What is Prana ?
The word Prana comes from Prayana or movement. Prana is the fundamental energy, course or fire, thick or thin, big or small which is present in the universe. It is the sum total of all energy that is present in Nature. All physical and mental force and power are the result of Prana. Whatever and mental force and powers are the result of Prana. Whatever moves or works or has life is the manifestation of Prana. It vibrates though all life from the tiny flowers to colossol trees; from creatures and animals to human beings. Prana is that energy which is the basis of all life. Where there is life, physical, intellectual, mental, psychic, spiritual, higher life or lower life there is prana. It is in the air but it is not air. It is the spirit of life. Prana can reach which is beyond the reach of air.
The word Prana is often confused with breathing. When prana is present breathing takes place. The word prana means energy which is the basis of all life. Breath goes directly to the lungs while prana goes directly to the nadis. Prana is inside the blood, inside the air, inside the bones. This energy can be psychic or astral in nature. The meaning of prana goes much deeper than the breath. In one of the ancient scriptures it is mentioned; once upon a time the organs of the body debated as to which among them was the greatest. Sir, which is the best of us? They asked the lord of creatures. The one which leaves the body the worst off, when it goes away. The different sense organs went away one by one, only to find that those remaining had managed without them. For example, without speech, the others were dumb, but yet they carried on. Finally, the breath of life prepared to go away. As a great house might pull up the pegs that tether it to the ground so that Breath of life prepared to pull away all the other organs. But they unitedly said, Sir, do not go away, for we cannot live without you. You are the best of us.
Prana is related to mind and through mind to will and through will to the individual soul and through this to the Supreme Being. If one knows how to control the little waves of prana working through the mind, then the secret of universal prana will become easy for him. The working of prana is seen in the systolic and diastolic actions of the heart, when it pumps the blood into arteries, in the action of exhalation, inhalation and retention during the course of breathing, in the digestion of food, in the manufacture of semen, chyle, chyme, gastric juice, bile, intestinal juice, saliva, in closing and opening of the eye lids, in walking, playing, talking, thinking, and feeling. Prana is the link between the astral and physical body. When this link is cut off, death takes place.
The seat of Prana
According to Swami Sivananda, the seat of prana is heart. Though the Antahkarana is one, yet it assumes four forms viz. (1) Manas, (2) Buddhi, (3) Chitta, ( 4) Ahankar. Likewise, through prana is one, it assumes five forms viz. (1) Prana, (2) Apana, (3) Samana, (4) Udana, (5) Vyana. According to the different functions, it performs this is called as Vritti Bheda. The principal prana is called Mukhya Prana. The prana joined with Ahankara, lives in the heart. The seat of prana is heart, of Apana, the anus of Samana, the region of the naval, of Udana the throat. While Vyana is all pervading it moves all over the body.
Respiration and Breathing
The terms respiration and breathing are often confused and sometime used as synonymus, but there is a fundamental difference between the two. Breathing is the mechanical act of inhaling air into and exhaling it from the body. A baby starts breathing immediately after its birth, the moment placenta is cut from its body. Respiration, however, takes place in the embryonic stage long before birth. Respiration, life and energy giving process goes on non-stop from the womb to the tomb. Prana is much more than mere breath. Prana is the power behind and within breath. It is the vital force in everything. It is cosmic energy that pervades the whole universe. It is present in all forms, from the lowest to the highest, from the ant to the elephant. Prana is force, magnetism and electricity. It is due to prana that digestion, excretion and seczetion take place. The prana in the air performs a number of functions in the human body. Each of these has a specific name and aim:
- Prana : It circulates in the area around the heart and controls breathing.
- Apana : It circulates in the lower regions of the abdomen and controls excretory functions.
- Udana : It reamins in the thoractic cage and controls the absorbtion of air and food.
- Vyana : It spreads throughout the body and distributes the energy from food and breath.
- Naga : It relieves abdominal pressure by provoking excretion.
- Kurma : It controls the eyelids to prevent foreign bodies from entering and dazzling light from harming the eyes.
- Krkara : It prevents certain substances from rising into the nasal cavities or descending into the throat causing sneezing and coughing.
- Devadutta : It ensures the absorption of extra oxygen into a tired body and causes yawning.
- Dhananjaya : It remains in the body even after death and sometimes causes the corpse to swell.
The Five Sheaths
Prana is the vital force present in animal, plant and all other forms of life. Cosmic Prana infuses all life forms, although it may appear to be a separate entity or take a different form. In the human being, there are five separate planes of existence which are contained within the form of human being and which co-exist. They are known as five sheaths; annamaya kosha, pranamaya kosha, manomaya kosta, vigyanamaya kosha, and anandamaya kosha. These are associated with vital, mental, intutitive and blissful planes by western mystics. The astral body is attributed to both manomaya and vigyanamaya koshas. Just as a machine is operated in action by a generator. Similarly, the five sheaths are able to function by the cosmic prana, even in the absence of continued conscious awareness. In most human beings, conscious awareness exists only on the physical plane. Awareness of the other planes can be developed through the knowledge of prana. The annamya sheath or the food sheath depends on the gross prana in the form of food, water and air. But its existence is more dependent on subtle prana. Life seizes if the subtle prana seizes. The vital sheath of the body is called the pranamaya Kosha or pranic body. The basic structure or the man consists of the physical and the pranic body. It is proper for one to learn all about gross body, the constructon, the physiology and anatomy of the physical and pranic body. The eight chakras and nine gates are the means of awakening. The pranic body which is more subtle that the physical body provides energy and infuses life into the physical body. It is divided into five main sections collectively known ass Panch Pranas prana, apana, samana, udana and vyana. They perform five different function. The pranic body and physical body are inseparably bound with one another. The prana which sustains the pranic body is drawn from the more subtle sheaths of the manomaya, vigyanamaya and anandmaya koshas. Prana exists as light and energy in the pranamaya kosha. In its gores form it is like the flame of fire that flickers, waxes and wanes. As the practitioner develops and purifies body and mind, the pranic body takes on a golden colour which becomes finally a luminous transparent glow. Manomaya kosha, the mental sheath is more subtle than pranamaya kosha. It performs multifarious functions and keeps annamaya and pranamaya kosha together as an integrated whole. It acts as a messanger between each body conveying the experiences and sensations of the external world to the intuitive body. Prana is the source or energy of mind and meditation. Vigyanamaya kosha, the sheath of intuition, is more subtle than the manomaya kosha. When this sheath is awakened, one begins to experience life intuitively to see deeper reasons behind all seen and unseen things. This leads to wisdom. Anandamaya kosha, the sheath of bliss is the last sheath of individual being. This is the causal body.
All the five sheaths are nourished, pervaded, and sustained by prana. In every human body, there is only oneprana. To become conscious of one own prana is to become conscious of prana in other living beings. By gaining control over one own prana, one can influence the prana of others. This is possible when one purifies prana with the yoga techniques. When prana is awakend, one can experience its flow, form, colour and quality. The annamaya kosha or physical sheath can be perceived through the physical leyes. The first stage of the science of prana is transcending awareness of the gross body by inducing pratyahara, sense withdrawal. When this stage is achieved, one can see prana like stars shining in the night. Then one enters the plane of mental sheath, manomaya kosha. The subtle aspect of the mind can be visualised as the abode of light. The quality of the light depended on the purity of mind. Some Yogis have visualised the monomaya kosha having shape and form; others as light emanating from a central source. It is in state of deep meditation that one can perceive the intuitive sheath o vigyanamaya kosha. In this state of awakening one can get vision and intutions of all things. After this stage, one enters into the last sheath known as anandamaya kosha or the ocean of bliss. This is the stage of Samadhi, the abode of paramatma, cosmic self. This sheath may appear in the form of luminous egg, a luminous Shiv-linga or any shining symbol. Each symbol can be used as a means to absorb one awareness. The five sheaths can be perceived and visualised and awakened through the practice of the science of prana. Like a ladder, when one ascends all the five sheaths, one can enter into the state of Samadhi, a blissful union with the Supreme Self. This stage leads to the direct intutive realisation of the Infinite. It is an inner divine experience beyond the reach of speech and mind.
Observance of Rules
Place : The place selected for doing pranayama should be neither high nor low and it should be lonely, neat, even dry, free from dust, dirt, smoke, flies, insects and other disturbing factors. If the place of practice is a room it should be airy and well ventilated. During the hours of pranayama, no incense should burn. The place should not be in a forest, river bed, sandy or grassy area or near a waterfall. If the place selected is open, it should not be crowded or conjested. All such surroundings and factors induce anxiety and disturb the mind and are therefore inimical to practice of pranayama. To be beneficial pranayama must be practised with due care and attention, otherwise it becomes harmful and dangerous.
Food : Avoid unclean, unbalanced and improperly cooked food. Let the place of cooking be neat and tidy and free from flies. Unclean and unwholesome food would first cause different aliments like drowsiness, idleness, sinful, wicked and lustful desires and through and finally to spiritual fall and degeneration. Impure food retards one spirtitual growth. Food becomes impure when it comes into contact with dust, dirt, flies etc. Cold food should be avoided. One should take food that is simple, nutritious, easily digested and easily obtained. In selecting food, must know its suitability according to one physical build up and the climate in which one lives. And one kind of food, however good, simple and nutritious may not suit all people living in different climates. Avoid taking too much of sour, sweet or pungent things. People living in exterme cold climates must take heat producing food as a necessity but those living in hot climates must take cold-producing food; and people living the tempreate climate, should select food and drinks, the effect of which may be moderate.