Prana

Prana is an ancient Sanskrit word that first appeared in the vedas, it is translated by Georg Feuerstein as life, or literally, breathing forth.  It is the word used in yoga philosophy for vital energy, life-force, or the pulsating energy common to all living things (similar to the concept of Qi in Chinese medicine).  The action of prana is behind all life, all thought, all movement. 

Like the energy meridiens of Chinese medicine, yogic texts speak of channels of energy within us (nadis) which convey prana around the body.  When prana runs through the nadis of the body freely, one enjoys vibrant good health; but when the nadis are congested or blocked, one experiences poor mental and physical health.  Hatha yoga works to unblock the nadis and invigorate the flow of prana in the body through the means of asana, pranayama and meditation and some kriyas (cleansing processes).  Thus, the clear-eyed radiance and vitality that we witness in many experienced yogis (or indeed, feel in ourselves after practice) is ascribed to the yogi having improved the free flow of prana through the nadis in their body. 

In addition to the purely physical aspect of prana, there is an inseparable connection between mind and prana.  As Saint Thirumoolar wrote, "wherever the mind goes, the prana follows" or conversely as Swami Satchitananda puts it, "if you regulate prana, you regulate the mind."  The control of consciousness, the ultimate aim of all yoga practice, is therefore intimately linked with the control of prana.  Desikachar writes: "The more content a person is ... the more prana is inside.  The more disturbed a person is, the more prana is dissipated and lost."  Indeed, one definition of the word yogi, is 'one whose prana is all within his body.'

It is said that prana follows attention, so by drawing our attention to our breath, or by quieting the mind through meditative practices, and by not over-burdening ourselves with external stimuli, we may experience an increase of prana within.  As Swami Satchitananda writes:

"... it is easier to control prana in a grosser manifestation than in a subtle one.  So, we first learn to control the physical body, then the movement of the breath, then the senses, and finally the mind.  It is very scientific, gradual and easy."

So you begin by learning how to conserve energy during your asana practice, this means maintaining your inner focus, resisting the urge to look around you/fiddle with your toes/lose yourself in thought while you practise.  It means controlling your breath, so that it is even and full throughout your practice.  It means breathing in and out through your nose and trying not to talk during yoga.  During your asana practice you are opening your body and working out the knots and blocks that exist within you; your aim should be to try not to lose all this positive work and increased energy by expelling it through misdirected attention.  

On a day to day, practical level, we are talking abut conserving our energy so that we can put it to good use for the things that make ourselves and those around us, well and happy.  We probably all know people who haemorrhage prana, flying off the handle at the slightest provocation, or indulging in extreme emotional states and finding themselves exhausted as a result.

When you practise yoga with regularity and dedication, you experience a growing equilibrium in mind and body and a growing capacity to meet the daily challenges of life with equanimity; to remain calm and to keep your breath long and regular even in the most trying of situations.  Your energy levels increase and you find that after your asana, pranayama or meditation practice you tend to feel energised and alive, no matter how exhausted or low you felt when you arrived at your mat.  All of these positive effects can be ascribed to the building of prana within your body and the free flow of energy throughout your body.

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  2. Every breath is a miracle and every breath creates a miracle. V.

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