-WHAT IS PRANA?-
The term prana can be and often is roughly translated as ‘life force’ or ‘energy’ . These are ways that you may here it described in a yoga class. You may also hear prana described as the breath or being present within the breath- we will come back to this later. Prana in its myriad of forms and movements is the most profound and simple root concept of yoga - that the universe, the entire cosmos is alive and throbbing with inherent livingness- prana shakti. In tantra & yoga this force of prana is also known as shakti, kundilini or prakriti. Even the things that appear lifeless or static are manifestations of prana. The glass is present and held together due to prana, the water inside and the flow of the water into the glass are all prana - the thought to go fill the glass is also a movement of prana.
The depth of meaning of prana can only be grasped through realising that the vital force of creation is constantly at play ( lila) in every aspect of our being- a never ending matrix of energy particles arranged, constructed, flowing in a limitless expansive multitude of combinations, patterns, densities, forms, varieties. Prana exists on every plane of existence that we can fathom with our mind, body and heart and in those we cannot logically quantify. Prana is the mystery that is worshipped by the great seers of our time- and by the great scientists too.
This whole world - whatever there is- vibrates having originated from prana.
It is propounded in tantric and vedic literature that at the beginning the whole universe lay contracted as pure potent seed of unmanifest consciousness. Contained within it was both potential and presence lovingly embraced in stillness. From this stillness arouse a desire Ekoham bahusyam- Iam one, let me become many. This willing was a movement leading to the first ripple of vibration- Spandan. Spanda is present in the cyclical expansion of the universe, the breathing rhythmic cells of our earth body and the contraction/openness of our mind awareness.
You may get a sense that prana is then that what is manifest and that which moves but also the intention or ability to move and manifest. But surely there must be a ground for prana to move from, through or with ? This ground is consciousness or chitta or shiva. Energy is a force with direction. Vibration draws particles closer together or further apart into manifest forms. Consciousness perceives direction and form through energy so also has presence- though some describe its stillness as the Great Void, this void is spaciousness within the sphere of creation.
When prana moves chitta ( consciousness) moves. When prana is without movement, chitta is without movement.
Hatha Yoga Pradipika (2:2)
Consciousness experiences itself through the movement of prana, it is the direction and intention. Subject and object. Both prana and consciousness must be present for life to exist and unfold. Infact shakti and shiva are always as one but in the same way our mind appears to separate from our body or light distinct from the dark - they appear as two seperate forces. Consciousness (shiva) is inherent in the shape and view of the manifest world ( shakti) and vital energy (shakti) provides us with the shapes to see, the eyes to see with as-well as the electrical charges the relay the information we see- consciousness helps us to experience and create understanding based on the shakti/shiva experience.
If the void could be an object of contemplation, where would the consciousness that perceives it be ?
Yoga Spandakarika ( first flow, stanza 12)
Therefore prana is everywhere and in everything- air, food, environment, body and it is also self generated. Its presence can be felt from the gross to the so sublime and subtle.- from majesty of crisp air’d mountains to leaning into the support of love. In yoga we work with prana from the physical to the fine through asana, pranayama, mudra, mantra and meditation towards the realisation of prana. Tantra embraces the wonder of every manifestation and cycle as an opportunity to connect to the divine principle of prana. This is wisdom known as Prana Vidya- being in the flow of your own and environmental pranas. A yogin/yogini who is particularly attuned to prana is called a Prani.
One way that this energetic insight is developed is through the breath. Pranayama ( yama- control, ayama- expand) practices are integral to smoothing out the waves of the mind from sensory and emotive distractions in a move towards clarity, balance and presence. Practices range from vigorous pumping actions that stimulate and churn energy in the body such as bastrika ( bellows breath) to balancing nadi shodhana that soothe the nervous system by lengthening the breath and flowing it through alternate nostrils to balance ida & pingala nadis ( more of this in upcoming post’s on pranayama). Simply being witness to and maintaining awareness of the inhale and exhale is a profound life changing practice that will connect you to the pranic force.
Pranayama has a direct effect on the mind, as we climb in to the more subtle realms of awareness our concentration becomes more refined and we have the opportunity to connect with our own presence and the joy of simply being alive through the gift of the breath. This is its aim- not to becoming more controlled but ultimately to release control once our sensitivity and focus is refined enough to maintain integrated to the dimension of prana- to expand our awareness of all that is infused with prana- all that is.
Inhale, and God approaches you. Hold the inhalation, and God remains with you. Exhale, and you approach God. Hold the exhalation, and surrender to God.
For more on prana see future blog posts x