Working With Prana: Yogic Techniques to Increase Your Life Force
by Anna Laurita
A yogi knows that regularly practicing pranayama (yoga exercises) is a powerful way to build life force energy in the body that can be used for healing and bringing more vitality into your life.
What do you think makes you feel alive and energetic? What gives dynamism to move and to breathe? What regulates your senses and the way you perceive, think and act? Yoga philosophy tells us it is a subtle energy known as prana. This is not physical energy—prana is different from the electrical impulses in your nervous system—yet it flows through your body and manifests itself through your breath. I like to liken it to the electricity in a light cable. You can’t see the electricity pulsing through the cable, but because you can turn on the light, you know it’s there. By changing your breathing habits, you can direct this vital life force called prana.
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 well. How to translate this? The Chinese word chi (as in “tai chi”) or the Japanese word ki (like in “reiki”) and these are direct translations. People who practice acupuncture, reflexology and most martial arts understand and work with prana energy.
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 below)—you can 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 pranayama exercises – pranayama means the control of the prana.
The Main Nadis
Of your 72,000 energy lines, or nadis, three are of particular interest in our exploration of prana breathing. We learned a bit about these when we studied Alternate Nostril Breathing yesterday. 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. To achieve a state of meditation, we use pranayama techniques such as the best one for balance, Alternate Nostril Breathing or Nadi Sodhana which we practiced already in this course.
Your Dynamic Life-Force and How It Works In Your Body
If you imagine that your body is a computer, your prana is the computer chip. As the chief of the the different forms of energy in your body (there are 5 forms of energy or winds in the body), your incoming breath is responsible for authorizing all actions and overseeing the in take and processing of all data. When prana stops doing its job, the computer crashes.
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, by overworking, worrying, constantly being negative, or through illness. All of these conditions can deplete your 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.
Yogic philosophy says 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 breathing.
The Prana Questionnaire
(Create a prana journal – check in frequently)
+ 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 me?
+ 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 a depletion of prana is usually gradual, if you experience a trauma, you may lose weight rapidly, see your hair turn grey quickly, or become ill suddenly.
Through practicing pranayama in this course, you can become conscious of the flow of prana energy within your body. By breathing with mindfulness or consciousness, 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 breathing exercises and practice them regularly, (you can practice them 3x per day in times of stress, illness, feeling down, or needing to boost your general vitality), you may notice changes in the way your body functions and the fullness with which you live your life. The potential is there! People may even say that you look more alive, younger, fresher!
1) Visualization Exercise: Drawing in Prana
Try this and journal on how it makes you feel
The prana breath-visualization technique focuses your awareness on the center of the prana 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 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 in your body into action. Try to keep in mind the idea of inward-moving energy as you practice the prana breathing exercise. 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. The prana will be sorted inside your body to where it is needed most.
You can practice this Prana Visualization exercise, anywhere and at any time, but it is really effective when you feel depleted of energy and would like to recharge your batteries.
2) Harnessing Prana
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.
If you are pregnant or suffer from vertigo, epilepsy, untreated high blood pressure, hypertension, a heart condition or stroke, please do not practice this exercise as it involves holding the breath.
Start by sitting comfortably, preferably with your legs crossed. Draw your shoulder blades down toward your waist to lift your chest and allow your ribcage to move freely as you breathe in 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 big prana visualizing breath and gradually build up to 10.
3) Directing Prana
“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 heal that knee.
When a yoga teacher asks you to “breathe into your hips” he or she is suggesting that you re-direct prana to that region to invigorate your pose. My teacher used to ask us to breathe through the back of our knees. It took a while, but I finally got it and could direct heat and energy to the back of my knees to relax my hamstrings.
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 when they’re with you. But when you feel stressed or negative, others may find being with you 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.
So the exercise is to bring prana into parts of your body as you breathe calmly – directing it’s flow for healing.
4) Exercise: Visualization to Increase Prana Energy Flow
This pranayama 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 energy before using energy-healing techniques on others, teaching a yoga class, or even giving someone a massage.
**You can practice without the hold if you are pregnant, suffer from untreated high blood pressure, hypertension, a heart condition or stroke, vertigo or epilepsy.
1. Gently sealing your lips, slowly breathe in prana through your nose to a mental count of 6-8 (whichever is most comfortable to you) and then exhale through your nose to a count of 6-8.
2. Now breathe in prana again through your nose to a count of 6-8, 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.
Finally, practicing Kapalbhati is superior for creating energy in the body. On an emotional level it helps to remove negativity. On a physical level, it helps to eject illness, clear the nasal passages, exercise your diaphragm, whittle your waist, and boost your metabolism. It is also rumored to bring a beautiful luster to your face and shine your skull! Try this breathing practice to gain prana. Learn how here:
Swami Saradananda, Power of Breath: The Art of Breathing Well for Harmony, Happiness and Health
Dr. Georg Feuerstein, The Yoga Tradition
BKS Iyengar, Light on Pranayama,
Richard Rosen, Pranayama, Beyond the Fundamentals
Swami Rama, Path of Fire and Light
Dharma Mittra: Life of a Yogi
This Article is an excerpt from BREATH POTENTIAL ,a self-paced, research-based course for everybody. It will change your breath and may even change your life!
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