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What is Prana?

For centuries it has been widely recognised that in certain parts of our planet ... high mountains, pine forests, by the sea, in the fields ... the air possesses particularly powerful, invigorating, energy-charging, even healing properties. This extra something is cosmic energy, life force, known in yogic text as prana. It is present in all forms of life and in all things having life. Prana is in the food we eat, in water, earth, sunlight, above all in the air we breathe. Since it is thus taken into the body in breathing, improved inhalation means increased supplies of life force.

In prana, the root word "pra," meaning "to fill," is added to the root word, "an," ("to breathe" or "to live") creating the new meaning "the life that fills with the breath." In other words the life principle in action. Prana commonly translates as "air," "breath," "spirit," "life," "life force," "energy," "subtle energy," or "the upwards moving energy currents within the body.".

Prana is a subtle form of energy. Prana literally means “breathing

forth” the universal life force. Through practicing asana and pranayama, prana is brought into and stored in the body, increasing vitality. Prana mainly flows through the body in the nadis, or nerve channels of the astral body.

Prana exists as a negative energy as well as a positive energy. Prana moves upward and apana moves downward. When the two unite at the muladara chakra (base of spine) kundalini (dormant cosmic energy) is awakened.

The most important nadi, or energy channel, (there are 72,000!) is the shushumna nadi which correlates to the spinal cord in the physical body. When kundalini is awakened it starts to move up the shushumna nadi, through the seven chakras toward higher states of consciousness.

According to Ramacharaka:

"It is as difficult to explain Prana as it is to explain God. Prana is the energy permeating the universe at all levels. It is physical, mental, intellectual, sexual, spiritual and cosmic energy. All vibrating energies are prana. All physical energies such as heat, light, gravity, magnetism and electricity are also prana. It is the hidden or potential energy in all beings, released to the fullest extent in time of danger. It is the prime mover of all activity. It is energy which creates, protects and destroys. Vigour, power, vitality, life and spirit are all forms of prana."

Iyengar points out that in the Upanishads, prana is equated with atman, the innermost non-physical self, while Georg Feuerstein observes that it has been seen as the pervasive stuff out of which the sukshma-sharira or subtle physical body is formed. It is something of a rogue term in the systems of yoga, or as Feuerstein puts it:

'Although speculations about this life force reach far back into the Vedic age, none of the classical Sanskrit works seem to contain an even approximately precise and satisfactory definition of this important concept.' He notes, however, that the Yoga Vasishtha calls it spanda-shakti, which he translates as 'vibratory force'.

This certainly suggests that the life force of yoga is comparable to both the occultists' idea of all things in the universe as vibrations and the physicists' theories of the cosmos as a kind of rhythmic dance of matter and energy. If it were as 'simple' as that, however, prana would be everything, whereas it is clearly not everything but a power that operates on everything and is particularly linked with living things. At the same time, however, Swami Vivekananda can say of prana:

"This opens to us the door to almost unlimited power. Suppose, for instance, a man understood the Prana perfectly, and could control it, what power on earth would not be his? He would he able to move the sun and stars out of their places, to control everything in the universe, from the atoms to the biggest suns, because he would control the Prana. This is the end and aim of Pranayama. When the Yogi becomes perfect, there will be nothing in nature not under his control. If he orders the gods or the souls of the departed to come, they will come at his bidding. All the forces of nature will obey him as slaves. When the ignorant see these powers of the Yogi, they call them the miracles."

    Homage to prana, breath of life,

    Because the whole cosmos obeys it.

    It has become lord of all,

    And all things are based on it.

    Homage to you, breath of life,

    To your thunder, your lightning and your rain . . .

    When prana bespatters this mighty earth with rain,

    The cattle bellow the greatness of their share.

    Homage to you, breath of life,

    Both when you come and when you go . . .

    Homage to you, breath of life,

    When breathing in and breathing out . . . .

    Prana, don't turn your back on me.

    You will be none other than me.

    Like an embryo in the waters

    I will bind you inside me,

    That I may live!

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