Prana is our life force or energy that flows through the channels or nadis in our electromagnetic body (referred to as chi in martial arts). Where there is life (human, animal, plant) there is prana, all that vibrates in this Universe consists of prana (heat, light, gravity, magnetism, vigor, power, vitality, electricity, life, and spirit).
In Sanskrit, pra means moving and na means always. Prana is like electricity, in that electricity exists in the natural world in wild and unpredictable forms –such as lightening striking here and there; you never know where it’s going to hit. But if you capture that same electricity inside a wire, you can control it and do amazing things with it!
As long as we live we are prana conductors, but our wires may be bent, blocked or broken. The yoga practices are designed to help us unclog the channels, in Ashtanga Yoga the whole process of learning the asanas and the breathing is ultimately about controlling and moving our prana in an upward direction. However, before we move prana, we need to be filled with prana. The more prana we have, the better we feel, the more energized we are, the more focused and in tune we are.
So how do we know if we are filled with prana? And how do we know if it is flowing? Maybe a lack of prana is easier to identify. Are you tired, restless, ill, confused, lethargic, not able to focus, lacking motivation? These are signs your prana is weak. Are you Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired? HALT, pull your energy back.
Imagine all your life energy is contained in 100 beams of light. This energy is what we need to get out of bed, dress, get to work, take care of kids, etc. How do your spend your energy? Many of us are not aware of our energy “leaks”.
Did you have a disagreement with a co-worker and are stewing about it–that will cost 20 beams. Some trauma from the past you are still holding a resentment to? That will cost you another 15 beams (everyday as long as you hold on to that resentment you start off 15 beams short), and the biggies; Romance and Finance worrying about these takes 30 beams. We are now operating on less than half of our energy. Our work demands 50 beams, now what?
To heal, or to keep our body healthy, our immune system requires some of these energy beams, if they are not available our body can not take care of itself. Creativity is the first to go when our prana is weak. Lack of creativity is not health threatening, so the body is willing to sacrifice there quickly. When we operate on an energy deficit we try to drain the energy from the people around us, this sets us up for unhealthy or co-dependent relationships.
Our yoga practice is a tool we can use to detect these prana leaks, for example, this co-worker you had a disagreement with, you are stewing on that, you are angry. Whether you are right or wrong does not matter, you are giving your prana to this person. You may not be aware how you have been spending mental energy all day on this issue. You get to your Yoga class and begin sun salutes, you hop back and notice your energy is low, you push into up dog, back into down dog, inhale – exhale 1, you start to think about this person, inhale – exhale 2, you realize you have no bandhas, inhale – exhale 3, your mind is distracted, can you feel your energy flowing out of your body?–STOP THE DRAMA. Let this person and their doings go from your mind now, focus on breath, bandhas, form, and flow. This helps you disconnect.
There are 100’s of ways we can lose energy, misplaced passion, addiction to people or substances or things, depression, fear, anger, pain, fantasy, attachments, etc. You can disconnect from these energy drains. If our prana is tied up we do not have enough to direct it towards what we want to create for ourselves (health, well-being, spiritual practices).
Disconnecting is NOT easy, unplugging is a slow gradual process of learning to sense these leaks. We learn through our practice we can not focus on breath, bandhas, and asana if our energy is going elsewhere. So if only for a moment we unplug and pull it back to practice a posture. We begin the process of training the mind to watch where we are sending our energy. Then one day we realize, we do not have to be on our yoga mat to disconnect, we can be sitting at our desk at work and even disconnect there! 🙂
Often when we begin Yoga, it feels like it is our darkest hour – it is a lot of uncomfortable exercise! But we stick with it. One day, a ray of light, “oh my down dog feels good!”
We have broke free some prana –discovered some place unhealthy we were sending it. Some stiffness in the body/mind is starting move!
We know what prana is, we know how to prevent leaks so we are filled with prana, now how do we control prana?
Pranayama is the method we use to control and channel our prana. Pranayama has been defined two ways:
1) Prana Ayama – not restraining prana
2) Prana Yama – Restraining prana
These two terms are not really contradictory, first we must restrain our prana from flowing out of our bodies, then we channel it into our nadis and guide it to flow upward unrestrained.
Pranayama is breathing consciously, chitta and prana are closely related; where we send our thoughts, there we send our energy. We can influence the flow prana through the flow of our breath, and vice-versa the quality of our breath influences our state of mind. There are many different types of Pranayama and many different recommendations on how and where to begin. But it is really simple: Bring your breath into your attention. That’s it.
Inhaling, expand your thorax, exhale allow the ribs to soften inward and the diaphragm to relax upward. As you feel your breath move your body become aware of the depth and length of your inhale and exhale. Make a conscious effort to equalize them. Pay attention also to the pauses between the inhale and the exhale, and the exhale and the inhale. These too are part of the breath. Feel the pause as pendulum, remember being on a swing? Remember the feel at the top of the arc where you are effortlessly suspended (and it feels delicious)? This is the pause in the breath, try to extend that delicious feeling.
This is the start of your Pranayama practice, there are many books and qualified teachers available should you decide to go deeper in a Pranayama practice.
Prana is power, another definition of a yogi; One who’s prana is all within his body. Call your prana back, fill your body with your breath, use your Prana to “Start your engines” . . .
Remember you have a choice of where you send your prana. Make a conscious effort to disconnect from your energy drain and call your prana back. You must constantly take an inventory of where you are sending your prana, are you feeling listless, tired, drained? This is your cue to check in and turn your attention to the present moment, bring your breath to your attention.
You can take your Pranayama practice to the next level. Apana is a form of prana in the body in the lower abdomen (there are actually 5 types of prana-vayus). Apana is the energy that removes waste from the body. Apana moves down, but also needs to move up toward the flame of the digestive fire, Agni, to burn the rubbish before it can be removed. (It is the prevention of apana moving upward that leads to diseas. In inversions, Agni’s flame aims toward the lower region of the abdomen helping us to burn the rubbish.)
Through the mula and uddiyana bandha, our conscious effort, and using our breath to stoke the fire of Agni, we can pull up the rubbish with apana, burn it in the fire of Agni stoked by prana, and rid our body/mind of the rubbish.
What is taking your energy (usually it is an issue related to the first, second, or third chakra), use mula bandha to bring it up to uddiyana bandha, use uddiyana bandha to bring it to the fire, burn it. Now let it go.
When you can keep your prana in your body, burn the rubbish, and disconnect from the prana leaks, you will connect with Satchitananda (Truth, Knowledge, and Bliss).