Prana and Pranayama
Prana is the universal cosmic energy – which has not only given rise to the entire external world but has also created our gross body. Our sages delved deeper and their understanding brought them to the conclusion that this energy is responsible for the creation and maintenance of every living being besides all inanimate objects. This fundamental principle is rudimentary to the science of pranayama.
Prana has many levels of meaning – from the breath we take every moment to the energy of pure consciousness itself. Prana is not only the basic life force but it is the primordial energy, working on the level of body and mind. Indeed, the entire universe is a manifestation of Prana, which is the original creative power. Even Kundalini Shakti, the inner power that transforms consciousness, develops from the awakened Prana.
On the cosmic level, there are two basic aspects of Prana. The first is the unmanifest aspect of Prana, which is the energy of pure consciousness that transcends all creation. The other is the manifest Prana which is the force of creation itself.
Prana arises from the attribute (guna) of rajas, the active force of Nature (Prakriti). Nature consists of three gunas: sattva or purity which gives rise to the mind; rajas or movement which gives rise to the Prana; and tamas or inertia that gives rise to the body.
Relative to our physical existence, Prana is a modification of the air element, primarily the oxygen we breathe that allows us to live. Yet, as air originates in ether or space, Prana arises in space and remains closely connected to it. Wherever we create space, the energy or Prana arise automatically.
Pranayama entails augmentation of the Prana energy. There are five types of Prana and each has five further subtypes. The entire human body is governed by the energy of Prana.
Pranayama is not only related to breath and its regulation, but it is directly concerned with the five Pranas present in the body. If you gain full control and mastery over the Prana, then nothing is impossible. Yogis have demonstrated that heart, pulse, blood circulation too can be stopped at will. Scores of yogis have gained mastery on the body and mind – I have personally met some, including Swami Rama and Swami Bua, but there are many more living anonymously.
There are several different types of pranayama. Some are practiced to increase the heat in the body and some to cool it down, while some are practiced to achieve equilibrium in breathing and brain activity. Before proceeding to the pranayama techniques, certain preparations are essential – mastery of yogasana and the resultant energy gained, along with discipline and firm resolve. If not practiced correctly, pranayama can cause serious harm. Prior to the practice of pranayama, ensure that the bladder and bowels are empty; stomach should also be empty. A clean, calm, quiet and well-ventilated room, free of insects should be used for pranayama. Do not do pranayama when you are already busy with something else. Practice with regularity and determination.
Regular and continuous practice of pranayama changes a person’s mindset. Sensual desires like food craving, smoking, drinking and sexual urges, are greatly reduced. Focus of the sense organs is turned inwards and the aspirant starts becoming introspective; ability to hear the internal sounds of silence is enhanced – thus pranayama lays the foundation for Pratyahara (withdrawing the sense organs from the sense objects) and dissolves dominance of the senses over the mind.
Prana is at the very foundation of all existence, the vital energy that acts as the active creative principle. Correct and consistent practice of Pranayama leads to experiential knowledge of the working of Prana. However, the key point is to learn it from a master and practice it with diligence and consistency.