Prāna is the energy at the basis of all creation. Everything that exists, animate and inanimate, is a manifestation of prāna in one form or another. At the macrocosmic level, prāna is called Mahā Shakti, which means ‘great power’ (mahā = great, shakti = power).
Within the microcosm of living beings, Mahā Shakti manifests as prāna shakti. Whereas Mahā Shakti is responsible for all creation, animate and inanimate, prāna shakti is the source of all sentient life.
Prāna is your life-force or vital energy, your inner power and strength. It is the energy that powers growth, change and your ability to engage with life. Prāna empowers both the gross physical and the subtle dimensions of your being, for example, prāna powers your intelligence and intuition.
The word prāna can also be translated as breath. At the subtlest and most refined level, it is the energy that powers your spiritual essence.
The term prāna, therefore, has multiple meanings depending on the context. For example, Mahā Prāna is macrocosmic prāna, prāna shakti is microcosmic, and prāna vāyu is the term used to describe a sub-prāna (which will be explained in more detail in part 2 of this article), which lies in the chest. The fact that each of these areas shares the name prāna, points to the fact that it is via the chest, the heart and the lungs that we can connect our individual prāna and consciousness heart to cosmic prāna and consciousness.
The Yoga Chūdāmani Upanishad (v. 90) states:
“As long as prāna is retained in the body the individual soul does not leave the body. The departure of prāna from the body is death. Therefore, prāna should be controlled.’
This is why yogis practice prānāyāma; to control and stabilize prāna, improve health and increase longevity.
All life pulsates. Prāna, when healthy, constantly flows and pulsates, contracts and relaxes, for example, the beat of your heart and the rhythmic inflation and deflation of your lungs. When the body or a part of the body is full of healthy, balanced prāna you feel good. You feel that life is flowing smoothly within you. There is a sense of strength, warmth and being nourished. Prāna is the basis of this warm glowing feeling.
Excessive tension and contraction and an inability to relax, whether muscular, mental or emotional, cause prāna becomes imbalanced.
Over-stimulated or undercharged prāna stops pulsating in certain parts of the body. Under stress and tension, your breath may become erratic and even stop altogether for moments, negatively impacting every part of your body. Your heart rate might increase to an uncomfortable level, and in more extreme circumstances, the rhythm of the heart can become damaged causing arrhythmia. An example of an excessive prāna is diarrhea, while constipation occurs when prāna is diminished. Disturbance in the smooth flow of prāna causes blockages and stagnation, allowing toxic substances to build up in the body. When flow and pulsation are disturbed, prāna cannot nourish and strengthen you. Rather, dysfunction and disease follow.
At the microcosmic level, prāna is a very complex phenomenon. Its nature is subtle, constantly moving and highly changeable. In Chinese medicine, prāna is called Qi and is described as a vapor that can suddenly appear and then disappear, and then undergo major alterations in the next moment.
Prāna manifests in the body as vata dosha, which means wind, or the wanderer. Vata is a term used in Ayurveda, Indian traditional medicine. It is a manifestation of prāna when it is acting under the influence of the space and air elements in the subtle body. Like air, wind, and space, vata has the characteristics of being cold, dry, subtle, rough and erratic.
Vata controls all movements and changes in the body and mind.
It is easy to lose prāna and aggravate vata if you do not look after yourself, especially in a busy modern life. Vata increases and becomes excessive and deranged when you are holding a lot of stress, having to cope with too many demands, dealing with unexpected changes or working too hard. This is exacerbated by a poor diet and an erratic lifestyle. Deranged vata makes you feel exhausted, dry, shaky, ungrounded and anxious. Sleep issues and memory disturbances are common symptoms of deranged vata, as are general feelings of weakness and insecurity.
Prāna and vata have an intimate relationship. By strengthening prāna you pacify vata and prevent illness from forming in the body and mind. By pacifying vata with various lifestyle modifications or yoga-meditation practices and sometimes herbs you increase prāna. Yoga provides us with the means to improve the flow and pulsation of prāna and the function of vata in your body and mind because strong healthy flowing prāna is required to power your journey to higher consciousness.
Your Prānic Bank Account
Each one of us is given a prāna bank account at birth. You can squander your inheritance over your lifetime, or you can build on it. If you squander it, you degenerate at an early age. If you build on it, you become more vital as you age and are better able to use the collective experiences of your life for a good purpose.
Prāna is a precious gift that can be consciously grown or carelessly depleted.
To remain healthy into your old age, you need to learn about your prāna, what it is, how to manage it, how to use it properly, and how to create more when you need it. You need to maintain balance for true health and strength. It is so easy for the body and mind to be disturbed and for you to waste prāna if you are not careful, especially during stressful or difficult times.
If your prānic bank account is in the red, your prāna is low or imbalanced, you become prone to illness. You will be unable to use your body, mind, and intellect to their full capacity. When your prānic bank account is growing, because you are living a balanced life, resting well and saving energy, you feel strong, powerful and creative, balanced and in tune with nature. You are able to power up all your physical and mental organs so that they function at an optimal level.