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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 energy, permeating the Universe on all levels. Prana is often referred to as the "life force" or "life energy". It also includes energies present in inanimate objects. 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 Vedas and Upanishads.

In living beings this universal energy is considered responsible for all bodily functions through five types of prana, collectively known as the five Vāyus. Ayurveda, tantra and Tibetan medicine all describe Praṇā vāyu as the basic vāyu from which all the other vāyus 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]

Early references[edit]

The ancient concept of Prana is described 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 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 haṭha yoga,[4] tantra,[5] 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.[6][7] 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).[8][9] Early mention of specific pranas often emphasized Prāṇa Apāna and Vyāna as "the three breaths". This can be seen in the proto-yogic traditions of the Vratyas among others.[10] Texts like the Vaikānasasmārta utilized the five pranas as an internalization of the five sacrificial fires of a panchagni homa ceremony.[11]


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.[12] 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.
Apāna Elimination of waste products from the body through the lungs and excretory systems.
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.
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.



Further information: Nadi (yoga)

Indian philosophy describes prana flowing in channels called Nadis. 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 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 praṇā vāyu throughout the body.[15]

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]

The practice of pranayama can be used to balance the flow of prana 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.[16]


Main article: Pranayama

The word Prāṇāyāma derives from the Sanskrit words prāṇa and ayāma, translating as "life force" and "expansion" respectively. It is a common term for various techniques for accumulating, expanding and working with prana. In yoga, pranayama is a practise of specific and often intricate breathing techniques.[17] 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".[18] 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)".[19] 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".[20]

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. ^ Feuerstein, Georg (2013-09-11). The Yoga Tradition: It's History, Literature, Philosophy and Practice (Kindle Locations 11769-11771). Hohm Press. Kindle Edition.
  4. ^ Mallinson, James (2007-01-01). The Shiva Samhita: A Critical Edition and an English Translation (Kindle Locations 387-390). Kindle Edition.|quote:"Prana, apana, samana, udana, and vyana, the fifth; naga, kurma, krikara, devadatta, and dhananjaya. I have stated the ten main names here in this text."
  5. ^ "Chapter 6 - Placing of the Shri-patra, Homa, Formation of the Chakra, and other Rites". Retrieved 2015-11-10. 
  6. ^ Saraswati, Sri Swami Sivananda (2013-06-14). The Science of Pranayama (Kindle Location 227). Kindle Edition.|quote: "The seat of Prana is heart. Though the Antahkarana is one, yet it assumes four forms, viz., (i) Manas, (ii) Buddhi, (iii) Chitta and (iv) Ahamkara according to the different functions it performs. Likewise, though Prana is one, it assumes five forms viz., (1) Prana, (2) Apana, (3) Samana, (4) Udana and (5) Vyana according to the different functions it performs." quote:"Naga, Kurma, Krikara, Devadatta and Dhananjaya are the five sub-Pranas."
  7. ^ | Kundalini, The Mother of the Universe, by Rishi Singh Gherwal, [1930], at, accessed Oct. 22, 2015
  8. ^ Mahabharata section XXIII
  9. ^ Feuerstein, Georg (2013-09-11). The Yoga Tradition: It's History, Literature, Philosophy and Practice (Kindle Locations 11779-11790). Hohm Press. Kindle Edition. | quote: "According to the authorities of Yoga, the universal life force is focalized in the individual subtle body, where it branches out into five primary and five secondary energy flows, each with its own specialized function. Prâna (“ breath” or “in-breath,” lit. “breathing forth”) — draws the life force into the body (chiefly through the act of inhalation); it is generally thought to be located in the upper half of the trunk, especially in the heart region but also in the head. Apâna (“ out-breath”) - expels the life force (mainly through the act of exhalation); it is associated with the navel and the abdomen but also the anal and genital area. Vyâna (“ through-breath”) - distributes and circulates the life force (chiefly through the action of the heart and lungs); it is always present even when the activity of prâna and apâna is for some reason suspended; it is widely thought to pervade the entire body. Samâna (“ mid-breath”) — is responsible for the assimilation of nutrients; it is located in the digestive system. Udâna (“ up-breath”) — is primarily responsible for speech but also for belching..."
  10. ^ Mircea Eliade, Yoga: Immortality and Freedom, p. 104
  11. ^ Mircea Eliade, Yoga: Immortality and Freedom, pp. 111-112
  12. ^ "Yoga: Prana Vayu – Five vital forces". 2008-07-03. Retrieved 2015-04-27. 
  13. ^ Feuerstein, Georg (2013-09-11). The Yoga Tradition: It's History, Literature, Philosophy and Practice (Kindle Locations 11781-11786). Hohm Press. Kindle Edition.
  14. ^ Saraswati, Sri Swami Sivananda (2013-06-13). Kundalini Yoga (Kindle Locations 1404-1407). Kindle Edition.
  15. ^ Mallinson, James (2007-01-01). The Shiva Samhita: A Critical Edition and an English Translation (Kindle Locations 302-304). Kindle Edition. quote: "There are three and one-half lakh nadis in the human body. Of these, fourteen are the most important: Sushumna, Ida, Pingala, Gandhari, Hastijihvika, Kuhu, Sarasvati, Pusha, Shankhini, Payasvini, Varuni, Alambusha, Vishvodari, and Yashasvini. Of these, three are preeminent: Pingala, Ida, and Sushumna."
  16. ^ Lawrence Edwards, (2009). Kundalini Rising: Exploring the Energy of Awakening. Sounds True, Inc. 
  17. ^ Swami Krishnananda. "The Yoga System". Chapter 8: Pranayama or Regulation of the Vital Energy. The Divine Life Society. Retrieved 31 July 2015. 
  18. ^ Yoga Therapy: A Guide to the Therapeutic Use of Yoga and Ayurveda for Health and Fitness by A.G. Mohan. p.123
  19. ^ Feuerstein, Georg (2013-09-11). The Yoga Tradition: It's History, Literature, Philosophy and Practice (Kindle Locations 11801-11803). Hohm Press. Kindle Edition.
  20. ^ Swami Yogananda (2013-03-18). Kriya Yoga by Swami Yogananda (1930) (Kindle Locations 78-79). Golden Swan Publishing. Kindle Edition.

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