November 2011 – Prana

Prana to yogis is vitality, energy. You may hear this word used in yoga classes frequently. Anything that is alive — or moves has prana in it Prana is a sanskrit word that when literally translated means “moving always”. Most people associate prana with breath as prana moves in our breath, but since prana is in us while in-utero, prana is more likely closer to our nerve function than our breath. Wherever there is life — or movement there is prana. Heat, light, electricity, gravitation, and magnetism are some examples of prana movement.

Prana can be wild and unpredictable, but you can harness it and use it! Just like lightning can strike here and there, but if you harness that energy and put it into a wire you can do enlightening things with it πŸ™‚ Prana is vitality; as yogis we learn how to use and increase our prana to become full of life and vigor.

There are several ways to fill our bodies with prana, but first I want to connect the ethereal yoga term to the science behind it. I came across some very interesting information on prana in the book “Pranayama” by Andre Van Lysebeth

Prana in our atmosphere — a scientific look
In science prana can be likened to the negative ion. Ions are the workers of life in a cell. In our atmosphere there are two types of ions, negative and positive.

  • Prana = negative ions, these ions are small and very active electrically — they are like minute packets of pure electrical energy that constantly move around. These small negative active ions are what bring vitality to an organism, they represent atmospheric prana.
  • Positive ions are larger and slower. Too many positive ions in the atmosphere tend to make us lethargic. Just like the calm before the storm — before a storm the atmosphere becomes filled with positive ions, during the storm rain and winds replenish the atmosphere with negative ions.

Negative ions electrically attach to airborne particles, dust, smog, dander, mold — even viruses and bacteria in the air and then stick together, which then forms a larger positive ion. While this helps to clean the air, when the presence of too many positive ions vs. negative ions in the air happens (as in cities and enclosed spaces) there is less vital prana (negative ions) in the air for us to breathe. We can feel the revitalizing difference of being in nature vs. being in a city — or an enclosed space.

Air conditioning though thought to clean the air does not add negative ions back into the air — thats why air conditioned offices and spaces feel like dead air. Heat too can interfere with the negative ions/prana in the air we breathe.

Getting more prana πŸ™‚

The most effective ways of increasing the negative ions in our atmosphere is by sun, wind, and large masses of moving water πŸ™‚ On the coast and at sea we bathe in an ocean of prana, many of us feel that exhilaration just by spending a weekend at the beach.

We absorb this atmospheric prana through our skin and lungs (there are other ways to absorb prana as well, for example, food). This is why we must not electrically insulate our bodies; clothes and shoes interfere with our electrical exchanges through the atmosphere. Some materials are better than others, for example cotton does not interfere with our prana absorption vs. polyester which totally blocks the skin exchanges (thats why I am a 100% cotton girl!).

So we use nature to ‘charge our batteries’ and as we receive a full charge we also need to discharge through our skin — like we are going through a constant electro-therapy. Being earthed helps with this charging and discharging, putting our feet on bare earth or in a stream permits a constant electrical discharge. (This is one of the reasons why in the ashtanga practice we pay attention to grounding our hands in feet in some of the poses–better to bend your knees and ground than to keep the legs straight just for the external stretch.) So through our lungs and skin we are constantly charging and discharging – the purer the air and the less clothes and shoes we have to interfere the better. This constant charging and discharging is what fills us with vitality — with prana.

And I’d like to add, purchasing an “ionizing” machine is NOT NOT NOT the same! A machine can not compare to nature. Get outside and play . . . (nude) . . .

Taking In the Air – Yoga and Prana
When you are outside or practicing yoga or pranayama how you breathe can increase your prana absorption. Animals do this very well, have you ever noticed a rabbit breathing? Animals nostrils are very mobile and flexible and expand with each inhale — and so are the nostrils of humans that still live in nature such as tribes in Africa.
When we normally breathe our nostrils barely move — and sometimes they even pinch shut a little as the suction from inhaling tends to draw them inward. So instead try to TAKE THE AIR, expand your nostrils as you inhale — notice how the air enters more easily, in greater volume, and in better balance between both nostrils.

Opening the nostrils during inhalation directs more of the air toward the area in our nose with the most sensitive nerve endings. The air current that enters our nose goes is divided into three streams — 2 of the directions are in and down, the third direction brings the air across our olfactory region at the top of our nasal cavity. This olfactory region — where our sense of smell is — is also the region of our nose that absorbs prana (the olfactory region is our prana accumulator). By flaring your nostrils slightly as you inhale you pull more air across this region of your nasal passages. And if you slow this passage down your body has more time for the gas exchanges in the lungs and more time to absorb more prana . . . you slow down this passage of air with our yogic breathing, by the constriction of our glottis as we do for the ujjayi or loud breathing that is part of our ashtanga breathing :). A purposely slowed breath, or when smelling something, or a rapid increase in the breath rate as we do for uth pluthi, or in the pranayama practices of bhastrika or kapalabhati all increase the flow of air to the olfactory region giving us the opportunity to absorb more prana πŸ™‚

You will notice that by taking in the air in this way makes breathing easier, harmonious, and well balanced. Even if the change is imperceptible to you, it is not too optimistic to say that breathing this way increases the amount of inhaled air by 10%.

As long as we live we are prana conductors, but our wires may be bent, blocked or broken. The yoga postures are designed to help us unclog the channels, while the breathing practices (both while in asana or practicing pranayama) are designed to help our bodies accumulate and direct prana. In Ashtanga Yoga the whole process of learning the synchronized moving and breathing is ultimately about controlling and moving our prana. This is why we place such an importance in breath, gymnastics causes an expenditure of prana while yoga asanas accumulate and regulate the flow of prana in our bodies.

Prana and food
Prana is the energy of the blue sky above, yet the vegetables down below can still feed on it.

We exist by constantly drawing prana from the cosmos. This extraction takes place by four main points of prana absorption (in order of importance):
1. The nerve endings in the nasal cavities
2. the air cells in the lungs
3. the tongue
4. the skin
I spoke about how we absorb prana in our nasal cavity and the lungs including the importance of the air you breathe, and the skin–the importance of exposing your skin to sun, wind, and water and wearing natural materials such as cotton. Now about the tongue and food . . .

The tongue is actually an important part of prana absorption, a considerable part of our energy is extracted from food — how well this energy fuels us and fills our body with vitality depends on the pranic quality of the food. If our bodies were just mass, any protein, carb, or fat would do but as we learn about the energies of the body we realize that more than just the physical components are involved for complete health.

The yogis link prana with taste, so food that has real flavor has more prana–flavor is not prana, it only indicates its presence. And it is interesting to note that no other prana absorbing organs exist in the digestive tract. So pranic energy from food is absorbed by the tongue without digestion.

Remember how we absorb prana from the atmosphere and how the atmosphere is renewed with the negative ions or prana. Food absorbs prana in much the same ways, when food is in the ground it is absorbing the prana from the sun, rain, and wind. The prana is active and mobile in the food, creating “light” in the food. Some scientists have put a name to this: biophotons. The sooner we eat the food taken from the ground the more we absorb the prana–the light in the food–the bio photons, and it fills us with more vitality. The longer a food goes from ground to your mouth, the more prana fades from it. For example, a cracker; the wheat was plucked from the earth months before you eat it, then separated (the wheat from the germ), then ground in large quantities, then lots of chemicals, preservatives, and fake nutrients added to it, then mixed with hydrogenated oils and high fructose corn syrup, molded, then baked or fried, then packaged in plastic or teflon lined bags . . . hence do you understand the term ‘dead food”? And a cracker from a health food store is also dead food! It might be organic or not have hydrogenated oils or HFCS in it, but it is still dead! This dead food can certainly build our physical body (bigger than it should be!) but it will not restore our pranic batteries. We have proof of this in our society today, in America we have an obesity epidemic, and what studies prove is that these obese people are malnourished! Yes that is right, they are fat from too many calories and sick from not eating nutritious food. This is what processed, dead food does for you.

Ways we lose prana
So how do we know if we are filled with prana? And how do we know if it is flowing? The more prana we have, the better we feel, the more energized we are, the more focused and in tune we are. Sometimes a lack of prana is easier to identify . . . Are you tired, restless, frequently sick, lethargic, lacking motivation? These are signs that your prana is either low or you are sending out more than you are bringing in.

There are hundreds of ways we mentally expend energy — fears, addictions, worry, grief, gossip, depression, pain, fantasy — many many places to ‘spend’ our prana. If we view our prana as a bank account to support our bodies, maybe we can get a better idea of what happens when we waste our prana:

Imagine all your energy is contained in 100 beams of light — this is the energy you have to get out of bed, get to work, take care of your family, cook, heal, etc. How you spend this energy is important — your daily life requires approx. 50 of your beams of light. And the biggies — ROMANCE and FINANCE . . . the days we deal with those take at least 20-25 beams of light . . . That still leaves us plenty of beams, right? Many of us are not aware of our energy leaks; Are you stewing over something someone said to you? That takes 10 beams of light, whether it is right or wrong does not matter so much as the energy you are giving it, if you are thinking about it you are giving this person your prana. Something from the past still affecting you, that takes 15 beams of light (and as long as you hold on to that you will start every day 15 beams short . . .) so your daily allotment is already used up, we are running on empty.
For health and well being our immune systems depends on some of these energy beams, when they are not available our body can not take care of itself. When our prana is low the first thing usually to go is our creativity, lack of creativity is not health threatening so our body is willing to let that go. When we operate on an energy deficit we subconsciously try to pull energy from people around us, this sets us up for unhealthy, unbalanced relationships.

This is easy to correct! Thank goodness we have our yoga practice to help us detect some of these energy drains. Remember PRANA FOLLOWS THOUGHT, so you can easily pull your prana back. If you find yourself on your mat sending your prana out of your body you can pull back some of this mis-placed energy for better use.
Disconnecting is not easy, unplugging is a slow gradual process of learning to detect our energy leaks. We learn from our practice that we can not focus on breath, bandhas, asana, etc. if our mind is wrapped around some drama of the day . . . we can STOP THE DRAMA in our heads by pulling our mind off of it and focusing it to our breath movement in our body.
So if only for a moment you unplug to do an asana, we begin the process of training our mind to watch where we are sending our energy. Then one day we realize that we do not have to be on our yoga mat to notice our energy drain, but we can feel it — even while at work — and we realize we can disconnect right there on the spot πŸ™‚

So many times when we start yoga it is our darkest hour . . . i like to say most of us don’t come to yoga because we see the light . . . we come because we feel the heat (of emotional or physical pain) . . . and this yoga feels like a lot of uncomfortable exercise, but for some reason we feel so much better at the end of practice that we stick with it, then one day . . . out of the clear blue sky . . . we realize Down Dog feels good! Some pain or blockage has been removed and prana is flowing in, getting into some new spaces in our body and mind πŸ™‚ )

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