by Durga Ahlund
“I have known the Lord from days bygone
But the Celestials knew Him not, Doubt-tossed are they;
The Lord is the Light, In my fleshly body as Prana pulsates
If I know Him not, who else will?
– Tirumandiram, Verse 1797
In the above verse from the Tirumandiram, Tirumoolar, realizes and states that prana pulsating in the body is the Lord in the form of light and life. He says prana is the closest to a physical form of the Lord that we may perceive and directly experience. Prana is that numinous substance which is the form of the allpervasive energy in the Universe and the pulsation of the Divine within each of us. It is the substance or substratum, and something very concrete that animates and vitalizes you and I so that we can grasp the thoughts written on this page. Was it not for the movement of prana in the appropriate channels in the body, there would be no ability of the mind to comprehend it. It is due to the movement of prana alone that the mind arises. It is due to the movement of prana that what is seen by the mind is seen as the appearance of the world. But it is also due to the movement of the mind that the prana is kept in movement. Prana is the essence of life and its manifestation. Few know about prana, and fewer care to define or explain it but it was worthy of the Siva yogis constant contemplation.
The Hatha Yoga Pradipika, the classic text of Hatha Yoga, defines prana as the vital energy force
sustaining life and creation, permeating the whole of creation and existing in both the macro-cosmos and micro-cosmos. Prana is
found in the macrocosm as the ocean of life with the sun as its center. The microcosm in the body is an exact replica of the macrocosm.
According to Indian philosophy of the Upanishad, the entire universe was projected out of akasha (ether, or space, one of the five
elements or bhutas) through the energy of prana. Akasha is the all-encompassing, infinite space of the universe. The Upanishad says,
“It is out of akasha that every form comes, and it is in akasha that every form lives.” Prana is all pervading, it surrounds the sun;
it moves the planets; it is the infinite energy of the universe, cosmic energy. So, we are made up of what the universe is made of,
akasha and prana. Akasha is unmanifest prana, prana is manifest akasha.
“Verily by air, as by a thread, this world, the other world
and all beings are held together.”
- Brhadaranyaka Upanishad
The prana, which appears as the shape of all living organisms of the planet, is nothing less than a modification of the prana, which makes up the sun. Prana assumes two phases of existence, the solar, positive lifematter and the lunar, negative life matter. All the various modifications of these two forms of prana constitute the total of our world appearance. All of the worlds appearances, visual, auditory, olfactory, kinesthetic, gustatory, in all their varieties are gathered into prana. The Yoga Vasistha says prana in company with the mind takes the human pilgrimage.
The word prana is used in two senses, general and specific. In a general sense, it is known as pranana, varishtha or terrestrial prana. In the physical being, prana acquires different names according to its various functions or motive powers, known as vayus. The word vayu comes from root ‘va,” which means to move. Vayu also means wind or air current. Vayus are the motive powers or functions of prana. Any motion in any of the vayu centers directly affects a specific region of the body. Prana has different names according to their functions in the body.
There are five major prana vayus that carry on major functioning in the body and five that are classified as minor prana vayu, which are modifications of the major five. These vayus or air currents exist both in the physical and subtle bodies, functioning through the body, mind and senses. The major vayus are known as prana, apana, samana, udana, and vyana. All the elements work in all prana manifestations although one element will be prevalent in each vayu. Prana is positive animating energy in life, the ability to move and to develop, and the prevalent element in it is air. Apana is the capacity to withdraw and to eliminate things from ourselves. The prevalent element is earth. Samana controls the ability to balance, hold and contract. Its element is fire. Vyana controls the capacity for self-expression. Its element is water. Udana controls the ability to ascend, rise up and grow; its prevalent element is ether. The five pranas are the five expressions of our energy. Due to these five motive powers, there is balance and homeostasis in the system.
Balance and harmony between these five energy currents result in good physical and mental health, while disturbance of their harmony produces debilitation and disease. The mind is also energy and if the prana becomes disturbed the mind is likewise disturbed. When the pranas are balanced, the mind is also balanced. They have an immediate influence on each other.
All physical action is prana in a certain state. Without prana, there is no mental activity or physical action and every action is the result of the different harmonies of currents. Right-brain activities and certain emotional and physical activities, associated with the parasympathetic nervous system are best performed when the prana is in the negative, cooling relaxing, introverted current, the ida nadi. Left-brain activities and specific physical activities associated with the sympathetic nervous system are best performed during the positive, heating, energizing, extroverted current flow in pingala nadi. When we act out of synch with the most sympathetic current, our action will not be performed well. If we continue to act in such disharmony regularly, we can create great imbalance in the body and may find that the prana recedes from certain parts of the body, causing disease and dysfunction.
If there is mental confusion, the prana is agitated and its flow becomes haphazard in the nadis. Some nadis become blocked while others become depleted. This gives rise to disturbances in the system. Pranas not being in balance, not properly blended causes many diseases, the eye, ear, lung, throat and digestion are affected. If prana recedes from any part of the body for any reason, that part of the body loses its power of action. In the extreme, pranic deficiency causes deafness, blindness, or paralysis. A natural death of the body is due to the imbalance of positive or negative prana, due to too much of one prana or the other consistently over a long period of time.
The Tirumandiram states that all ten prana vayus arise out of two of them: the first is prana, shining like the sun, and it is the upward moving force that creates a field of energy from the navel through the throat; apana, shining like the moon is the downward moving force moving from the navel to the anus. These two energies move in opposite directions and move spontaneously with every breath. Prana shakti is associated with exhalation and apana shakti is associated with inhalation. According to the Tantras, at the microscopic or human level prana shakti represents one of the three great shakti energies, kriya shakti (activity) and the pingala nadi. Apana shakti symbolizes the jñana shakti (knowledge) and the ida nadi. It is Para shakti or iccha shakti (Will), the ultimate source of all shakti, and the nature of Divine Will Power that awakens in the sushumna nadi.
Vayus nine, in unison they function
Dananjayan, the tenth, indeed is superior.
When blended with the nine in this
Inseparate are they body and the soul.
- Tirumandiram, Verse 653
Prana vayu is the solar or fire energy, which promotes the body’s internal welfare. It is the flame that flows upward and out. It can specifically be placed in the upper part of the body in the thoracic region, from the heart to the diaphragm, which is responsible for the processes of respiration and absorption. It governs speech and the vocal apparatus as well as the respiratory system and the muscles associated with it. This air current gives us the capabilities to absorb sensations, feelings, emotions, and controls manas, the common mind and emotions. Prana, according to the Yoga Vashista, generates heat in the heart space every moment and after producing this heat generates heat in the space in front of the face. The prana vayu arises and vibrates in the heart and terminates at a distance of twelve-fingers breaths outside the body. The other vayus, even apana derive their energy from this Prana.
Apana vayu is the lunar cool energy, which protects the body from the outside. Associated with gravity, it is liken to cool water that flows downward. However it can be specifically located operating in the lower abdominal region, below the navel and is responsible for elimination through the reproductive and excretory organs, such as the kidneys, colon, rectum, bladder and genitals. This air current is downward moving air and nourishes the space from twelve inches in front of the face and brings that into the heart.
Samana Vayu is located in the middle region of the body; it facilitates the assimilation of prana and food and has balancing and equalizing effect on prana and apana. It aids in digestion and balance on all levels, physical, mental and emotional. On the physical level, it dwells in the navel, but within the subtle body in the manipura chakra. It is vital energy of the navel where our energy is centered. It increases the digestive fire. A good asana practice should leave you balanced in the samana vayu. The navel is often said to be the main pranic center in which all the pranas are linked together like the spokes in the center of a wheel. The key to health and well-being is to keep the pranas in balanced and in harmony here.
Vyana vayu pervades the whole body and is the power of movement. Vyana governs the relaxation and contraction of all muscles, voluntary and involuntary, as well as the movement of the joints and structures around them in the physical body.
Udana vayu rules the region of the body above the larynx and governs the use of our special inner sense of intuition and is associated with the upward movement of the kundalini or ascending air in the subtle body. Buddhi, or reason, is controlled by this vayu. Udana can be found functioning in the sushumna. It is udana which dissolves prana and apana, stopping their outer and inner flow, in order to bring them together in the middle current, the sushumna, resulting in either samadhi or death.
In addition to these five, pancha prana there are five supporting, upapranas, which manifest as physiological functions of nerves and automatic responses such as belching (naga); blinking and allows for vision (kurma); sneezing & coughing (krkala); yawning (devadatta); and sleeping, producing phlegm and decomposition after death (dhananjaya). Dhananjaya permeates the whole body, never leaving it. Tirumular discusses the importance of keeping dhananjaya in balance throughout the body to keep it functioning properly. He suggests that the way to protect and nourish this vital energy is through Yoga practices.
Yoga keeps pranas in balance
The balance of prana in the body is absolutely necessary to your health and well-being. By understanding prana and becoming aware of how it affects your health, your practice of Yoga could become much more effective. You can help to balance and influence your health by regulating all five pranas through pranayama, Hatha Yoga and relaxation. Kriya Kundalini Pranayama will help you gain mastery over the prana, apana and udana. Vyana is controlled through deep relaxation, shavasana, mediation and yoga nidra. Hatha Yoga including bandhas controls the samana. Do your practices regularly and the ten pranas will be nourished, even when pranic resources are low. Finally, it is great devotion in the Lord or lineage of masters, which carries the required nutrients for the ultimate flourishing and longevity of body, mind and spirit. Blend your mind with the Mind of the Lord and blossom.
Contemplation of Prana
In the Siva Yoga of Tirumular, there is a system of Prana Yoga, which involves concentration on the pranas in various aspects, bringing great delight on varying subtle levels. Contemplate prana as the exhalation and apana as the inhalation jointly; contemplate samana, which unifies various objects of experience and uniting prana and apana in the navel region; contemplate vyana moving in all directions from the heart, penetrating the whole of the body.
Contemplate this verse from the Tirumandiram. (Nadanta is end of Nada (sound – Pranava)
Nadanta Dance in Prana Source
“From within the head, in twelve finger measure, the
Prana breath rises high,
That highway you seek;
that the Place where Our Lord of Nadanta dances;
That verily is the Holy Temple.”
- Tiirumandiram, Verse 2764
From the Kriya Yoga Journal, no. 71, Fall 2011
Copyright © by Durga Ahlund 2011
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