In Hindu philosophy including yoga, Indian medicine, and martial arts, prana (?????, pr??a; the Sanskrit word for "life force" or "vital principle")[1] is all cosmic energy, permeating the Universe on all levels. Prana is often referred to as the "life force" or "life energy". It also includes energies present in inanimate objects. In literature, prana is sometimes described as originating from the Sun and connecting the elements of the Universe.[2] This life energy has been vividly invoked and described in the ancient Vedas and Upanishads.

In living beings, this universal energy is considered responsible for all bodily functions through five types of prana, collectively known as the five v?yus. Ayurveda, tantra and Tibetan medicine all describe pra?? v?yu as the basic v?yu from which all the other v?yus arise. Indologist Georg Feuerstein explains "The Chinese call it chi, the Polynesians mana, the Amerindians orenda, and the ancient Germans od. It is an all-pervasive 'organic' energy."[3][page needed]

Early references

The ancient concept of prana is described in many early Hindu texts, including Upanishads and Vedas. One of the earliest references to prana is from the 3,000-year-old Chandogya Upanishad, but many other Upanishads also make use of the concept, including the Katha, Mundaka and Prasna Upanishads. The concept is elaborated upon in great detail in the practices and literature of ha?ha yoga,[4] tantra,[5] and Ayurveda.[]

Prana is typically divided into multiple constituent parts, in particular when concerned with the human body. While not all early sources agree on the names or number of these subdivisions, the most common list from the Mahabharata, the Upanishads, Ayurvedic and Yogic sources includes five, often divided into further subcategories.[6][7][page needed]

This list includes: Prana (inward moving energy), apana (outward moving energy), vyana (circulation of energy), udana (energy of the head and throat), and samana (digestion and assimilation).[3][page needed][8] Early mention of specific pranas often emphasized pr??a, ap?na and vy?na as "the three breaths". This can be seen in the proto-yogic traditions of the Vratyas among others.[9]:104 Texts like the Vaik?nasasm?rta utilized the five pranas as an internalization of the five sacrificial fires of a panchagni homa ceremony.[9]:111-112


One way of subdividing prana is by the means of v?yus. V?yu means "wind" or "air" in Sanskrit and the term is used in a variety of contexts in Hindu philosophy. Pr??a is considered the basic v?yu from which all the other v?yus arise. Hence pr??? is the collective term which subdivides into the individual v?yus of pr??a, ap?na, u??na, sam?na, and vy?na.[3][page needed][7][page needed] The functions of the five v?yus are as follows:[3][page needed][10][page needed]

V?yu Responsibility
Pr??a Beating of the heart and breathing. Prana enters the body through the breath and is sent to every cell through the circulatory system.
Ap?na Elimination of waste products from the body through the lungs and excretory systems.
U??na Sound production through the vocal apparatus, as in speaking, singing, laughing, and crying. Also it represents the conscious energy required to produce the vocal sounds corresponding to the intent of the being. Hence samyama on udana gives the higher centers total control over the body.
Sam?na The digestion of food and cell metabolism (i.e. the repair and manufacture of new cells and growth). Samana also includes the heat regulating processes of the body.
Vy?na The energy that diffuses throughout the body (i.e. circulation). The expansion and contraction processes of the body, e.g. the voluntary muscular system.


Indian philosophy describes prana flowing in channels called Nadis. The Shiva Samhita states that there is a total of 350,000 nadis in the human body, while other texts says there are 72,000 nadis, each branching off into another 72,000.[] These nadis play an important role in the application and understanding of certain yoga practices. Shiva Samhita explains that the three most important nadis are the Ida, the Pingala and the Sushumna, each facilitating the flow of pra?? v?yu throughout the body.[4][page needed]

Ida nadi relates to the right side of the brain, and the left side of the body, terminating at the left nostril.[] Pingala nadi relates to the left side of the brain and the right side of the body, terminating at the right nostril.[] Sushumna nadi connects the base chakra at the base of the spine to the crown chakra at the top of the head.[]

The practice of pranayama can be used to balance the flow of prana within the body. When pra?? v?yu enters a period of uplifted, intensified activity, the yogic tradition refers to it as pranotthana, a precursor to the Kundalini state.[11][page needed]


The word Pr???y?ma derives from the Sanskrit words pr??a and ay?ma, translating as "life force" and "expansion" respectively. It is a common term for various techniques for accumulating, expanding and working with prana. In yoga, pranayama is a practise of specific and often intricate breathing techniques.[12]

Many pranayama techniques are designed to cleanse the energetic channels called nadis allowing for greater movement of prana.[] Other techniques may be utilized to arrest the breath for samadhi or to bring awareness to specific areas in the practitioner's subtle or physical body. It can also be utilized to generate inner heat as in the practice of tummo.[]

In ayurveda and therapeutic yoga, pranayama may also be utilized for any number of tasks including to affect mood and aid in digestion.[]A.G. Mohan says the physical goals of pranayama may be to recover from illness or the maintenance of health while its mental goals are: "to remove mental disturbances and make the mind focused for meditation".[13]

According to Georg Feuerstein: "the two most important species of the life force are obviously prâna and apâna, which underlie the breathing process. Their incessant activity is seen as the principal cause for the restlessness of the mind, and their stoppage is the main purpose of breath control (prânâyâma)".[3][page needed]Swami Yogananda writes that: "The real meaning of Pranayama, according to Patanjali, the founder of Yoga philosophy, is the gradual cessation of breathing, the discontinuance of inhalation and exhalation".[14][page needed]

See also

Further reading

  • Kason, Yvonne (2000). Farther Shores: Exploring How Near-Death, Kundalini and Mystical Experiences Can Transform Ordinary Lives. Toronto: HarperCollins Publishers; Revised edition.
  • Rammurti S. Mishra Yoga Sutras: The Textbook of Yoga Psychology
  • Sovatsky, Stuart (1998). Words from the Soul: Time, East/West Spirituality, and Psychotherapeutic Narrative. SUNY Series in Transpersonal and Humanistic Psychology, New York: State University of New York Press.


  1. ^ "Prana | Define Prana at". Retrieved . 
  2. ^ Swami Satyananda Saraswati (September 1981). "Prana: the Universal Life Force". Bihar School of Yoga. Retrieved 2015. 
  3. ^ a b c d e Feuerstein, George (2013). The Yoga Tradition: Its History, Literature, Philosophy and Practice. Hohm Press. ISBN 1935387588. 
  4. ^ a b Mallinson, James (2007). The Shiva Samhita: A Critical Edition and an English Translation (1st ed.). Woodstock, New York: ISBN 0971646651. 
  5. ^ Chapter 6 - Placing of the Shri-patra, Homa, Formation of the Chakra, and other Rites. Mahanirvana Tantra. Translated by Arthur Avalon (Sir John Woodroffe). 1913. Retrieved 2017. 
  6. ^ Rishi Singh Gherwal (1930). "Kundalini, The Mother of the Universe: What the Kundalini is; When She Awakens, What Then?". Retrieved 2017. 
  7. ^ a b Sivananda, Sri Swami (2008). The Science of Pranayama. BN Publishing. ISBN 9650060200. 
  8. ^ "The Mahabharata, Book 14: Aswamedha Parva: Anugita Parva: Section XXIII". Retrieved . 
  9. ^ a b Eliade, Mircea; Trask, Willard R.; White, David Gordon (2009). Yoga: Immortality and Freedom. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press. ISBN 0691142033. 
  10. ^ Saraswati, Sri Swami Sivananda; Warnick, Lateef Terrell (2010). Kundalini Yoga: The Shakti Path to Soul Awakening. 1 Soul Publishing. ISBN 9781939199133. 
  11. ^ Edwards, Lawrence (2009). Kundalini Rising: Exploring the Energy of Awakening. Boulder, Colorado: Sounds True, Inc. ISBN 1591798426. 
  12. ^ Swami Krishnananda. "The Yoga System". Chapter 8: Pranayama or Regulation of the Vital Energy. The Divine Life Society. Retrieved 2015. 
  13. ^ Mohan, A.G.; Mohan, Indra (2004). Yoga Therapy: A Guide to the Therapeutic Use of Yoga and Ayurveda for Health and Fitness (1st ed.). Boston: Shambhala Publications. p. 135. ISBN 1590301315. 
  14. ^ Yogananda, Paramahansa (2005). The Essence of Kriya Yoga (1st ed.). Union City, California: Alight Publications. ISBN 1931833184. 

External links

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