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In Hindu philosophy including yoga, Indian medicine, and martial arts, Prana (, pra; the Sanskrit word for "life force" or "vital principle")[1] comprises all cosmic energy, permeating the Universe on all levels. Prana is often referred to as the "life force" or "life energy".[not verified in body] It also includes energies present in inanimate objects.[not verified in body] In the Hindu 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.[not verified in body]

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,[] 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.[5][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).[] Early mention of specific pranas often emphasized pra, ap?na and vy?na as "the three breaths". This can be seen in the proto-yogic traditions of the Vratyas among others.[6]:104 Texts like the Vaik?nasasm?rta utilized the five pranas as an internalization of the five sacrificial fires of a panchagni homa ceremony.[6]: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. Pra 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 pra, ap?na, una, sam?na, and vy?na.[3][page needed][5][page needed] The functions of the five v?yus are as follows:[3][page needed][7][page needed]

V?yu Responsibility
Pra 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.
Una 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 are a total of 350,000 nadis in the human body, while other texts say 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.[8][page needed]


The word Pry?ma derives from the Sanskrit words pra 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. Pranayama is one of the eight limbs of yoga, and is a practice of specific and often intricate breath control techniques.[]

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".[9]

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".[10][page needed]

See also

Further reading

  • Kason, Yvonne (2008). Farther Shores: Exploring How Near-Death, Kundalini and Mystical Experiences Can Transform Ordinary Lives (Revised ed.). Bloomington, New York: Author's Choice Press. ISBN 0595533965. 
  • Mishra, Ramamurti S. (1997). The Textbook of Yoga Psychology: The Definitive Translation and Interpretation of Patanjali's Yoga Sutras for Meaningful Application in All Modern Psychologic Disciplines. New York: Baba Bhagavandas Publication Trust. ISBN 1890964271. 
  • Sovatsky, Stuart (1998). Words from the Soul: Time, East/West Spirituality, and Psychotherapeutic Narrative. Albany, New York: State University of New York Press. ISBN 0791439496. 


  1. ^ "Prana". Retrieved . 
  2. ^ Swami Satyananda Saraswati (September 1981). "Prana: the Universal Life Force". Yoga Magazine. Bihar School of Yoga. Retrieved 2015. 
  3. ^ a b c d Feuerstein, George (2013) [Nov 1998]. 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. ^ a b Sivananda, Sri Swami (2008). The Science of Pranayama. BN Publishing. ISBN 9650060200. 
  6. ^ a b Eliade, Mircea; Trask, Willard R.; White, David Gordon (2009). Yoga: Immortality and Freedom. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press. ISBN 0691142033. 
  7. ^ Saraswati, Sri Swami Sivananda; Warnick, Lateef Terrell (2010). Kundalini Yoga: The Shakti Path to Soul Awakening. 1 Soul Publishing. ISBN 9781939199133. 
  8. ^ Edwards, Lawrence (2009). Kundalini Rising: Exploring the Energy of Awakening. Boulder, Colorado: Sounds True, Inc. ISBN 1591798426. 
  9. ^ 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. 
  10. ^ Yogananda, Paramahansa (2005). The Essence of Kriya Yoga (1st ed.). Union City, California: Alight Publications. ISBN 1931833184. 

External links

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