Prana – What is it and What does it Do?

Prana is an ancient Indian Sanskrit word that describes the foundation for all life. Prana is also sometimes interpreted as meaning the breath, or the breath of life, but this interpretation can lead to the mistaken conclusion that prana is just another word for the air that we breathe. Prana is much more than that, it is life energy.

This energy is everywhere. It is in your body, in the contents of the room, in the environment, all over this planet, and running through everything in the universe.  You’ll hear prana is spoken about most often in yoga, Ayurvedic, and Indian martial arts circles. The philosophy behind prana runs parallel with Far Eastern beliefs on chi, and like chi, ancient science depicting the flow and movement of prana around the human body is well documented.


How Prana Moves Around the Body

In ancient Indian texts, especially documents related to Ayurveda, prana flow is mapped out across the human body through channels called Nadi. The Nadis are very similar to acupuncture meridians in traditional Chinese medicine. There are over 70,000 Nadis in the human body and they all have a varying degree of flow running through them, and perhaps some blockages.

Decreased flow and blockages of prana can be caused by such things as a negative experience, continual negative thinking, an accident causing physical injury, a sudden shock such as witnessing a traumatic event, or prolonged exposure to a negative environment.

There is a close correlation between the Nadis and the nervous system, the digestive system, the circulatory system, and the respiratory system. There is also a correlation between the Nadis and the chakras. The seven chakras play an important role in the regulation of prana and two of the main Nadis called the Pingala and the Ida interweave up the body, alternating left and right through the chakras.

There is another important Nadi called the Sushumna which rises from the base of the spine at the Muladhara chakra (the red one) right up to the Sahasrara chakra at the crown of the head (the violet one).  The Sushumna also travels through the chakras but in a straight line up the spine.

When the prana is flowing freely, it is said that the body is in perfect health. The skin is glowing, the joints and muscles move freely, the body is free of disease and the mind is peaceful. Conversely, when prana is blocked or slow to flow it can manifest physically as stiffness or tension in the muscles, and can even lead to illness. Blocked or sluggish prana is also associated with mental tension, anxiety, and high emotional responses as well as lethargy and general tiredness.


How Yoga Works with Prana


Move Through It

 Yoga poses are designed to lengthen and stretch the muscle system, soothing the nerves, releasing tension, and evening out the breath. You may have already noticed that certain poses ‘open’, energize and wake you up such as sun salutations, back bends, and standing poses, while other poses calm, ‘close’, and settle you such as child’s pose, seated forward bend and other forward bends. All yoga poses affect the flow of prana helping to open and close, release and retain the energy where needed, which is why a balanced yoga practice of complementary opening and closing poses is necessary to stop you from feeling ‘heady’ or washed out after practice.


Stay With It

Another example of moving prana in yoga poses is when holding a pose for a set period of time. Staying in a pose for a few minutes ignites a fire within. You start to feel warm, breathing becomes faster, and staying with the hold as you breathe works deeply through any prana blocks you may have.


Breathe Through It

The most effective way to balance the flow of prana in the body is through the proper practice of pranayama. The science of pranayama is a vast and complex subject and is also one of the Eight Limbs of Yoga. There are many different breathing techniques in pranayama affecting prana in a myriad of ways. Using pranayama to work through health difficulties is like shining a spotlight on them. As a result of this intensity, care must be taken to self-pace or work with an experienced teacher but great advances can be made to restore health with just this practice alone.


Yoga Nidra

Another way to experience prana in the body and work on any blockages is through the excellent technique of Yoga Nidra involves the practitioner bringing awareness to different areas of the body in a relaxed state. Focusing on different parts of your body will stimulate prana and you will feel a tingling or expansive feeling in your body.


A Life in the Flow

When attention is drawn to prana you can feel it as a tingling awareness and sometimes a sensation of heat or other unusual sensations in the body. It is common to begin to feel pranic energy in the hands the most strongly, but the soles of the feet and the crown of the head are also areas where the sensation of prana can make an initial appearance. The more you work with prana the more awareness you can bring to your body when you approach the mat and to your pranayama and meditation sessions. Soon you will feel the connection strongly not only to your own pranic energy flow but to the flow of prana that runs through everything in the universe.

Then you will know by experience that prana is that part of us that is a constant presence in all things. It is very fluid and flexible and it is never fixed or rigid. It can change, mutate, grow, shrink, transform and expand, it can flow faster, slower, in bouts or in streams, but It can never truly die because it has always existed.


 Photo by Lachlan Ross:


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