According to the science of yoga, prana is life energy. It is an active principle that makes all the forms of the material world manifest, that animates living things, that allows movement, makes action possible, and that determines vital processes. It is in light, in heat, in magnetism, in electricity. It is the flow of energy that is in the air, in the energy of the sun, in food, in water.
Knowledge about prana is fundamental to the yoga system and other Eastern traditions. Some have learned to channel this universal energy to balance and heal. In the Chinese tradition, for example, the equivalent of prana is Chi, the central active principle for its medicine and martial arts. In the yogic tradition, it is a word that defines the Absolute, the breath, the life, the vital energy. Through the practices of asanas (postures) and pranayama (breath control exercises), we take in more prana and allow it to flow better, cleaning its conducting channels.
Prana and energy bodies
Prana adds vitality and strength to our body, helps calm the mind, and is essential for raising awareness. To understand the energetic and spiritual effects of the management of prana it is necessary to know the energetic anatomy according to this ancient science. Yoga explains that in addition to our material body, we have subtle bodies: the astral body (made up of three layers, or koshas) and the causal body, which is our most purely spiritual being.
Prana connects the physical body with our energy bodies. This cosmic force flows in our energy system through a series of channels imperceptible to the common eye, called nadis. The nadis are part of the astral body (which is made up of three layers, the etheric body, the astral body, and the mental body). All this constitutes our energy system, as well as the chakras (centers of life force).
Forms of Prana
There are five forms of prana, which are in charge of different functions: prana (respiration), Apana (excretion), Samana (swallowing), upon (circulation), vyana (digestion). Hatha yoga, with its different practices (asanas, pranayama, bands, mudras) manipulates this vital energy and tries to unite and balance prana with its negative form, Apana. When this happens, the kundalini energy that we have collected like a snake at the base of the spine rises through the chakras.
Prana is the totality of the energy of the universe. Through the management of prana, the yogis control the physical body, the mind, but much more than that: they achieve realization because it is the foundation of cosmic life. It is thanks to prana that our senses function, that we can think and reason. It is said that the control of prana waves in the mind leads to the control of universal prana. If there is no prana there is no thought and we reach higher states of consciousness.
Prana is said to guard the reality of the universe. For this reason, Swami Sivananda Saraswati defines pranayama as “the process by which we understand the secret of prana and control it.” The breath connects us with the gross (bodily) and subtle (mental) prana. Among the benefits of pranayama practice are concentration, heightened awareness, refinement of the intellect, the balance of the doshas (the excesses identified by Ayurveda), and also the balance of tamas and rajas (the qualities of the world, or gunas, which generate lethargy and hyperactivity respectively).
The handling of these subtle forces of leading us to transcend ordinary experience and takes us to a higher plane of consciousness. It allows us to realize the universal spirit, that is, to reach the state of yoga that is our essence, enlightenment. In the Vedanta sutras, it says: “breath is Brahman”.