Chapter 4 – Prana ~ Ways we use it, lose it, and better yet accumulate it.
Feeling vigor, energy, and vitality in life. There are many different ways we bring energy into our body and feel invigorated. A few important ones that are out of the scope of this chapter include: meaning and purpose in life, friends and family and connections, having enjoyment each day amidst the hustle and bustle of daily living, and relaxing at night. How’s that for a prescription? Do more of what brings you meaning and purpose in life, make sure to spend time with those you love, relax and enjoy some part of every day of your life!
I am going to use the concepts of prana, also known as chi or qi in TCM, to express the different ways and forms we bring energy into our bodies. Prana is a yoga word that is used to explain energy but it prana has many forms; prana from air could be oxygen and negative ions, prana from food would be flavor, prana from sun is biophotons. There are many different names, ways, shapes, and forms energy gives us life.
Also of importance is how we lose vitality which is just as important as filling your body with energy.
Prana to yogis is vitality. Anything that is alive or moves has prana. Prana is a Sanskrit word when translated means “moving always.” Everything in the body needs to move, where there is no movement death will follow. Breath needs to move throughout the body, blood needs to flow to every cell in the body, hormones need to secrete all day and night, nerve impulses need to move through the nerves, anything in the tube between our mouth and anus needs to move or it becomes putrid. Energy is what provides these movements inside the body, energy is blood flowing, neurons sensing and relaying, hormones secreting, and much more.
Prana is more than one type of energy; yogis used to associate prana with breath, as prana moves in breath, but since prana is in us while in-utero, it is not just breath. It was thought that prana is more likely closer to a nerve function or neurons traveling, and this is another form of prana. I associated prana with the negative ions in our atmosphere, and then discovered biophotons are akin to prana and chi, biophotons are minute light emitting photons that “light” within us. Prana is also a light within us that shines from our biophotons. Perhaps prana is concentrated in biophotons, and not just biophotons.
Energy in the body is explained by science as ATP production and mitochondrial action in the cells that supplies fuel to work, move, and live. We can do all the “right” actions to make those mitochondria efficient and abundant in producing energy, but we still may not feel energetic.
More recently I heard prana described as a bioelectric energy, a self renewing form of energy in the body that is an ancient and highly conserved communicating and signaling system.
Prana is energy and matter, prana as matter are the biophotons and negative ions, prana as energy is vitality. In quantum physics a photon can be matter or energy, and further it seems it’s all energy; matter is solidified low slow vibrational “clumps” of energy.
Prana is what shines our eyes, grows our hair, and beats our heart. Wherever there is life or movement there is prana. Heat, light, electricity, gravitation, and magnetism are examples of prana movement. We learn how to use and increase our prana to become full of life and vigor.
As long as we live we are prana movers, but our prana channels may be bent, blocked or broken. Yoga postures are designed to help open these prana channels or vessels — arteries, veins, nerves, lymph vessels — so prana can flow through them. Breathing practices are designed to help our bodies accumulate and direct prana. Asanas help to mend the channels or nadis (as they are known in yoga). Nadi is a channel with something moving in it; if nothing is moving in it, it’s a nada.
In types of yoga where you are moving in sync with your breath, the whole process of learning the synchronized moving and breathing is ultimately about breathing in and moving prana. This is why yoga teaches the importance of breath along with form. Gymnastics causes an expenditure of prana while yoga asanas accumulate and regulate the flow of prana.
There are several ways to fill our bodies with prana, but first I want to connect the ethereal term to the science behind it.
Prana in our atmosphere
Prana can be likened to the negative ion. Ions are the workers of life in a cell. In our atmosphere there are two types of ions, negative and positive.
- Prana is in the negative ions, small and very active electrically, like minute packets of pure electrical energy that constantly move. These small negative, active ions are what bring vitality from the air that organisms breathe, representing atmospheric prana.
- Positive ions are larger and slower. Too many positive ions in the atmosphere tend to make one lethargic. Like the calm before the storm: before a storm the atmosphere becomes filled with positive ions and during the storm, rain and winds replenish the atmosphere with negative ions.
Positive ions start out as negative ions. Negative ions electrically attach to airborne particles, like dust, smog, dander, mold — even viruses and bacteria, which then clump together, and form a larger positive ion. While this helps to clean the air, when the presence of too many positive ions vs. negative ions in the air happens (as in cities and enclosed spaces) there is less vital prana (negative ions) for us to breathe. We can feel the revitalizing difference of being in nature vs. being in a city or an enclosed space.
Air conditioning, thought to clean the air, does not add negative ions back into the air. That’s why air conditioned offices and spaces feel like dead air. Heat, too can interfere with the negative ions/prana in the air we breathe. And I’d like to add, purchasing an “ionizing” machine is not the same, though it may help. A machine can not compare to nature. Go outside and play to absorb your negative ions!
The most effective ways of increasing the negative ions in our atmosphere is by sun, wind, and large masses of moving water. On the coast and at sea we bathe in an ocean of prana, many of us feel that exhilaration just by spending a weekend at the beach. Breathing this air brings us more prana.
We absorb this atmospheric prana through our skin and lungs. This is why we must not electrically insulate our bodies. Clothes and shoes interfere with our electrical exchanges through the atmosphere. Due to the absorptive capabilities of skin, the cells that make up the outermost 0.25 to 0.40 mm of the skin can be supplied with oxygen from the external environment instead of the underlying capillary network. Skin breathes from the outside and the inside. You will have healthier skin if you don’t wear clothes that block the skin from inhaling some of its own oxygen. Skin truly does breathe.
Some materials are better than others for not blocking atmospheric absorption. For example cotton and silk does not interfere with prana absorption, vs. polyester which blocks the skin exchanges.
Prana aside, polyester is made from plastic and is polluting the environment, and doesn’t degrade. Every time you wash an item containing polyester, little plastic fibers break off and get washed into the water system where they harm aquatic life. Please read labels and stick to cotton, silk, and wool. Though not always easy in todays commercial money driven landscape, in time you will find manufacturers that have smarter methods of making their clothes.
When you stand with bare feet on the earth — known as grounding or earthing, you absorb the good negative ions from the earth which reduce inflammation, help you sleep better, and help blood cells repel each other and not get sticky.
We use nature to ‘charge our batteries’ and as we receive a full charge we also need to discharge through our skin. Being earthed helps with this charging and discharging. Putting bare feet on bare earth or in a stream permits a constant electrical charge/discharge. Through our lungs and skin we are constantly charging and discharging with the atmosphere. The purer the air and the less clothes and shoes we have to interfere, the better. This constant charging and discharging is what fills us with vitality — with prana.
We are electrical beings — and the earth’s surface is electrically conductive. The Earth is negatively charged; when we ground to the earth we are absorbing free electrons from the earth with a host of benefits from improved sleep, to pain relief, to reducing inflammation, and reducing free radicals in the body. Grounding is like getting antioxidants from food.
When electrons from the earth enter our body the body equilibrates with the electrical potential of the earth, thereby stabilizing the electrical environment of all organs, tissues, and cells. Ref: “Pranayama” by Andrew Van Lysebeth
Prana & The importance of getting outside
Most of us have experienced the joy of being outside; soaking up some sun, feeling wind blow through our hair, breathing fresh forest air or the air after a rain, feeling our feet in sand or dirt. So why don’t we do them more? These activities are very beneficial. This connection with Mother Nature makes you slow down and breathe, you get out of your stress response or out of your head, and you feel connected to something.
What happens is we get busy. We have to work inside, cook inside, clean inside, shop inside, and we just get so busy doing inside obligations that allow us to forget how good it feels to connect with Mother Nature. When you lose this connection the stress mounts, builds more inflammation, less vitamin D, and we don’t breathe as deep, or sleep as well. Inside air is just not as pleasant to breathe all day long.
So this is your reminder, go outside, often, year round. Walk to work, walk or ride your bike for errands, or just walk around the block every day. Make a nice little spot outside with a table you can sit at to eat, or relax and read — or better yet lie in the yard on a cotton mat or lambswool mat and read or nap. Lying on the earth on a material that transmits grounding will benefit your entire body. Don’t use cold as an excuse to not be outside. You can dress warm while you walk to the post office or around the block, but don’t dress too warm because you’ll warm up just by walking.
Prana in breath
As you learned in Chapter 2 opening the nostrils during inhalation directs more of the air toward the area in our nose with the most sensitive nerve endings.
This olfactory region is also the region of our nose that absorbs prana. By flaring your nostrils slightly as you inhale, you pull more air across this region of your nasal passages. And if you slow this passage down, your body has more time for the gas exchanges in the lungs, and more time to absorb more prana from the air you breathe.
Prana and food
Prana is the energy of the blue sky above, and the vegetables down below also give us prana. We exist by constantly drawing prana from the cosmos. This extraction takes place by four main points of prana absorption (in order of importance):
1. The nerve endings in the nasal cavities
2. the air cells in the lungs
3. the tongue
4. the skin
I spoke about how we absorb prana in our nasal cavity and the lungs including the importance of the air you breathe, and the skin including the importance of exposing your skin to sun, wind, and water and wearing natural materials such as cotton. Now about the tongue and food.
The tongue is an important part of prana absorption, a considerable part of energy is extracted from food. How well this energy fuels us and fills us with vitality depends on the pranic quality of the food. If our bodies were just mass, any protein, carb, or fat would do, but as we learn about the energies and nutritional needs of the body we realize more than just these macronutrients are needed for complete health.
The yogis link prana with taste, so food that has real flavor has more prana — flavor is not prana, it only indicates its presence. Initially when I did this research in 2012 it was believed that no other prana absorbing organs exist in the digestive tract, that pranic energy from food is absorbed by the tongue without digestion. However due to more recent research on biophotons reveal we do get prana via biophotons through digestion. When we are digesting foods high in biophotons (fresh organic and local produce) the biophotons are absorbed in the digestion process.
- One caveat on using flavor, in today’s food system processed food manufacturers use chemical flavors that are toxic and hijack your taste buds. Chemical flavors do not indicate prana — rather they will take your prana. Flavor and prana relate only to fresh whole foods.
- Even whole vegetables that have been out of the sun for a long time (shipped across countries or flown overseas to other countries) will lose their flavor indicating they have lost some prana. These are still better than processed foods, but fresh whole foods are always best for prana absorption.
Associating prana with biophotons — plants absorb light emitting biophotons from the sun, this light is connected to vitality. When we eat fresh food and vegetables we eat prana.
We absorb prana from the atmosphere and the atmosphere is renewed with the negative ion prana. Food absorbs prana in much the same ways. When food is in the ground it is absorbing the prana from the sun, rain, and wind. The prana is active and mobile in the food, creating “light” in the food (aka biophotons). The sooner we eat the food taken from the ground the more we absorb the prana, and it fills us with more vitality. The longer a food goes from ground to your mouth, the more prana fades from it.
For example, a cracker. The wheat was plucked from the earth months before you eat it, then separated (the wheat from the germ), then ground in large quantities with lots of chemicals, preservatives, and fake nutrients added to it, then mixed with hydrogenated oils and high fructose corn syrup or other sweetener, molded, then baked or fried, then packaged in plastic or teflon lined bags. This exemplifies the term dead food. And a cracker from a health food store is also dead food! It might be organic or not have hydrogenated oils or extra sugar in it, but it is still dead!
This dead food can certainly build a physical body (bigger than it should be) but it will not restore pranic “batteries”. We have proof of this in society today. America has an obesity epidemic yet studies prove many obese people are malnourished. They are fat from too many calories and sick from not eating nutritious food. This is what processed, dead food does.
Ways we lose prana.
So how do we know if we are filled with prana? And how do we know if it is flowing? The more prana we have, the better we feel, the more energized we are, the more focused and in tune we are.
Sometimes a lack of prana is easier to identify. Are you tired, restless, frequently sick, lethargic, lacking motivation? These are signs that your prana is either low or you are sending out more than you are bringing in.
A star twinkles by pulling in energy and then pushing out energy. If it pushed out energy all the time, it would not sparkle. We are much the same. We need times when we withdraw and nurture ourselves to rebuild energy and times when we expel energy such as work, play, hobbies, and being in community. In order for us to shine and sparkle like a star we need to balance pulling energy in and pushing energy out. It’s equally important to rest as it is to move and exercise.
There are many obvious prana drains that I am not including here, like poor lifestyle habits. I want to bring to your awareness the more subtle ways prana can be lost, of which mindstuff is a biggie.
There are hundreds of ways we mentally expend energy: fears, addictions, worry, grief, gossip, depression, pain, fantasy — so many places to spend prana. If we view prana as a bank account to support the body, this can give a better idea of what happens when prana is wasted.
Imagine all your energy is contained in 100 beams of light. This is the energy you have to get out of bed, go to work, take care of family, cook, heal, and live your daily life. How you spend this energy is important. If your daily life requires approximately 50 of your beams of light, how are you going to spend your other 50 beams each day?
Do you prefer to spend that prana doing an enjoyable activity or do you want to spend that prana worrying? The days we deal with worry we use up our daily allotment of prana. Some worries tend to use more prana than others, like finance and relationships. Those when not in balance, can take at least 20-25 beams of light. That still leaves us plenty of beams, right?
Many of us are not aware of our energy leaks. If you are stewing over something someone said to you that takes 10 beams of light. Whether it is right or wrong does not matter so much as the energy you are giving it, if you are worrying about it you are expending prana.
Something from the past still affecting you takes 15 beams of light, and as long as you hold on to that you will start every day 15 beams short. By now, your daily allotment is already used up and you are running on empty. But wait! Its not time to go to bed and replenish your 100 beams, so now your body has to pull energy from our daily 50 energy beams.
For health and well being our immune system depends on some of these energy beams, when they are not available your body cannot take care of itself. When prana is low the first thing usually to go is creativity. Lack of creativity is not health threatening so your body is willing to let that go; second to go is sexual energy for much the same reason. When we operate on an energy deficit we subconsciously try to pull energy from people around us, which sets us up for unhealthy, unbalanced relationships. We pull prana from other people by neediness, whether it be needing attention, money, or other help. Persistently needing to draw energy from others sets one up for unhealthy attachments and dependency.
This is easy to correct! PRANA FOLLOWS THOUGHT, meaning what you think about you are sending energy to. Pulling your prana back is as simple and quick as changing your mind, which is sometimes easier to do than other times, but you can pull back this misplaced energy for better use.
Disconnecting is not easy; unplugging is a slow process of learning to detect energy leaks. We learn from yoga practices that we cannot focus on breath, form, and movement into and out of a pose (vinyasa) if our mind is wrapped around some drama of the day. We have to disconnect from the drama to be present in the body in yoga. When I have an incident that keeps taking my thoughts and therefore prana, I try to put it in a box and tuck it away in a cubby hole in my brain where I don’t think about it until I choose a good time to think about it to try to sort it out. And I may even limit the time, for example 15 minutes or a half hour, if I can’t turn the lead into gold by then I tuck it away for another time when I have grown to accept the situation.
So if only for a moment, disconnect from your thoughts, stop the constant chatter in the back of your mind and tune in instead to the beauty around you. This begins the process of training your mind to watch where it’s sending your energy. Then one day you realize you don’t have to be so focused on training the mind to watch where it’s sending your energy, you feel the drain, and realize you can disconnect right then on the spot.
In review, charge your pranic batteries by:
- Breathing clean fresh air deeply through your nose all day long.
- Get outside!
- Stand barefoot on bare earth, sand, grass or forest floor.
- Don’t wear plastic clothes (polyester) and other materials unnatural materials which block your skin from exchanging prana with the atmosphere.
- Eat real food as much as you can from local and organic (better yet regenerative or biodynamic) farmers.
- Be aware to not drain your pranic batteries through worry, rumination, and past experiences you haven’t accepted.