Definition of Prana

February 8, 2022

Last updated : July 3, 2024

In ancient yoga tradition, prana is described as the vital energy that exists in all things. This life-giving energy is what connects us to the entire universe, and is the underlying force behind our physical, mental, and spiritual well-being. But what is life-force energy exactly and how can you increase it?  

Join us as we explore the meaning of prana and demystify its five vital forces and their influence on our daily lives. We’ll also share valuable insights to help you balance this energy and foster optimal health. 

What Is Prana? 

Prana literally means “life-force. It is the energy we need for vital activities like breathing, talking, moving, thinking, digesting, breathing, and so on. Hence, we call it vital life-force energy.  

This powerful energy is also intricately connected to the mind, influencing our thoughts, emotions, and general well-being. As a result, the state of this energy directly affects our physical health, mental well-being, and spiritual growth.  

Understanding Prana & the Body

To understand the meaning of life-force energy and how it functions, we first need to gain a holistic view of the human body. According to yoga philosophy, a human being is divided into three 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  

We can compare the three bodies to 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, but some parts are visible, and some are not. Similarly, a human being is made up of the physical body which you can see and touch, and the astral and spiritual body which you can’t.  

If you’ve never explored the different parts of your being, try this guided meditation to form a deeper connection with your three different bodies.  

Prana flows in the astral body through energy pathways known as nadis. There are many ways we can absorb life-force energy: breathing is one of them.

So, when we breathe in, we inhale this energy. We practice pranayama breathing techniques to improve the body’s capacity to retain and increase life-force energy in the body. This can provide numerous benefits, helping reduce stress, balance bodily functions, and improve our overall well-being.  

Is Prana an Energy?

Often, people think prana is energy. Now, energy is quite a broad term. There is energy in food, fuel, and the batteries powering your screen right now. Each is different and has a different purpose. 

Similarly, prana is a subtle, pervasive energy that powers various aspects of our being. Much like a flat battery, insufficient life-force energy flowing through the body can create disharmony on physical, emotional, and spiritual levels. 

Where Is Prana Found?

Prana has multiple sources. While it is present in the air we breathe, it is not limited to just oxygen. It is also found in the food we eat, the water we drink, and the sun's energy that nourishes all living beings. Additionally, we can increase and balance life-force energy through yogic practices such as deep breathing exercises, meditation, and connecting with nature. 

How Does Life-Force Energy Move in the Body?

It’s a common misconception that prana moves in a particular direction. For example, many believe that udana travels in an upward movement. The truth is, life-force energy does not have a fixed or restricted directional flow. Rather, it functions more like oxygen, existing all around us and within us simultaneously. 

While certain practices in yoga, such as pranayama, may focus on directing and channeling life-force energy in particular ways, prana itself is not confined to any fixed path. As a result, we can view this energy as a dynamic and ever-present life force that can be harmonized throughout the body and beyond. 

See More - Pranayama Benefits & Daily Breathing Techniques for a Longer Life

Prana & the Five Vital Energies 

As explained, prana is the broad term for life-force energy. This energy has different movements, known as vayus. There are five major vayus in the body  Udana, Prana, Samana, Apana, and Vyana — each governing a specific area of your body and its functions.  

By understanding and balancing them, we can cultivate physical vitality, mental clarity, and spiritual development. Below, we demystify yoga’s 5 vital energies and how to increase prana in the body.  

1. Udana Vayu

Udana vayu is a type of life-force energy that circulates in the region above the heart. As a result, maintaining a balanced flow of udana is crucial for effective communication and boosting energy levels. 

How to increase:  

We can increase udana vayu with sunlight and appropriate food. If you feel weak and are unable to express yourself, take a walk outside under the sun and have a bite to eat. You'll notice your energy levels begin to rise and mental clarity return.  

The Five Pranas

2. Prana Vayu

Prana vayu is a fundamental energy that governs the circulation of oxygen and life-force energy throughout the body, maintaining overall vitality and well-being. While this vayu flows through the entire body, it primarily functions in the Heart Chakra and the chest.  

How to increase:  

Pranayama is one of the most effective practices to promote and balance the prana vayu. Ujjayi Breath and Nadi Shodhana are two powerful techniques you can practice daily to improve the flow of energy to this region.  

Heart-opening yoga poses and inversions increase space in the chest, promoting cardiovascular health and emotional well-being. The yogic cleansing practice Jala Neti can also help clear the air passageways and improve the quality of life-force energy in the body. 

3. Samana Vayu

Samana is the vital force located in the Solar Plexus Chakra, just above the navel. This vital energy is responsible for facilitating digestion and metabolism, and distributing nutrients throughout the body. Essentially, your body’s internal processes rely on the balance of samana vayu.  

How to increase:  

Pranayama and dynamic yoga asanas that improve digestion can increase samana vayu. Additionally, it’s important to adopt a mindful approach to eating, with a balanced and nutritious diet 

4. Apana Vayu

Apana vayu functions in the pelvic region of the body and is responsible for elimination functions, such as urination, bowel movements, and menstruation. We can also attribute sweating and yawning to apana energy.  

How to increase:  

Kapalabhati, also known as Skull Shining Breath, is an effective yoga technique for cleansing the nasal passage and eliminating stagnant oxygen. Eating earthy foods such as rice, butternut, and sweet potatoes can also increase and balance this vital energy.  

5. Vyana Vayu

Lastly, vyana vayu is a vital force that facilitates distribution systems in the body, including the movement of energy through the nadis. This means that when vyana vayu is out of balance or depleted, so are the other four vital energies.  

This circulatory force also controls blood circulation, lymphatic drainage, and regular movements like walking.  

How to increase:  

Drinking water can stimulate and boost vyana energy. Standing yoga poses that expand energy in the limbs can also enhance the distribution of this vital life force.  

Also Read - The Bandhas: The 4 Energy Locks

Final Thought

Prana is the energy that sustains life and maintains the healthy functioning of all human activities. In having a basic understanding of prana and yoga’s 5 vital forces, we can learn how to use this energy to help reach optimum health and well-being. 

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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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