If you are a rock basking in the sunlight and gazing out at the beautiful blue Pacific Ocean, you wouldn’t really notice the presence of Prana. And chances are, you wouldn’t care about it either. But if you are a plant, an animal, or a human being – your very survival and existence here depends upon it.
So what is Prana, and what roll does it play in life?
The Buddha taught his disciples that the body of all that is, and is not, consists of three sheaths (trikaya); Dharmakaya, Sambhogakaya and Nirmanakaya.
Dharmakaya is the absolute, the essential constituent of all constituents, the unity of all things and beings. It is beyond space and time, concept and thought, and the field of all that is. Buddhist meditation masters refer to Dharmakaya as, “the basis of the original unbornness.”
The absolute is not the relative world taken to an extreme. It is not the farthest distance that one could travel. It is not the longest time that our universe could exist. It is not forever, because that to has a beginning and an ultimate end. It is not infinitesimal, or infinite. Instead, it is completely outside, separate, and distinct from all causal and relative realms.
Sambhogakaya is known as the body of bliss. It’s there you experience the result of good Earthly deeds, and enjoy the benefit of all the time you spent practicing Buddhism. In this body your relative-individuality experiences the bliss associated with the realization of the absolute.
Nirmanakaya is the Earthly sheath where your physical body is present today. In this body you experience birth, pain, happiness, sickness, health, old age and death. But you are manifested here to have the opportunity to practice your dharma, and reach for enlightenment.
When you see terms like “absolute,” and “beyond time and space,” Prana does not reside there. Instead, Prana exists and functions within mind, in the relative field of shape, time, space and causation.
Prana plays a pivotal role in all mind/time/space environments; the Sambhogakaya and Nirmanakaya sheaths.
Energy is needed to move around and function in our world. Whether we travel up or down, or straight along the highway, force is expended to keep us moving. If we are walking, we burn calories to power our leg muscles that make the journey. If we are driving or traveling by train, a fuel source is needed to move the vehicle’s wheels and keep us rolling on our journey. The Earth rotates around the sun, and Galaxies spin in the farthest reaches of the universe.
There is One main source of energy for all that is. But in our world of multiplicity we call it by different names, depending upon how and where it brings to bear its influence. We have labeled one force “gravity,” to describe that aspect of the One that works thru the presence of matter. We have labeled another force “electricity,” to describe that aspect of the One that works by shifting atomic electrons around to create a potential for work.
… and so there are cosmic and solar energies, Prana, Kundalini, and a plethora of other aspects yet to be identified.
We commonly refer to the term “Prana” as that aspect which enters the etheric human body through cosmic and solar currents, and enters the physical human body thought the breath.
Prana is the basic life force that animates living beings in our time/space world.
Prana is present in all that moves and does not move, but is especially powerful in living things – from microbes, plants, fish, birds, mammals to man.
All living Earthly creatures, whether large or small, need three essential functions to sustain life:
• breathing, for Pranic energy
• eating, for food (input)
• excretion (output)
In human beings Prana is responsible for the breath, sensory perception, thinking, digestion of food, and body waste elimination.
Here is how Prana provides the energy that is the basis of our metabolic processes:
Inhalation entails the reaction of the Hemoglobin (Hb) in our red blood cells with Oxygen gas (O2) from the air, to form Oxyhemoglobin (Hb-O2).
Hb + O2 = HbO2
The red blood cells then travel the body to deliver its oxygen. Glucose and other sugars react with the oxygen to produce energy:
Glucose + Oxygen = Carbon dioxide + Water + Energy
C6H12O6 + 6O2 = 6CO2 + H2O + Energy
The practice of Meditation releases stress from the human nervous system, thereby enhancing our more efficient use of Prana. The breathing discipline that seeks to culture and enhance the breath (Pranayama) is a science onto itself, and worthy or your further inquiry.
Maharishi Mahesh Yogi has said, “Breathe less and live longer.”
Mind is the stage or platform from which Prana and any other form of energy has existence. In our physical world, that energy takes on various forms:
Types of Physical energy:
• Electromagnetic Radiant Energy (light)
• Kinetic – by virtue of the fact that it’s in motion relative to the ground
• Mass (E=MC2)
• Potential – based upon it state or relationship
• Solar energy
• Thermal, or heat
Energy is the latent potential that has the ability to perform work.
Work = Force * Distance
Now let’s be more specific about what Prana does for us …
Prana acts within every human body to sustain and promote healthy living conditions. The five major currents of Prana acting and circulating through the body follow nature’s path, to address different functions of the cosmic life force.
The five fold natures of Prana are …
Prana: upward energy
Apana: downward energy
Samana: inward energy
Udana: outward energy
Vyana: expansion in all directions, all-encompassing.
Although these five Pranas are different from each other, they are more commonly known as Mahaprana (great prana).
“Just as an emperor posts his officials in different parts of his realm, similarly the chief Prana allots functions to the lower Pranas.” Prashanopanishad
“Pranam Brahmethivya jaanath” – says the ‘Taithriya Upanishad.’
“Know that Prana (vital energy) is one of the representations of Brahman (Almighty)”
Let’s look a bit closer at the five subdivisions of Pranas …
This Prana is centered in the region between the larynx and the upper diaphragm.
Although closely associated with our respiratory organs, it also plays a vital role in enabling speech via the mouth and nose. It powers our body’s use of water, and the production of sweat and urine. Prana enlivens our sensory organs (sight, smell, taste, touch, and hearing) and couples with the mind to interpret and make “apparently real” what we are experiencing.
When Prana gets out of balance harmful desires and insatiable craving may develop.
2. Apana is centered below the navel.
It provides the energy for the large intestines, kidneys, anus, and reproductive organs to function properly. From a physical standpoint, Apana rids the body of what cannot be digested and what has accumulated as toxins.
From a psychological standpoint, Apana helps to eliminate poisonous ideas and harmful emotions. When Apana gets out of balance mental depression may set in and the body is weakened.
3. Samana is centered in the region between the heart and the navel.
Samana is involved in the functioning of the pancreas, liver, and digestive system. Residing in the stomach, food is converted into refined nutrients and energy so the body has strength and can function.
If the natural flow of Samana is hindered in the body, excessive mental attachment and greed may develop.
4. Udana is centered in the body above the larynx. Responsible for building and maintaining body muscle, this prana also plays a key role in the functioning of our sensory organs; namely the eyes, ears, nose, tongue, and skin receptors.
The uninhibited flow of Udana promotes a positive mental and physical enthusiasm. It enlivens your creative and spiritual potential. When out of balance, personal pride and arrogance may develop.
5. Vyana is the prana that encompasses the whole body. It helps with governance of the other fundamental energies, regulates the balance between the upward (Prana) and downward (Apana) forces. As a master controller, Vyana coordinates overall body health and activity.
When functioning properly this prana supports our free movement in the environment and enhances self confidence and independent thinking. When the flow of Vyana is restricted individuals feel isolation, hatred and alienation for others.
Upon entering our bodies (etheric and physical) Prana flows through conduits or channels more commonly known as “Nadis”. Ancient literature states that the total number of nadis in the human body is 72,000. Of these 72,000 there are 12 primary flows which Traditional Chinese Medicine has termed “meridians.”
The 12 major meridians in the body:
• Large intestine
• Small intestine
• Pericardium (Circulation/Sex)
There are 3 other primary flows that run the entire length of the body, up and down, and these have been termed Ida, the Pingala and the Sushumna by adherents of Yoga and Hindu philosophy.
… now this is where the science of Kundalini comes into play.
Our life experience is made possible by the presence of Prana. Through these channels, the glorious life force Prana flows in all men, women and children.
According to the Tao Te Ching,
“Because the eye gazes and catches no glimpse of it, it is called elusive; Because the ear cannot hear it, it’s called rarified; because the hand cannot feel it, it is called infinitesimal; it’s rising brings no heat, it’s sinking no darkness. It is called CHI.”
As we practice meditation the 5-fold Pranas become more enlivened and begin to function more efficiently. They work better together as a group and instill health and a positive mental outlook. As such, Prana is a catalyst for promoting spiritual development and our conscious well being.
Prana vitalizes the entire human system, while Apana grounds us and enhances personal stability. Samana bring joy and a peaceful outlook, while Udana adds lightless to all of our activities.
Continued spiritual development for human beings depends upon integrating absolute bliss consciousness within our relative world. By animating our etheric and physical existence, Prana thereby maintains the platform for continued human evolution.
By meditating every day, you move several steps closer toward realization of your full potential. The world needs your gentle fearless spirit, harmony and wisdom.