Life is possible only because of prana. Prana is the universal energy of existence. The word literally
means "breathing forth." It is usually synonymous with the breath or with air (vayu). In the Rig Veda,
the oldest Hindu text, prana is claimed to be the breath of the cosmic purusha.  But prana itself is an
overarching term with many subcategories. Learning how prana works and how to free this energy is part
of the psycho-spiritual practice known as pranayama.
Vayu, meaning air, is another synonym for prana. Inside the body there are five major kinds of prana,
or vayus, and five minor ones. The major vayus are:
None of these energies exist in isolation. One of the challenges in our yoga practice is to detect the
presence of all these energies when one of them is most obvious. For example - take a deep breath. The
energy of prana is obvious, but can you detect at the same time the subtle rooting energy of apana?
More simply put, can you feel the apana in the prana? Try this on the exhalation too. Can you feel the
prana in the apana? It may be useful to follow the movement of your diaphragm as you try this. On
inhalations, despite the obvious lifting upward of the chest and shoulders, the diaphragm is descending.
Following this movement may help you find the apana in the prana and vice versa. Once you can do this for
the breath while sitting, try following these energies while you do your asana practice.
- Prana … the upward lifting energy. This can be confusing; the vayu prana is a subset of the
overall term for all energies, also called prana. The vayu prana is responsible for the energy of the heart
and the breath. When we see a tree's branches reaching upward to the sun, that is prana energy being expressed.
When we feel our inhalations lift our spirit, along with our shoulders, that too is prana.
- Apana … the downward, rooting energy. Apana is responsible for elimination, both through the
lungs (eliminating carbon dioxide) and the digestive tracts. The roots of a tree searching downward for
stability are expressing apana. The rooting downward of our exhalations tap into the same energy.
- Udana … the "up breath" or upward moving energy. Udana is responsible for producing sounds
and is the energy of the five senses. Some texts place this only in the throat but other texts say that
it circulates in all the limbs and in the joints.
- Samana … the balancing energy. Samana is responsible for digestion and the metabolism of our cells.
- Vyana … the outward moving energy. Vyana is responsible for the movement of our muscles and
for balancing the energy flow throughout our body.
Sensing the flow of energy is a meditation practice all on its own. Just sitting for a few minutes
watching the apana in the prana and the prana in the apana requires attention. Any time we follow our
energies, we are meditating.
The five minor pranas are not important unless the student is going into advanced practices. This is
fortunate as different sages describe different and conflicting effects of these minor energies. A
generalization of these energies is compiled below, but the reader is warned that some teachers have
very different observations:
Energy does not just simply exist; it flows. Just as our nerves channel electrical energy and our
blood vessels channel chemical energy, so too prana is channeled in our bodies. These channels are known as nadis.
- Naga … causes salivation and hiccups
- Kurma … causes opening of the eyes and blinking
- Krikara … causes sneezing and sensation of hunger
- Devadatta … causes yawning and sleep
- Dhanamjaya … pervades the entire body; causes hair growth and lingers even after death.
1 -- Purusha is the cosmic man or the original Self from which all comes.
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