Working With Prana Energy: Ancient Yogic Breathing Techniques for Increasing Life Force Energy
BY SWAMI SARADANANDA
regularly practicing prana breathing techniques is a powerful way to build life force energy in the body that can be used for healing and deep cellular rejuvenation. photo: xochi romero
What powers the vital processes that bring your physical body alive, giving it the dynamism to move and breathe? What regulates your senses and the way you perceive, think and act? Ancient yoga texts tell us it is a subtle energy known as prana. This is not physical energy—prana is quite different from the electrical impulses in your nervous system—yet it flows through your body and manifests itself through your breath. By changing your breathing, you can direct this vital energy force.
What is Prana?
The Sanskrit word prana is usually translated as “vital air”, “life-force” or “vital energy”, but none of these descriptions really explain it. We can’t translate the word into English, or any Western language, because until recently our culture lacked the concept. The Chinese word chi (as in tai chi) or the Japanese word ki (as in reiki) are exact translations. People who practice acupuncture, reflexology and most martial arts understand and work with prana energy. Your prana is divided into five categories each “governing” aspects of your body, mind and breath. Each main chapter of this book reveals how one of them works.
Your Energy Highway: The Nadis
Prana energy flows through your body in subtle energy channels called nadis. Approximately 72,000 crisscross your body (see image opposite)—you might like to think of them as roads on an energy highway system. The traffic on the roads is your prana. When traffic flows freely the system works well, but if a nadi becomes blocked, the flow of prana energy to that region of the body is reduced or even cut off. Without the nourishment of vital energy, that part of the body may weaken or become sick. For your body to be vibrantly healthy, an unimpeded flow of prana is necessary. One way to encourage this is to practice prana breathing exercises.
The Main Nadis
Of your 72,000 energy lines, or nadis, three are of particular interest in our exploration of prana breathing. The ida nadi channel flows to the left of your spine, the pingala nadi channel to the right, and the central nadi channel, which approximates your spine, is known as the sushumna. The left and right channels are associated with qualities of mind, and when your breath flows through one of these channels it develops these qualities in you. Various pranyama breathing exercises can guide your breath through the left and right nadi channels. The only time your breath flows evenly is during pranayama meditation, when it enters the central nadi energy channel and both sides of your brain are balanced. In order to achieve a state of meditation, ancient yogis developed breathing techniques referred to as pranayama. Practicing pranayama breathing is one of the main disciplines within hatha yoga.
Your Vitalizing Breath: Understanding Prana
The first of the five forms of prana—the energy, or driving force, behind all energy—that flows through your body is, rather confusingly, also known as prana. Yoga teachers will tell you that every time you breathe in, you draw in this vital energy along with the air you inhale. Just as you need physical oxygen to vitalize your body, you need prana energy to enliven your mind and emotions.
In the following paragraphs, you will discover how this vitalizing prana breath enables you not only to inhale air into your lungs, but to take in stimuli of all forms—from sights, sounds and smells to feelings, ideas and knowledge. For prana energy provides the basic stimulus that sets all things in motion. In doing so, it enhances your appreciation of, and zest for, life, and opens your heart and mind to new possibilities of every kind—from your personal creativity and productivity at work to your relationships with others and your environment.
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Your Dynamic Life-Force
If you imagine that your body is a factory, your prana is the person in charge. As the chief of the five forms of energy in your body, your incoming breath is responsible for authorizing all acquisitions and overseeing the intake of all raw materials. When prana stops doing its job, the factory closes down.
Prana is the root source of all the energy in the universe. Whether this energy manifests itself as heat, the sun, rushing water or the wind, all forces of nature are manifestations of prana energy. Within your body, the strongest influence of this vitalizing prana breath extends from your lungs and heart up to your nose. Prana endows your lungs with their ability to draw in all forms of prana, giving your eyes their energy to see, ears their ability to hear and mind its power to make sense of the world; prana energy nourishes your brain as it supervises the workings of your nervous system.
If you frequently feel stressed or exhausted, you may not be taking in enough prana through breathing. Alternatively, you may be wasting your prana energy, perhaps by overworking or allowing it to drain away as you spend long hours in front of a computer or a television, or sit in air-conditioned rooms or use a microwave. All of these activities deplete prana. Compare how tired and drained you feel in these situations with how energized you feel standing in a place rich in prana energy, such as near the ocean.
Ancient yoga texts state that the symptoms of any illness are the manifestation of a decreased flow of prana to particular parts of the body, usually due to lack of proper pranayamic breathing.
Working with Prana Energy
As you use the prana breathing techniques, ask yourself the following questions. They can help you to see how you are depleting your prana and find ways in which you rebalance it.
+ Do I breathe deeply and fully, using my full lung capacity?
+ Do I nourish my body and mind with prana in the form of clean air, healthy prana-rich food and stimulating ideas?
+ Am I able to absorb the beauty around me? How does it strengthen me?
+ Do I tend to “bite off more than I can chew”? Does this deplete my prana energy?
+ Is my life chaotic? Is this because I am unable to direct my energy?
+ Do I permit people to drain me emotionally? Or do I drain other people’s prana by making unreasonable demands on them?
+ Do I waste time by being unfocused? Or do I allow others to waste my time?
+ Am I overly negative and self-critical? Is this because I allow people to deprive me of my independence and free will?
Although such a depletion is usually gradual, the effects of a sudden lack of prana energy can sometimes be obvious. If you experience a shock, for example, you may begin losing weight rapidly, see your hair turn grey overnight, or find that an internal organ ceases to function—for example in a heart attack.
Through practicing the prana breathing techniques in this article, you can become conscious of the flow of prana energy within your body. By breathing with concerted awareness, you may find that you can extract more life-energy and deliberately direct it wherever it is required, whenever it is needed. As you become familiar with the pranayama breathing exercises and practice them regularly, you may notice changes in the way your body functions and the fullness with which you live life. You may even notice your appearance changing, making you appear more alive, fresh-faced and youthful.
Visualization Technique: Drawing in Prana
The prana breath-visualization technique opposite focuses your awareness on the headquarters of the prana energy in your body. This is found at the “third eye” in the middle of your forehead. The “third eye” is another name for ajna chakra, the energy center that manages your senses, your conscious and unconscious minds and your sense of self.
From this control center at your brow, the propulsive energy of prana moves inward and downward to the bottom of your lungs, from where it acts as the main on-off switch that stimulates all your other subtle energies into action. Try to keep in mind the idea of inward-moving energy as you practice the prana breathing exercise, opposite. You might like to picture prana as a welcoming figure within you, who opens a door and allows energy to enter every time you breathe in air, take a bite of food, listen to an idea or have a drink of water. Feel reassured that she will whisk the incoming energy to the proper processing area within your body, whether your lungs, stomach or mind, ready to be used appropriately.
You can practice the Prana Breathing exercise, below, anywhere and at any time, but it is particularly effective when you feel depleted of energy and would like to recharge your batteries. For a variation, combine this exercise with Alternate Nostril Breathing.
Have you ever had to tell someone something that was disagreeable, but necessary? Think of how you instinctively prepared yourself to do it. You probably took a deep breath, held it for a moment and then, with a deep sigh, thought, “OK, let me get this over with.” If so, you were unconsciously harnessing prana energy. By holding your breath in this way, you efficiently extracted an extra “jolt” of energy that helped you to accomplish your unpleasant task.
Exercise: Prana Breathing Tehcnique
Start by sitting comfortably, preferably with your legs crossed. Draw your shoulder blades down toward your waist to lift your breastbone and allow your ribcage to move freely as you breathe prana.
1. Sit with your back straight. Gently seal your lips and breathe prana through your nose. Bring your palms together and raise them over your head.
2. Inhale deeply through your nose, draw in as much prana/air as possible. Open your eyes wide, bulge them out, and imagine drawing in light. Visualize yourself drawing in energy through your ears, your face and the top of your head.
3. When your lungs are full, hold your breath, filled with prana. Close your eyes and bring your awareness to the point between your eyebrows. Visualize the energy you inhaled forming a sphere of bright, concentrated light at the center of your forehead. It may give off sparks or even lightning flashes. Retain your breath for as long as is comfortable.
4. As you exhale, watch the light dissolve into a sparkling shower of energy that invigorates you. Start with one prana breath and gradually build up to 10.
“Prana is force on every plane of being, from the highest to the lowest. Whatever moves or works or has life is but an expression or manifestation of prana.”
— Swami Sivananda, Bliss Divine (1887-1963)
You may not be aware of it, but you receive and breathe prana energy all the time—from the food you eat, the water you drink, from sunlight and the air you breathe, and from the people around you. You also give it away to others. Usually this is an unconscious exchange of energy. If you feel unwell and a friend places her hand on your forehead, she is transferring her prana energy to you through her compassion. If you stumble and instinctively hold your breath and take both hands to your injured knee, you are directing an increased flow of prana to the area to speed healing. A yoga teacher who asks you to breathe prana into your hips is suggesting that you re-direct prana to that region to invigorate your pose.
If your body is healthy and full of vitality, you naturally affect those around you in a positive way when you transfer your prana energy, consciously or unconsciously. People enjoy being with you because they feel invigorated by the encounter. But when you feel distressed or lacking in positive energy, others may find your presence emotionally draining. By practicing the pranayama breathing technique below, you can start to channel your prana energy consciously in order to become that vital, positive person that people want to engage with.
If you would like to take this conscious command of prana energy further, you can learn to manipulate it to heal yourself and others. The healing process works by directing prana energy to areas of your body that need help and by breaking up blockages in energy channels to allow prana to flow unimpeded. A good flow of prana stimulates cells and tissues and encourages the elimination of toxins, helping to restore healthy activity to that part of your body.
If this type of healing appeals to you, then why not investigate workshops or courses in one of the many popular techniques that work by transferring prana energy? These include reek, Pranic Healing and Therapeutic Touch. Practitioners of these healing and prana breathing techniques may place their hands on or near a recipient, tune into their prana energy, focus their intention, and then allow the vitalizing energy to flow through their hands and into the receiver. Other practitioners believe that their prana is drawn out by the recipient’s injury in order to activate or enhance the body’s natural healing processes.
Exercise: Visualization to Increase Prana Energy Flow
This prana breathing tehcnique helps to recharge you and can lift your mood whenever you feel “down”—when you are charged with prana, you are more likely to be able to transfer your energy positively to others. This is also an effective way to top up your prana energy before using energy-healing techniques.
1. Gently sealing your lips, slowly breathe in prana through your nose to a mental count of 8 and then exhale through your nose to a count of 8.
2. Now breathe in prana again through your nose to a count of 8, but this time visualize prana energy streaming into you, intermingled with the air you inhale. You might like to visualize the prana as a current of bright light.
3. Hold your breath for a count of 4 and in your mind’s eye picture the prana circulating through every part of your body.
4. Exhale through your mouth to a count of 8, feeling negativity leaving your body with the stale air. Repeat for as many breaths as you like.
This piece on prana energy breathing is excerpted with permission from Power of Breath: The Art of Breathing Well for Harmony, Happiness and Health by Swami Saradananda.
About The Author
Swami Saradananda has lived and worked in India, England, the U. S., Canada, Germany, Spain and the Bahamas. For more than 26 years she worked with the International Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Centers and ran yoga centers in New York, London, New Delhi and the Himalayas. In addition to teaching yoga, she has worked as a spice merchant, magazine editor, olive picker, cookbook writer and pilgrimage leader. She is the author of a number of books, including The Power of Breath, Chakra Meditation, The Essential Guide to Chakras, Yoga Mind and Body, Relax and Unwind with Yoga and Mudras for Modern Life. Visit her website: FlyingMountainYoga.org.