Prana: The manifestation of consciousness part 1
This is the first part of an article being written to elaborate on the entire energy system of the body and mind and what yoga and ayurveda are based upon. In the West we have no vocabulary for this system. We live in a modern world that is based upon materialism in duality and we see this with all the knowledge having to be backed up with a research method based upon this material. When we learn the lens of this beautiful energy system we become closer to our self and understanding part and parcel that we are just as part of nature as nature itself. The knowledge gives us understanding of how the cosmos works and opens our mind and eyes to a system that is beyond our imagination.
The first piece of this article will be about prana. It is a over used word in the spiritual community with very little understanding of it.
The vital (life) force or prana is at the base foundation of the individual organism and also the universe. Vata (vaata) is a dosha meaning that which is out of balance. It is one of the three constitutions or humours in Ayurveda. Ether and air elements are its primary elements.
In Charaka Samhita, one of the fundamental texts of Ayurveda, vata is described as responsible for all sensory and motor functions of the body. This means it is responsible for the proper physiological health of the body, all the proper functioning of the organs and your ability to move from basic walking to blinking. The subcategories of vata are the 5 pranas or
- prāṇa : The inward and upward moving energy. Located principally at the heart but also moving about the nostrils, head, and navel. Responsible for the beating of the heart, breathing and swallowing. Prana enters the body through the breath and is sent to every cell through the circulatory system.
- apāna : The downward flowing energy. Located at the navel, thighs and stomach. Responsible for the elimination of waste products from the body through excretory systems. It is responsible for birth, semen, menses, and all the other stuff that moves downward down there.
- uḍāna : The upward moving energy. Located in the throat but moves about the hands and feet with prana. With prana it is responsible for producing sounds through the vocal apparatus, as in speaking, singing, laughing, and crying as well as ailmentation. Also it represents the conscious energy required to produce the vocal sounds corresponding to the intent of the being. Hence Samyama (holding and contemplation) on udana gives the higher centers total control over the body.
- samāna : The digestive energy. Located in the navel and the toes. Responsible for the reception of food, digestion of food, separation of nutrients and waste products, and cell metabolism (i.e. the repair and manufacture of new cells and growth). Samana also includes the heat regulating processes of the body.
- vyāna : The circulatory energy. Located principally in the nostrils and stomach but pervades all over the body. Responsible for the circulation of blood, chyle, growth, building of the body and sustenance of life, expansion and contraction processes of the body, e.g. the voluntary muscular system.
This is just basic and the details go much further than this as to all the details of all the functioning together.
In yoga, we have ten subcategories of vata. Yoga delineates a bit further into a slightly deeper understanding of the pranas. These other five are:
- naga : Responsible for burping.
- kurma : Responsible for blinking.
- devadatta : Responsible for yawning.
- krikara : Responsible for fatigue and sneezing.
- dhananjaya : Responsible for opening and closing of heart valves as well as the sounds made by the functions of the body. It does not leave the body at death.
What to understand out of this is that Prana (the word Prana is being used in general to indicate all the Pranas here) is what animates life. It is also detailed in its functions and the entire physiology stays healthy due to its balance or disease is due to imbalance. For example, when you stand up, Prana moves upward. When you sit, Prana moves downward. Just try it and feel.
The prana also moves with the breath. As you inhale the prana moves upward and as you exhale prana moves downward. Now link the two, standing and inhale and sitting and the exhale. You will feel the easy and strength associated with each. The western paradigm doesn’t understand or even have insight into prana. For an example, in western exercise when you are doing a squat, it is explained that you are to exhale as you exert thrusting upwards to standing due to the stability of the musculature. Of course they say to inhale as you squat downwards as well. For your own experience do these and then reverse the breath to inhale as you stand from the squat and then inhale to lower yourself. Notice the difference?
This vital wind led by prana, becomes the five fold stomachic fire, owing to the differences in the conditioning factors; the one that eliminates, the one that digests, the one that dries up the the doshas of the stomachic fire, the one that burns, and the one that floods. The vital wind, led by naga, becomes five fold fires in the body of human beings; the one that secretes bile, the one that throws out, the one that churns food, the one that swells, the one that dissolves, and the one that helps digest the five kinds of food; what is eaten without mastication, what is masticated, what is sucked, what is licked and what is drunk. These ten are the aspects of vital fire.