without any attention and intention to clear the chakras, energetic blockages will show up in your life as physical and mental illness.
How can you raise the prana in your system?
Feeling depressed, lethargic and suicidal indicate an imbalance in the lower three chakras. The prana in the system is low which is why you feel restless, miserable and imbalanced.
Fortunately, there are ways that you can positively influence your subtle body and increase the prana in the system.
- Practice yoga – Yoga and spirituality are deeply connected and the practice of yoga has been formulated for this exact purpose: to raise the prana in the system and be free from emotional, mental and physical suffering [Patanjali Yoga Sutras].
- Meditate – As a limb of yoga, meditation guides you inward to work through the toxins in the system and raise the prana.
- Practice pranayama – Breathing techniques are also a limb of yoga and use the breath to directly manipulate the prana to get certain results. These results can vary from heating the body, cooling the body, cleansing the body, stilling the mind, etc.
- Follow a yogic diet – You are quite literally what you eat. Your cells die and are reborn with the energy from the food that you have eaten. The energy taken in at meal times directly affects every layer of your existence, it goes without saying that the more positive and purer your food is, the higher the prana in your system will be.
- Practice mindful consumption – Everything that you consume has an impact (gross and subtle) on your consciousness. Like food, sensory input has the ability to raise and lower the prana in the system. It is ultimately up to you to audit what you consume and let go of what does not serve you.
- Surround yourself with positive people –Similar to the things that you consume, the company that you keep can either uplift you or bring you down.
- Spend time in nature – The prana in nature is much higher than that in cities and urban environments. Nature is a raw expression of consciousness and free from the intentions of man. Spending time in nature provides you with a platform to just be.
Parm’s Yoga embodies the authentic gift of yoga and is a culmination of all 8 limbs of yoga. Each session will gently guide you from a space of restlessness, anxiety, and depression to an expansive, meditative and relaxed state.
Begin your journey to supreme bliss today.