The presence and actions of Prāṇa Śakti
Generally the purpose of Yoga is to bring about a change within the prominence of awareness and its subsequent impact on the attitude and function of the individual.
Whether this change is explored as a yoking of two opposites, as in Prāṇa and Apāna, or an unyoking of two seemingly inseparable aspects, as in Puruṣa and Prakṛti, time and a process are involved. Also this notion of change may be initiated within an individual’s physical body, energetic processes, mental attitude and emotional responses.
However, within Indian thought there is a concept that is common to the different philosophies and to the different aspects of the individual. This concept is the presence, power and actions of Prāṇa.
Whether we are looking at change on a physical, energetic, mental or emotional level we are involved in the flow and movement of the bio-energy called Prāṇa. In fact some Yoga texts, for instance the Haṭha Yoga Pradīpikā, define what Yoga is in relation to what Prāṇa is.
apānamūrdhvamutthāpya prāṇaṃ kaṇṭhādadho nayet |
Raising Apāna upwards and taking Prāṇa downwards from the throat.
Haṭha Yoga Pradīpikā Chapter Two verse 47
However, the ultimate intention of Haṭha Yoga is to see that Prāṇa eventually only reaches deep into the one channel or Nāḍī known as Suṣumnā. The Haṭha Yoga Pradīpikā, defines Yoga as the ability to direct Prāṇa into the Suṣumnā Nāḍī or the fire channel.
prāṇasya śūnyapadavī tadā rājapathāyate |
Then Suṣumnā becomes the royal road for Prāṇa.
– Haṭha Yoga Pradīpikā Chapter Three verse 3
mārutasya vidhiṃ sarvam manoyuktaṃ samabhyaset |
All the practices involving Vāyu (Prāṇa)
should be done only with a concentrated mind.
– Haṭha Yoga Pradīpikā Chapter Three verse 127
dhāraṇāsu ca yogyatā mansaḥ |
(Moreoever from the practice of Prāṇāyāma)
and fitness of the mind for Dhāraṇā (concentration).
Patañjali Yoga Sūtra Chapter Two verse 53
cale vāte calaṃ cittaṃ niścale niścalaṃ bhavet |
As is the breath so is the mind.
– Haṭha Yoga Pradīpikā Chapter Two verse 2
That is also part of why the pulse rate increases and the breathing becomes faster when we are excited, and when the breathing becomes very long, the pulse is slower and we are stiller. Thus this mind-breath interactive relationship is an ongoing reality and with Prāṇāyāma breathing practices we use the breath to do something with the mind so that the Prāṇa increases in its intensity yet decreases in its fluctuations.
As an occidental approaching the study of Indian bio-energy systems we can have problems relating these ideas to our own belief systems. Furthermore, texts like the Yoga Sūtra or Haṭha Yoga Pradīpikā presuppose an understanding of what is Prāṇa, from where it originates and how it functions within the individual.
For an understanding of the nature of Prāṇa we must look to other texts such as the Praśna Upaniṣad and Yoga Yājñavalkya.
Well-being is being well, being well means to have an awareness of what is going on within and without. This awareness or force works through contact between the mind, the senses, and the external world. This contact or relationship is the essence of Yoga because this contact can be a cause for disturbance or because of how we choose to skilfully use that relationship.
Factors such as clarity, understanding and memory as well as the strength and efficient action of the various body functions are dependent upon the power of Prāṇa.
The subtle channels in which Prāṇa flows, if obstructed in any way, cause the obstruction of Prāṇa, and the result is the same as for the disturbance of Vāta or Air principle in its physical channel, ie there is disharmony, disequilibrium and disease.
Health is harmony, disharmony of either the three principles or of Prāṇa means disease. Deranged Prāṇa deranges the principle of Air, Fire and Water. Derange the principles of Air, Fire and Water and you derange the flow of Prāṇa.
This is why Yoga places such emphasis on the clearing of the channels through which Prāṇa flows, and Āyurveda on the harmony between the three principles. Also, both respect and include the other’s ideas in working with the refinement of well-being and awareness of the factors that limit it.
For instance the function of Apāna is the discharge of stools, urine, menstrual fluids, gas, ovum, sperm, foetus. The role of Apāna is to move downwards, an imbalance, aggravation or vitiation reflects in an increase or decrease of its natural tendency. It will become overactive or underactive.
This in turn can disturb the other aspects such as Vāta or Air principle. So when Apāna is controlled or balanced this helps to balance the other aspects of the Air principle. Apāna is sometimes called the scavenger of the body, so its efficient function is vital for health.
In Yoga we have postures such as Apānāsana to help balance Apāna. This efficient function of Apāna also reflects in the verse quoted earlier in this article from the Haṭha Yoga Pradīpikā C2 v47, in that the onset of old age is deferred and health maintained by controlling Apāna and Prāṇa.
So to summarize the “wholeness” or “intensity” of our bio-energy field is the concern of both Āyurveda and Yoga. Āyurveda concerns itself more with the physiological factors that disturb this wholeness or intensity. Yoga concerns itself more with the psychological factors that distend our bio-energy field. Each overlaps and regards the two areas as inseparable.
“Whatever affects the mind affects the body and whatever affects the body affects the mind.”
A further post will continue to develop and explore ideas on how Yoga views the nature and purpose of Prāṇa.