A beginners guide to prana
Article written by Sinead Duncan
Prana. A word you might hear often in a Yoga or Hot Yoga class. And there might not be ample time for the teacher to fully explain to what they are referring. Has this left you with questions?
What exactly is prana? Why is prana important in Yoga? And what is pranayama?
Prana is a big concept, so this article will offer you everything you need to know to introduce you to the idea of prana and how to work with it in your Yoga practice. A beginner’s guide to prana!
We’ll cover what is prana, where does prana live in the body, how prana relates to us and what is pranayama.
What is Prana?
Prana is referred to in Yoga, Tantric Yoga, Hatha Yoga, Ayurveda and Hinduism. You will find ancient and modern Chinese references to ‘chi’ as something quite similar. These are both concepts that are understood as our life-force energy.
I often imagine prana to be the energy that causes our hearts to beat, our lungs to breathe – the silent instruction behind the biological, genetic and chemical processes that keep us alive.
Prana can be seen as our spiritual energy or our spirit. In lots of Yoga texts you’ll see it referred to as our vital winds or life force.
Prana can be a challenge for us to understand as it’s not something that’s seen, it’s felt. Which means that in order to understand it, you can’t look at it under a microscope, you have to feel it and experience the prana that moves within you.
The benefit to that, however, is more than just understanding prana, you will feel a deeper connection to your true self and to the world around you.
So far, if you’ve heard it referred to in class, you’ll likely understand prana as something to do with the breath. It is related to the breath, and yet it is not the breath! An individuals’ prana can be defined as a current of energy that pulses around their body along a network of subtle energy channels.
Remember this is something that you can’t see. So instead imagine the central nervous system. A complex network of nerves weaves its way through our bodies and sends pulses and messages throughout this network.
We have an energetic body, just like we have a physical body. It’s just that we can’t see or study our energetic body with modern, western science. In our energetic body, we have energy channels, known as nadis. This is a complex network of 72,000 channels – imagine them similar to the network of nerves that make up our central nervous system. Prana is similar to the nervous energy that gets carried around the body. These nadis carry our energy, our prana, throughout our bodies.
Most commonly in Yoga tradition you will see that our individual prana can be divided into 5 different types…but we’ll save that for another article!
Prana and the energy channels (nadis)
As mentioned earlier, we have an energetic body that can’t be seen, but with lots of practice and self enquiry, can be felt and understood on a personal level.
This energy body includes the network of channels known as nadis. Even though there are said to be 72,000 nadi channels, Yoga focuses a lot on 3 main nadis.
These 3 nadis, main channels, begin at the base of the pelvis and climb the length of the spine. Ida (the moon channel) and pingala (the sun channel) both terminate at the nostrils, sushumna (the central channel) climbs all the way up to the crown of the head, to sahasrara chakra, our crown chakra.
These 3 channels hold their own energetic qualities:
The moon channel, ida, is associated with the feminine aspect, with creativity, quiet, solitude, thought, night time, introversion, coolness and more.
The sun channel, pingala, is associated with the masculine, with activity, reactivity, energy, movement, daytime and heat.
The central channel, sushumna, is the channel that we wish to get our prana flowing freely through. Sushumna represents pure bliss, and is key if we’re looking to find enlightenment.
When prana is flowing freely through our central channel, we are able to reach full integration with ourselves and the universe around us. We feel full of wisdom, pure balanced joy and contentment.
The theory is that we often have our prana oscillating between ida and pingala, causing an imbalance in our felt state of being. We might feel frustrated, annoyed or even irrational at one moment and then move into a quiet state of low energy, where we can’t motivate ourselves. By working with our prana in specific ways, we can encourage it to flow more in sushumna, our central channel, where we feel more at peace, content, and able to calmly ride the waves of life.
There is a lot more to cover on this topic, however we’ll leave it at that for this blog and offer more in another bitesize chunk later!
How can I feel my prana?
Prana can be a magical force to experience in your own body. You may have even felt it already in a Yoga class without realising!
You might feel a charge that runs through your body, This charge could help you to find comfort and ease in a posture. It might feel like pure ‘flow’ throughout your body as it moves. It may feel more like a sense that you are completely well, or that everything truly is okay.
There is no correct or incorrect way to feel and experience your prana. Just with any Yoga or Hot Yoga practice, it will likely be something that is personal to you, and grows ever more personal as time and your Yoga practice develops.
If you struggle to ‘feel’ your prana, don’t worry. It’s not something we are taught in schools, or in society in the western world. As a completely new concept, it may be a challenge enough to wrap your head around it! Trust that it will come with time, practice and picking things up along the way.
What is pranayama?
You can use your breath as a guide to ‘feel’ and even ‘direct’ your prana. This is where pranayama comes in. Pranayama, one of the eight limbs of Yoga (covered in great detail in our 200 Hour Yoga Teacher Training course), can be defined as breath practices, or more specifically breath control, that helps us to move and shift prana in ways that support our mental, emotional, physical and spiritual health.
Often a class might begin or end with a pranayama practice, it doesn’t have to be anything complicated or challenging, it can be as simple as counting the breath.
Since we have looked at how prana moves through the three main nadi channels, you can put that into practice with the pranayama practice known as alternate nostril breathing (nadi shodana), you can practice it directly with us online, right now through this link or you can join us in a Hot Yoga class to practice pranayama and see if you can feel and get in touch with your own pranic energy.