What is Prana?
Yoga has its foundational understanding in the activities of Prana (vital force). This world is divided into Para (subtle) and Apara (gross) creation. One is inert and the other is conscious in nature. The subtle form of inert world is atoms which unite to form gross objects. Conscious world is Prana from which the subtle body is created. In the body this vital force is present as the subtle body. As a result movement and activity manifest and various creatures move about due to this. In its absence the intellectual consciousness cannot be perceived. It is what animates and the source of life.
Asana is based solely upon balancing the pranas of the system. Blockages due to kapha and imbalances of prana result in physical injuries, disease, and mental illness. Imbalance also shows up as physical tension and tightness in the physical structure. Asana without the knowledge of prana(s) is not asana and will end up, more than likely, causing and imbalance. Prana is responsible for all sensory and motor functions being in health.
Pranayama is based in conserving and building capacity of prana. It is not breathing exercises as much as Qi Gong can be considered breathing exercises. The use of the bandhas is mandatory to build capacity much like a tire that has a hole in it holds no air.
The external world devours ones prana and imbalances it through the physical use of the body and through sensory use. This is the very foundation of knowledge of pratyahara. With the sensory world turned inward, prana is not wasted constantly.
I am Prana as Prajna (divine intellect). By looking upon me as life span and nectar, meditate on me. As long as vital force exists life too exists. In this world the basis of attaining immortality is Prana only.
SHANKHAYAN (52) & KAUSHITAKI BRAHMANOPANISHAD (32)
The fire aspect of Prana is depicted as follows:
Verily this vital force of the body gets heated by imbibing the fire aspect. It is sun, moon, clouds, wind, earth and beings. It is also existence/non-existence and immortal Brahman (God).
Before creation of this world there was ‘non-existence’. What is ‘non-existence’? As an answer it is said they were Rishis. Who were these Rishis? As an answer it was said they were vital force. Vital Force is Rishi.
Over here non-existence does not mean absence but means unmanifested. Before creation Prana existed. When visible objects were created Prana was seen active. This seeing is ‘manifest’.
Prana is called elder and great as follows:
Before creation Prana existed and hence is called elder. It is great because in all bodies and objects its varied activities are noted. In actuality Prana term is used as life.
When Prana leaves any body or object they wither away.
The ten senses and the 11th mind that dwell in human beings are all vital force or Prana.
Despite this it cannot be called wind, sense organs or psyche. In reality it is a life force that works in all these.
This vital force is neither wind nor sense organs. In scriptures it is described variedly.
In the following lines greater clarity is given:
That mature vital force told the mind and sense organs: Do not get deluded. I have taken 5 forms and imbibed this body.
This vital force is neither wind nor is it the activity of sense organs.
BRAHMASUTRA SHANKARBHASHYA (2/4/6)
This vital force is different from mind and wind.
We bow down to that vital force which controls everything. It is the substratum of all beings (Pranis). It exists in everything and everything exists in it.
In Sanskrit language the word Prani is made from ‘Pra’ and ‘Un’. ‘Un’ means life force or consciousness. Thus Prana means life force or vital force. It is hence that creatures are called Pranis. The words Prana and life are used synonymously. Prana is a characteristic of Atman or soul. It comes from Paramatman or God. The soul is an inseparable part of God. Although it is a part of God all qualities of God are present in it. When a creature who imbibes individual prana matures it becomes all encompassing.