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In Hindu philosophy including yoga, Indian medicine and Indian martial arts, prana (प्राण, prāṇa; the Sanskrit word for "life force" or "vital principle"[1] constructed from pra meaning movement and an meaning constant[2]) permeates reality on all levels including in inanimate objects.[3] In Hindu literature, prana is sometimes described as originating from the Sun and connecting the elements.[4] Prana is invoked and described in the Vedas and Upanishads.[5]

Five types of prana, collectively known as the five vāyus, are referred to in Hindu texts. Ayurveda, tantra and Tibetan medicine all describe praṇā vāyu as the basic vāyu from which the other vāyus arise.

Early references[edit]

The ancient concept of prana is described in many Hindu texts, including Upanishads and Vedas. One of the earliest references to prana is from the 3,000-year-old Chandogya Upanishad, but many other Upanishads use 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,[6] tantra,[citation needed] and Ayurveda.[citation needed]

Prana is typically divided into constituent parts, particularly when concerned with the human body. While not all early sources agree on the names or number of these divisions, the most common list from the Mahabharata, the Upanishads, Ayurvedic and Yogic sources includes five classifications, often subdivided.[7][page needed] 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).[citation needed] 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.[8]:104 Texts like the Vaikānasasmārta utilized the five pranas as an internalization of the five sacrificial fires of a panchagni homa ceremony.[8]:111–112

Atharva veda mentions about Prana. ‘When they had been watered by Prana, the plants spake in concert: 'thou hast, forsooth, prolonged our life, thou hast made us all fragrant.' (Chapter 11 verse 4 – 6)’. ‘The holy (âtharvana) plants, the magic (ângirasa) plants, the divine plants, and those produced by men, spring forth, when thou, O Prâna, quickenest them (Chapter 11, verse 4 – 16). ‘When Prâna has watered the great earth with rain, then the plants spring forth, and also every sort of herb (Chapter 11 verse 4 – 17). ‘O Prâna, be not turned away from me, thou shall not be other than myself! As the embryo of the waters (fire), thee, O Prâna, do bind to me, that I may live.’ (Chapter 11, verse 4).


Similar concepts exist in various cultures, including the Latin anima ("breath", "vital force", "animating principle"), Islamic and Sufic ruh, the Greek pneuma, the Chinese qi, the Polynesian mana, the Amerindian orenda, the German od, and the Hebrew ruah.[9] Prana is also referred to as "bioplasmic energy",[citation needed] "subtle energy",[citation needed] or "life force".[10]


One way of categorizing prana is by means of vāyus. Vāyu means "wind" or "air" in Sanskrit, and the term is used in a variety of contexts in Hindu philosophy. Prāṇa is considered the basic vāyu from which the other vāyus arise. Hence prāṇā is the collective term for the vāyus of prāṇa, apāna, uḍāna, samāna, and vyāna.[9][page needed][7][page needed] The functions of the five vāyus are as follows:[9][page needed][11][page needed]

Vāyu Responsibility
Prāṇa Refers traditionally to the exhaled breath (pra - "outward", "forth") which lives in the lungs. Leslie Kaminoff associates it with the inhaled breath.
Apāna Down and outward energy, most notably the elimanatory systems. It resides in the hips and gut.
Uḍāna Rising energy, resident in the throat, but also responsible for lifting kuṇḍalinī. Sound production through the vocal apparatus, as in speaking, singing, laughing and crying.
Samāna The heat of digestion, which resides in the belly between prāṇa above and uḍāna below.
Vyāna The energy of circulation that resides throughout the body.


Indian philosophy describes prana flowing in nadis (channels). The Shiva Samhita states that 350,000 nadis are found in the human body, while other texts mention 72,000 nadis, each branching off into another 72,000.[citation needed] 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.[6][page needed]

Ida nadi relates to the left side of the body, terminating at the left nostril. Pingala nadi relates to 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.

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.[12][page needed]

When the mind is agitated due to our interactions with the world at large, the physical body also follows in its wake. These agitations cause violent fluctuations in the flow of Prana in the Nadis.[13]


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. Pranayama is one of the eight limbs of yoga and is a practice of specific and often intricate breath control techniques. The dynamics and laws of Prana were understood through systematic practice of Pranayama to gain mastery over Prana.[14]

Many pranayama techniques are designed to cleanse the 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.[citation needed]

In Ayurveda and therapeutic yoga, pranayama may be utilized for many tasks, including to affect mood and aid in digestion.[citation needed] A.G. Mohan stated that 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".[15]

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)".[9][page needed] Swami Yogananda writes, "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".[16][page needed]

See also[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • Kason, Yvonne (2008). Farther Shores: Exploring How Near-Death, Kundalini and Mystical Experiences Can Transform Ordinary Lives (Revised ed.). Bloomington, New York: Author's Choice Press. ISBN 978-0595533961.
  • Mishra, Ramamurti S. (1997). The Textbook of Yoga Psychology: The Definitive Translation and Interpretation of Patanjali's Yoga Sutras for Meaningful Application in All Modern Psychologic Disciplines. New York: Baba Bhagavandas Publication Trust. ISBN 978-1890964276.
  • Sovatsky, Stuart (1998). Words from the Soul: Time, East/West Spirituality, and Psychotherapeutic Narrative. Albany, New York: State University of New York Press. ISBN 978-0791439494.


  1. ^ "Prana". Retrieved 2015-04-22.
  2. ^ Swami Satyananda Saraswati, Prana: The Universal Life Force. Bihar School of Yoga. 1981
  3. ^ 1925-1996., Rama, Swami (2002). Sacred journey : living purposefully and dying gracefully. India: Himalayan Institute Hospital Trust. ISBN 978-8188157006. OCLC 61240413.
  4. ^ Swami Satyananda Saraswati (September 1981). "Prana: the Universal Life Force". Yoga Magazine. Bihar School of Yoga. Retrieved 31 July 2015.
  5. ^ David, Frawley (2014-10-07). Vedic yoga : the path of the Rishi (First ed.). Twin Lakes, Wisconsin. ISBN 9780940676251. OCLC 904290374.
  6. ^ a b Mallinson, James (2007). The Shiva Samhita: A Critical Edition and an English Translation (1st ed.). Woodstock, New York: ISBN 978-0971646650.
  7. ^ a b Sivananda, Sri Swami (2008). The Science of Pranayama. BN Publishing. ISBN 978-9650060206.
  8. ^ a b Eliade, Mircea; Trask, Willard R.; White, David Gordon (2009). Yoga: Immortality and Freedom. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press. ISBN 978-0691142036.
  9. ^ a b c d Feuerstein, George (2013) [Nov 1998]. The Yoga Tradition: Its History, Literature, Philosophy and Practice. (Kindle Locations 11769-11771): Hohm Press. ISBN 978-1935387589.
  10. ^ Rowold, Jens (August 2016). "Validity of the Biofield Assessment Form (BAF)". European Journal of Integrative Medicine. 8 (4): 446–452. doi:10.1016/j.eujim.2016.02.007. ISSN 1876-3820.
  11. ^ Saraswati, Sri Swami Sivananda; Warnick, Lateef Terrell (2010). Kundalini Yoga: The Shakti Path to Soul Awakening. 1 Soul Publishing. ISBN 9781939199133.
  12. ^ Edwards, Lawrence (2009). Kundalini Rising: Exploring the Energy of Awakening. Boulder, Colorado: Sounds True, Inc. ISBN 978-1591798422.
  13. ^ Sridhar, MK (2015). "The concept of Jnana, Vijnana and Prajnana according to Vedanta philosophyFNx01". International Journal of Yoga: Philosophy, Psychology and Parapsychology. 3 (1): 5. doi:10.4103/2347-5633.161024. ISSN 2347-5633.
  14. ^ Nagendra, H R (1998). Pranayama, The art and science;. Bangalore, India: Swami Vivekananda Yoga Prakashana.
  15. ^ Mohan, A.G.; Mohan, Indra (2004). Yoga Therapy: A Guide to the Therapeutic Use of Yoga and Ayurveda for Health and Fitness (1st ed.). Boston: Shambhala Publications. p. 135. ISBN 978-1590301319.
  16. ^ Yogananda, Paramahansa (2005). The Essence of Kriya Yoga (1st ed.). Union City, California: Alight Publications. ISBN 978-1931833189.

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