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Prana (प्राण, prāṇa) is the Sanskrit word for "life force" or vital principle.[1] In Hindu philosophy including yoga, Indian medicine, and martial arts, the term refers collectively to all cosmic energies, permeating the Universe on all levels. It is the sum total of all energy that is manifest and while prana is often referred to as the "life force" or "life energy", it also includes energies present in inanimate objects. Prana is the prime mover of all activity and is energy which creates, protects and destroys. In the 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 Upanishads and later in the Vedas.

In living beings, the universal principle of energy or force of prana, is considered responsible for the body's life, heat, health and maintenance. In the human body, all functions are said to be performed by five types of prana, collectively known as the five Vāyus. Ayurveda, tantra and Tibetan medicine all describes praṇā vāyu as the basic vāyu from which all the other vāyus arise. It is analogous to qi.[citation needed]

Early references[edit]

The concept of Prana is ancient and described and used in many early Hindu texts, such as the Upanishads and Vedas. One of the earliest references to Prana is from the 3,000 year old Chandogya Upanishad, but many other Upanishads also makes use of the concept, including the Katha, Mundaka and Prasna Upanishad. Later vedic texts such as the Vedanta Sutras and Bhagavata Purana also sheds light on how prana is to be understood in a Hindu philosophical context.[3]

Prana is often subdivided into different kinds of prana, in particular when concerned with the human body. The texts does not agree on the names of these subdivisions or the number of subdivisions however. They all agree that prana is born from Atman and therefore sometimes refers to its subdivisions as "sons of Atman" or "sons of Rudra".[4][better source needed]


Main articles: Vāyu and Lung (Tibetan Buddhism)

One way of subdividing prana is by the means of Vāyus. Vāyu means wind or air in Sanskrit and the term is used in a variety of contexts in Hindu philosophy. In relation to prana, Praṇā vāyu is considered the basic vāyu from which all the other vāyus arise.[5] The functioning of the human body is fuelled by a total of five vāyus, as follows:

Vāyu Responsibility
Prāṇa Beating of the heart and breathing. Prana enters the body through the breath and is sent to every cell through the circulatory system.[citation needed]
Apāna Elimination of waste products from the body through the lungs and excretory systems.[citation needed]
Uḍāna 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.[citation needed]
Samāna 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.
Vyāna The energy that diffuses throughout the body (i.e. circulation). The expansion and contraction processes of the body, e.g. the voluntary muscular system.[citation needed]


Further information: Nadi (yoga)

When concerned with living organisms and in particular the human body, Hindu philosophy describes prana to flow in certain channels called Nadis (with a plural s). 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 of with another 72,000 nadis. These nadis plays an important role in the practise and understanding of yoga. Shiva Samhita explains that the three most important nadis are the Ida, the Pingala and the Sushumna, each facilitating the flow of praṇā vāyu throughout the body.[citation 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.[citation needed]

In some yoga practices, such as pranayama, alternate nostril breathing balances the flow of praṇā vāyu within the body. When praṇā vāyu enters a period of uplifted, intensified activity, the yogic tradition refers to it as Pranotthana, a precursor to the Kundalini state.[6]


Main article: Pranayama

The word Pranayama derives from the Sanskrit words prana and ayama, translating as "life force" and "expansion" respectively. It is a common term for various techniques for accumulating, expanding and work with prana. In yoga, pranayama is usually referring to a practise based on detailed and specific breathing techniques. It is important for the advanced yoga student to master and work with prana, in order to clean out and open all the nadis of the three bodies, and subsequently reach higher states of spiritual development.[7][8][9]

In the Hindu philosophy, it is believed that a person who master the flow of prana, can learn to transfer and use it to manipulate the outside world also. In this process, he can heal other people and perform otherwise impossible feats.[3]

See also[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • 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 2015-04-22. 
  2. ^ Swami Satyananda Saraswati (September 1981). "Prana: the Universal Life Force". Bihar School of Yoga. Retrieved 31 July 2015. 
  3. ^ a b "Prana". VEDA - Retrieved 31 July 2015. 
  4. ^ "A hymn to Prana". Retrieved 16 August 2015.  A blog dedicated to Lord Shiva. Discussions, references to and citations of the Hindu scriptures.
  5. ^ "Yoga: Prana Vayu – Five vital forces". 2008-07-03. Retrieved 2015-04-27. 
  6. ^ Lawrence Edwards, (2009). Kundalini Rising: Exploring the Energy of Awakening. Sounds True, Inc. 
  7. ^ Swami Krishnananda. "The Yoga System". Chapter 8: Pranayama or Regulation of the Vital Energy. The Divine Life Society. Retrieved 31 July 2015. 
  8. ^ Rod Stryker (21 January 2010). "Positively Prana: Yoga Your Way to a Happier Mood". Yoga Journal. Retrieved 31 July 2015. 
  9. ^ Kathleen Bryant (3 July 2014). "6 Ways to Boost Your Prana". Retrieved 31 July 2015. 

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