Whoa! This is a big, massive, awesome, and really important topic. I could write a 5,000-word essay on prana, but for the sake of your eyes and schedules, here’s a more digestible summary.
Prana is a Sanskrit word that translates as “vital life force.” Understanding what prana is and how it works is like being given a key that can unlock new improved levels of health and wellbeing—on the inside and out.
We Are More Than the Physical Body
Our outermost layer, the physical body, is what we tend to associate with most because it’s tangible—we can see it, feel it, and therefore rationalise it. My skin is dry. My hair is getting longer. My elbow is sore.
Less tangible, but no less real, is the energy that exists within and around the physical body. In yoga, we call this energy prana, the vital life force that sustains life everywhere.
It is also known as qi, chi, and ki; for example, Qi Gong, Tai Chi, and Reiki, are all eastern practices that work with this life force just as yoga works with prana.
Understanding Energy and the Pranic Body
In our physical body, blood flows through veins, capillaries, and arteries. In our energy body, prana flows through energy pathways called nadis (nadi translates as flow).
Prana rides on the breath, so when we breathe in, we take in prana. When we expand the breath and improve the quality of it, we are expanding and improving the quality of this vital life force within and around us. This is exactly what yoga breathing techniques, or pranayama, are designed to do.
An important aspect of the pranic body are the chakras, or energy centres. In yoga, we focus on the seven major chakras that exist along the line of the spine, each one connected to specific glands and organs of the physical body, as well as areas of our mind that influence our personality.
It is believed by many that health and wellbeing comes when there is a balanced energy flow through each of the seven major chakras.
On the flipside, when prana is prevented from flowing naturally, either becoming blocked or overactive at a certain point, it can create disharmony on both a physical and emotional level.
How Can We Help Prana Flow Freely?
Drumroll please…by practicing yoga, of course!
Yoga postures, particularly the traditional or classical asanas, activate specific chakras. For example, Bridge Pose and Shoulder Stand work the energy at the throat chakra, which can have a direct influence on how we communicate with others.
On a physical level, the throat chakra corresponds to the thyroid and parathyroid glands, and can therefore have a nourishing and balancing effect on our metabolism.
Ways to Expand Prana
As I’ve mentioned, yoga postures have a really positive affect on our energy, and Kirtan (chanting) is another powerful practice—particularly for the energy at the throat chakra.
Let’s not forget pranayama, the yoga breathing techniques which, as I mentioned, are specifically designed to expand prana. The word yama means to control, so when we expand and control the breath, we can consciously expand and distribute the vital life force within our system.
While you don’t actually need to fully comprehend this aspect of yoga to receive the benefits, practicing with energetic sensitivity can add a new dimension to your practice, and perhaps help you enjoy more balanced levels of health and wellbeing.