Definition of Prana

Last Updated on: November 9, 2022

You may have heard the word prana in yoga class. Maybe you have read about it in yoga philosophy or came across it while learning about Ayurveda. When we learn about the definition of prana, we can then understand the functions of prana. Continue reading to learn how to manipulate these functions to reach optimum health!

So, what is prana? You may have heard that prana is energy or life force. Well, then what is energy? What does life force mean, anyway? Before we demystify the definition of prana, let’s look at what we can call a ‘snapshot’ of a human being.

Prana and the human body 

To understand the meaning of prana, it is helpful to gain a holistic view of a human being. According to yoga philosophy, a human being is divided up into 3 ‘bodies.’ To help you understand, imagine a mango. A mango is made up of three parts; the skin, the pulp or ‘flesh’ of the fruit, and the seed. Each part makes up the whole; some parts are visible and some are not.

Similarly, a human being is made up of parts. These parts make up the whole. 

The 3 ‘bodies’:

  1. The physical body as the tool-body
  2. The astral body as the energy-body
  3. The spiritual body as the seed-body 

The physical body is tangible; for example, you can see hair and feel skin. The energetic body, as well as the spiritual body, exist but are not tangible like the physical body.

Each ‘body’ is made up of its own elements and functions.

The physical body is made up of 5 elements:

  • Earth  
  • Water 
  • Fire 
  • Air 
  • Space or ether

The astral body is made up of 19 elements:

  • The five senses
  • The five actions
  • The four instruments 
  • The five pranas

The spiritual body is made up of:

  • The Soul
  • Karma
  • Free will
  • Samskara

This is a brief overview and might leave you with more questions than what we can cover within the scope of this article. However, gaining a basic knowledge of what makes up a human being will help us understand prana and how the 5 vital energies work.

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What is Prana?

Prana literally means ‘life-force’. It is the force that we need for living activities like talking, moving, thinking, digesting, breathing, etc.

 Often people think prana is energy. Now, energy is quite a broad term. There is energy in food, there is energy in petrol and then there is energy in batteries. Each is different and has different functions. Similarly, Prana is a specific life force, without it, you can not be alive.

Misconceptions about prana

You may have heard that prana moves in a particular direction. For example, udana prana moves upward. This is not necessarily correct. To explain, prana is like oxygen. Oxygen is all around us and within us. Prana flows throughout the body but certain pranas function in particular parts of the body. 

Prana & The Five Vital Energies

As explained, prana is the broad term for 'life-force energy. However, there is a type of prana functioning in a specific area of the body , each with specific purpose. 

  1. Udana
  2. Prana
  3. Samana
  4. Apana
  5. Vyana

1. Udana Prana

This is the prana force functioning in the region above the heart. To understand it further, let us look at some of the activities that happen above the heart. Thinking and talking require udana. For example, intellectuals tend to use more udana prana for thinking activities. Udana prana is increased by sunlight and appropriate food. To illustrate this, think of those in the Mediterranean. Generally speaking, they tend to be more expressive with their hands, and talkative. This could very well be due to the increased sunlight exposure in that area and their love for food! Here’s a tip if you feel your eyes drooping or head dropping because of low energy levels; take a walk outside and have a snack! You’ll find your mental energy levels increase.

2. Pran Prana

Just to be clear, prana broadly refers to the 5 vital energies. Pran prana is the specific prana that functions in the heart area. Heartbeat is pran in action! Pran comes from breathing. You can increase pran by doing pranayama.

Pranayama is another common word. What does it mean? Breathing exercises and pranayama are often used to describe the same thing but, not all breathing exercises are Pranayama. There is a difference between pranayama and breathing exercises. Pranayama literally means expansion of life force (prana) and its purpose is to improve the body’s capacity to retain and increase prana in the body.

3. Samana Prana

This prana functions around the navel area of the body. It is the heat force of assimilation; digestion and absorption in the body. When food is broken down we use samama and when we absorb nutrients we require samana prana. We can increase this prana by exercising and eating properly. 

4. Apana Prana

This prana functions in the pelvic region of the body. It is the force of excretion in the body. Activities such as urination, defecation, even a yawn require apana prana. Another example of apana prana is perspiration. We can increase apana prana by eating earthy, heavy foods such as rice, butternut and sweet potatoes. 

5. Vyana Prana

This prana functions around the entire body. It is the circulatory force in the body. Its activities are blood circulation, lymphatic drainage, and movement of the body in general. For example, walking requires vyana prana. We can stimulate vyan prana by making sure to hydrate the body. If your lymphatic drainage is sluggish, consider sipping on some spring water!

Conclusion  

Prana is the energy that allows for life and allows for the activities of life. In having a basic understanding of the elements and functions of a human being, we gain basic knowledge of what makes up a human being. We can then learn how to use the element of prana to help reach optimum health and wellbeing throughout the body.

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About the author

Ram Jain

Born into a Jain family where yoga has been the way of life for five generations, my formal yoga journey began at age of eight at a Vedic school in India. There I received a solid foundation in ancient scriptures, including Vedas, Upanishads, Bhagavad Gita, and Yoga Sutras (to name a few).

In 2009, I founded Arhanta Yoga Ashrams. I see yoga as a way to master the five senses, so I named our ashrams 'Arhanta Yoga,' the yoga to master the five senses!

In 2017, I also founded Arhanta Yoga Online Academy so that people who can not visit our ashrams can follow our courses remotely.

At Arhanta, we don't just teach yoga. We teach you how to reach your potential, deepen your knowledge, build your confidence, and take charge of your life.

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