Pranayama & the 5 Pranas

There’s a lot of emphasis placed on importance of breathing, employing the right breathing technique for certain activity performance & especially so much more prevalent in the case of yoga practice in all the asanas that we do each time. Personally, it’s a topic that intrigue me & its practice has helped me over the years slow my (sometimes irregular) heartbeat down & more consistent along with my constant ‘running’ minds that at times cease to relax even when I’m asleep.

So here’s my take in understanding further the mystery of Prana & the often taken for granted breathing activity that we do on a daily, milisecond basis that keeps us alive each day & waking up to another new dawn…

Pranayama is a Sanskrit word meaning ‘extension of breath’ or ‘extension of life force’ as Prana is ‘breath’ which is the ‘vital life force’ or energy in our body. While Ayama is the ‘extension of breath or draw out’, in some it’s referred to as ‘control’. In order to bring about a change (specifically positive) in your body, mind & soul, one need to understand how the energy or ‘life force’ works.

Prana has many different meanings from the breath to the energy of consciousness; “it is not only a basic life force, it is also the master form of energy working on the level of mind, life and body”. More closely related to our physical existence, Prana is the modification of air element specifically oxygen that we breath in which in return allows us to live.

The human being consists of 5 koshas / sheaths:

1. Annamaya kosha (food sheath / physical) – the body
2. Pranamaya kosha (breath or air apparent sheath / vital) – the 5 pranas
3. Manomaya kosha (mind related sheath / outer mind) – the 5 kinds of sensory impressions
4. Vijnanamaya kosha (wisdom apparent sheath / ideas or intelligence) – mental activity
5. Anandamaya kosha (experiences or bliss apparent sheath / inner mind) – memory, subliminal, subconscious mind

The Pranamaya Kosha is the sphere of our vital life energies where the sheath mediates between the body on one hand and the 3 other sheaths of the mind (impressions / outer mind, intelligence & inner mind) and has action on both levels. It meditates between the 5 gross elements and the 5 sensory impressions. It is composed of 5 Pranas according to its movement and direction within the body.

The 5 Pranas

Prana
Literally the “forward moving air” / upward flowing, moves inward and governs reception of all types from the eating of food, drinking of water, and inhalation of air, to the reception of sensory impressions and mental experiences. It provides the basic energy that drives us in life.


Apana
Literally the “air that moves away” / downward flowing moves downward and outward and governs all forms of elimination and reproduction (which also has a downward movement). It governs the elimination of the stool and the urine, the expelling of semen, menstrual fluid and the fetus, and the elimination of carbon dioxide through the breath. It is the basis of our immune function on all levels.


Udana
Literally the “upward moving air” moves upward and qualitative or transformative movements of the life-energy. It governs growth of the body, the ability to stand, speech, effort, enthusiasm and will.


Samana
Literally the “balancing air” moves from the periphery to the center, through a churning and discerning action. It aids in digestion on all levels. It works in the gastrointestinal tract to digest food, in the lungs to digest air or absorb oxygen, and in the mind to homogenize and digest experiences, whether sensory, emotional or mental.


Vyana
Literally the “outward moving air” moves from the center to the periphery. It governs circulation on all levels. It moves the food, water and oxygen throughout the body, and keeps our emotions and thoughts circulating in the mind, imparting movement and providing strength.

 

In simple term, the Prana governs the intake of substances such as breathing of air. Samana controls the digestion while Vyana governs the circulation of nutrients. Udana controls the release of positive energy & Apana governs the elimination of waste materials / toxins from the body. Out of the 5 Pranas, the Prana & Apana are the most important of them.

The key to healthy living & well-being is to ensure our Pranas are in harmony – if one becomes imbalanced, the others tend to become imbalanced as well as they are all inter-linked together. Generally, Prana & Udana work opposite of Apana (energization vs elimination). And Vyana is the opposite of Saman or vice versa (expansion vs contraction).

Quote & reference links:

1. Article adapted from David Frawley in his book “Yoga and Ayurveda: Self-Healing & Self-realization”
http://www.vedanet.com/2012/06/secrets-of-the-five-pranas/

2. Official site of Yoga Vidya Gurukul (University)
http://www.yogapoint.com/info/pranayama.htm

3. Pranayama wikipedia
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pranayama

 

– Magdalene A., a learning student from 200hr weekend ttc