In The Spiritual Science of Kriya Yoga, Goswami Kriyananda states, “Life is infinite and all-pervading. Life manifests itself through the duality of a primordial energy called prana, and a primordial nature called matter. There is no single object or substance that does not contain the energy/matter complex, whether it is classified as matter or mind. Just as subtle vapors upon cooling become gross matter and take the form of a cloud, or of water, or of ice, so in exactly the same manner, prana evolves as mind in its various forms. It is prana which vibrates and appears as the life-force, even in the atoms.”
The practice of pranayama is the cultivation of the subtle energies into vibrant energies that fuel the body, the mind, and the emotions. It is not only the extension of and control of the breath through practices like bhastrika, surya bhedan, nadi shodhana, ujjayee, and brahmari, just to name a few, but the cultivation of a non-dualistic mind which is achieved. According to Sri Sankaracharya, “Pranayama is the control of all life-forces by realizing naught but Brahman in all things as the mind. You negate the Universe on the in-breath, and create the Universe on the out-breath.”
Developing prana can elongate your life,is said to cure diseases, and make you feel ‘high’ without the use of pharmacological substances. It can clear out toxic emotional patterns from your body and mind, freeing your perspective and destroying old karma. There are over fifty recorded types of pranayama, but there are also other practices for cultivating your life force. These include QiGong, meditation, kundalini kriyas, yoga asana. Acupuncture along certain meridians releases innate chi or prana in the body. Even aboriginal shamans used ‘standing like a tree’ with one leg elevated to increase the pranic flow in their bodies. Prana can also be increased with sound. You can listen to uplifting music or repeat mantras. You can target specific organs or chakra centers with vibratory sound of a certain pitch or frequency to unlock prana held ‘captive’ in certain energy centers.
In the ancient texts of Patanjai’s Yoga Sutras and the texts of Ayurvedic medicine, reference is made to developing and storing prana for later release by utilizing mudras, or specific psycho-energetic gestures (with the hands and other body parts) which direct the pranic flow, or subtle forces in the body. The whole point of developing prana, according to these varied traditions, is to utilize it for increasing our spiritual awareness. From a tantric point of view, the more we are serene in our own bodies and minds, the more we can affect that quality in others. By developing a ‘prolonged and subtle breath’ we lessen our own karma and its effects on those around us. There is a great interview with Mukunda Stiles here that will teach you some beginning practices for developing prana by practicing meditation, as well as hatha and raja yogas.
There have been numerous medical journals that have supported the ancient teachings of prana development, including a study conducted at the Manipal College of Medical Sciences in Pokhara, Nepal that proved alternate nostril breathing (just one form of pranayama) lowered pulse rates by over 20%. In still other studies, it was found that, “It charges the body with an increased supply of oxygen through the lungs, this oxygen “burns” or oxidizes the waste impurities, chiefly carbon, in the venous blood.” In a world of over-stressed, adrenal-fried citizens, developing prana through these types of practices might be just what we need to return our nervous systems to homeostasis, and rid our bodies of the overburdening toxins from a consumer-based, noxious, environment. In one recent study it was found that over 14 million tons of carcinogens are pumped into our air every year, and it is already an accepted fact that over 72,000 synthetic chemicals have been produced and released into our environment since World War II. The development of our pranic energy is not only important for spiritual development, but for our own physical detoxification.
There are many names for prana, this all encompassing force, including sama, udana, vyana and apana, Sanskrit terms which appear in the Rig Veda for ‘the breath of the cosmic purusha” which really means that all these types of prana are from one fundamental energy. Vayu prana is the uplifting energy, which describes prana in general. Apana prana is the ‘downward’ energy responsible for grounding our bodies, and from a physiological standpoint for ridding the body of carbon dioxide. You can think of Apana prana as the exhale, or the rooting of the tree. Udana prana is the upward moving energy of prana, or the inhale. It is responsible for the creation of sound and the five senses. Samana is the balancing energy responsible for cellular metabolism. If you have never seen pictures of a cell starving for oxygen, they are quite graphic. In fact, if cells are not given enough oxygen, in the kidneys, for example, they will start dividing and multiplying to make up for the lack of oxygen – this is the baseline for cancer. Finally, Vyana prana is the outward moving pranic energy responsible for how our muscles move and balancing our muscular-skeletal system.
Prana does govern everything – from the most basic physical functions to the most elevated reaches of an ascending spirit. Swami Mayatitananda reminds us, “Prana is the breath of the soul, a bridge between body and mind, so conscious breathing practices can nourish our spirit and heal even our most grievous spiritual and emotional wounds.” Start developing your prana today. Begin with a deep, slow breath. Your body, mind and spirit will thank you.
About the Author
Christina Sarich is a musician, yogi, humanitarian and freelance writer who channels many hours of studying Lao Tzu, Paramahansa Yogananda, Rob Brezny, Miles Davis, and Tom Robbins into interesting tidbits to help you Wake up Your Sleepy Little Head, and See the Big Picture. Her blog is Yoga for the New World.
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Kriyananda, Goswami. The Spiritual Science of Kriya Yoga, The temple of Kriya Yoga, Kedzie, Chicago, IL. 2002.
JOY: The Journal of Yoga. Spring 2009, Volume 8, Number 1. Suryanadi Anuloma Viloma Pranayama Modifies Autonomic Activity of Heart