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Focus of the Month - January 2022

Prāṇa प्राण - Life force


written by Sarah Scholz


New year, new energy, new power, an invitation to activate your prana more. Whenever we feel energetically down, powerless and weak, connect with your prana, activate your life force, through pranayama, asana practice, chakra activation, fresh air, healthy food and drinks, connecting with people who make your prana blossom. 2022 is your year to step fully into your life energy, your Prana.


Prāṇa प्राण,- Life force. Life energy. Breath.

"Prana is seen as a universal energy which flows in currents in & around the body."

Prāṇa, is translated in Indian philosophy, to the body’s vital “airs,” or energies. A central conception in early Hindu philosophy, particularly expressed in the Upanishads, prana was held to be the principle of vitality and was thought to survive as a person’s “last breath” for eternity or until a future life.


Ayurvedic texts classify prana into five subdivisions – the currents that energize and sustain the body’s physiological processes:

  • Prana: The air entering the nose; it governs the functioning of the heart and circulatory system.

  • Apana: The air evacuated from the rectum, that which removes waste products from the lungs and excretory system.

  • Samana: The air responsible for metabolism and the functioning of the digestive system.

  • Udana: The air flowing through the throat. It regulates the vocal chords and the conscious ability to produce the varied sounds of speech, laughter, crying and singing, as the situation demands.

  • Vyana: The air that circulates throughout the body and controls voluntary muscular activity.

Yoga scriptures break down prana into five more sub-categories responsible for various bodily functions:

  • Naga: the air that regulates burping.

  • Kurma: the air that controls contracting movements e.g. blinking.

  • Krikala: the air that governs sneezing.

  • Devadatta: the air that controls yawning.

  • Dhananjaya: the air that controls the functioning of heart valves.


Yoga can be accurately described as a practice to increase and strengthen prana. Well-known counterparts to prana from other traditions are qi, chi or ki from qigong, tai chi and reiki.


Just as our blood flows through veins, prana has its own pathways through which it flows through the body. The nadis. They are the equivalent of the meridians that many know from TCM. It is said that there are 72,000 nadis, however, in yoga we deal mainly with the three main channels. Ida, Pingala and Sushumna.

With the help of the bandhas, or energy locks, the yogi*ni tries to direct the flowing prana to the desired regions. The goal is to release blockages and allow the prana to flow freely in order to maintain good health. Prana is found in all living beings - it is ultimately the crucial difference between a real flower and a plastic flower. Prana is when we notice someone standing behind us without noticing them with our five senses, or a great atmosphere at a party, or the charisma that some people exude. People with a pronounced prana are considered attractive and especially people with a not so abundant prana seek their proximity. The immediate sympathy between complete strangers can also be explained by prana.


Prāṇāyāma:

Pranayama, one of the eight limbs of yoga, is intended to expand prana.

Prāṇāyāma is a common term for various techniques for accumulating, expanding and working with prana. The dynamics and laws of Prana were understood through systematic practice of Pranayama to gain mastery over Prana.. Many pranayama techniques are designed to cleanse the nadis, allowing for greater movement of prana. Other techniques may be utilized to arrest the breath for samadhi or to bring awareness to specific areas in the practitioner's subtle or physical body.


Mahakumbhaka

The 8 Mahakumbhakas are considered the most important breathing exercises mentioned by Svatmarama in the Hatha Yoga Pradipika. These are in detail:

  1. Bhramari: Close your eyes and ears. Inhale very deeply into your belly and exhale with a "humming" sound.

  2. Sitali: Inhale air with a hissing sound over the tongue rolled lengthwise, exhale slowly through the nose

  3. Sitkari: Inhale air with a hissing sound over the transversely rolled tongue, exhale slowly through the nose.

  4. Ujjayi: Throat is slightly closed and restricted, so the breath flows very slow and controlled in and out through the nose.

  5. Surya Bheda: Breathe in through the right nostril and out through the left nostril.

  6. Bhastrika: Rapid and forced successive breathing through the nose.

  7. Murccha: Hold the breath with Jalandhara Bandha, pressing the chin against the chest. Hold the breath until you feel a swooning sensation arise, and then slowly exhale.

  8. Plavini: Breathe in and fill the lungs strongly with air, belly and chest expanding widely. Keep the lungs quite full and breathe gently in and out of the filled lungs.


How does prana flow?

In our energy body, prana flows through energy pathways called nadis (nadi translates as flow). Prana rides on the breath, so when we breathe in, we take in prana. When we expand the breath and improve the quality of it, we are expanding and improving the quality of this vital life force within and around us.

The prana is divided into five vayus.


The 5 Vayus:

  1. Prana Vayu: governs the region between the diaphragm and throat. It moves downward and governs inhalation and the swallowing process. It is related to our intelligence, nervous system and breathing. For its activation, pranayama such as Bhastrika, Nadi Shodana or Ujjayi are good exercises.

  2. Udana Vayu: sits in the throat and controls our speech, energy, will, memory and exhalation. Udana governs positive energy, enthusiasm and strength. Ujjayi, Bhramari and Viparita Karani Mudra are activating exercises.

  3. Samana Vayu: is located in the stomach and small intestine and governs the digestive system here. It is used to distribute the energy of food in the body. Here Agnisara and Nauli are stimulating exercises. But Samana also governs mental digestion and gives us a sense of contentment and balance. When Samana Vayu is disturbed, we tend to cling to material things and exhibit possessive behavior.

  4. Vyana Vayu: is concentrated in the heart, but affects the whole body. It regulates the circulation and movement of our joints and muscles. Vyana also regulates mental circulation and gives us independence of mind, but also causes isolation and alienation when it is not in balance. With Kumbhaka, this prana can be activated and strengthened, which also has a positive effect on meditation practice.

  5. Apana Vayu: is located in the lower abdomen and regulates all downward excretions (urine, menstruation). Exercises such as Nauli, Agnisara, Ashvini Mudra and Mula Bandha have an activating effect. But Apana is also responsible for eliminating toxic thoughts and negative emotions.

Source: wikipedia


What can we do to increase our prana?


There are five sources through which we can absorb prana.

  1. Earth (Prithivi) or also our food

  2. Water (Apas) or also our liquid intake

  3. Fire (Agni) or also our daylight

  4. Air (Vayu), the air we breathe

  5. Ether (Akasha), which is power we receive from other people or from places of power.


The Chakras - Centers with concentrated Prana


Important in connection with Prana are also the Chakras - our energy centers. This is where prana gathers. In yoga, we usually focus on the seven main chakras that stack upward along the spine. Each one is associated with different glands and organs, and it is said that the health of each part of the body depends on a well-balanced flow of energy in the chakras. Conversely, if there is a blockage of prana, disharmony can result, which then affects the physical and emotional levels. Our yoga practice, whether it is asana, meditation or pranayama, keeps the prana in a good, healthy flow.


Asanas - Boost Prana Flow:


Rocking Forward Fold: Place your feet hips-width apart. Bend your knees and invite your body to fold with your belly resting on your thighs. Hold the opposite elbow and take 3–5 slow cycles of breath, inhaling to a count of 5 and exhaling to a count of 5. Feel free to sway side to side. Allowing your body to rock and sway soothes your nervous system, like a mother would rock a baby. When you feel ready and after your breaths are complete, roll up to stand in Mountain Pose.


Empty Coat Sleeves: Step your feet slightly wider than hips-width apart. Allow your arms to extend straight out with palms open. Begin to sway side to side, twisting at the waist and allow your arms to swing with you like empty coat sleeves. As you twist and allow your arms to swing, invite the hand crossing the front of your body to tap your chest around the heart region, the hand swinging behind you will tap your back around the kidney region. Connect your breath: inhale when you twist right, exhale when you twist left. Let your body naturally stop swinging after 10–15 rotations and find stillness.


Breath of Joy: Step your feet a little wider than hips-width apart and allow your knees to slightly bend. On an inhale float your straightened arms forward with your hands in a gentle fist, then out to the sides, then up toward sky, exhale with a “ha’ as you fold and let your arms drop. Inhale the entire time your arms are moving, sipping in a little bit more breath each time they move forward, out, and up. Exhale as you fold. You may find that your body wants to bounce as you move so feel free to keep a slight bend in your knees and allow it to be a dance with breath and body! Enjoy 5–10 cycles.


High Lunge Kicks: Begin in high lunge; knee aligned above your heel. Keep your back leg strong and straight, as you root into the ball of the back foot, heel up. Float your arms up above you with palms open and facing one another. On an inhale shift your bodyweight forward, balancing on your front foot as you bring your back leg up, hugging the lifted leg in toward your chest with your foot flexed. As soon as your lifted leg draws into your chest, exhale and thrust your arms down and kick your lifted leg straight ahead, foot flexed with hands in loose fists. Repeat 5 times on each side. Feel free to add a “ha!” as you exhale and kick your foot forward.


Victory Pose: Stand tall with your feet hips-width apart. Root down into all four corners of your feet—both sides of your heels, big toes and little toes. With a gentle smile lift your arms up, wider than shoulder-width apart, palms facing one another. Lift your chin away from your chest and with a relaxed gaze lift your chest up victoriously. Focus on your strength and your power as you stand tall for 10 breaths.


Quotes:

All motion, either in the body or anywhere else, is the work of this Prana. - Swami Vivekananda
Regulate the breathing, and thereby control the mind. - B.K.S. Iyengar
Love is considered the most basic emotion that human awareness can feel; therefore, it is the closest to the source of life. The burst of well-being you feel when you fall in love is due to the fact that you unconsciously open the channels of awareness that allow more Prana [Life Force] to flow. - Deepak Chopra

Mantras:

Prana Apana Sushumna Hari

Hari Har Hari Har Hari Har Hari


Meaning:

Prana – Life Force.

Apana – Great Cleanser of the System.

Sushumna -Channel for the Life Force.

Hari / Har – Great Creative Infinity


Further Readings:

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