Picture of Vital sheath/Pranamaya Kosha
The Chandogya Upanishad (3.13.1-5 and 5.19-5.23) and the Prashna Upanishad (third question) mention the five Pranas.
The Upanishads speak of the Life-Force as the first or supreme Breath; elsewhere in the sacred writings it is spoken of as the chief Breath or the Breath of the mouth, mukhya, āsanya; it is that which carries in it the Word, the creative expression. According to Sri Aurobindo, this true movement behind respiration is the same as the one governing electrical and magnetic fields; it is what the ancient yogis used to call Vayu, the Life-Energy. The breathing exercises (prānāyama) are simply one system (among others) for acquiring mastery over Vayu which eventually enables you to be free from gravitation and gives certain powers know to the ancients: the power to be extremely light (laghima), extremely heavy (garima), very big (mahima) and very tiny (animā) .
In the body of man, there are said to be five workings of the life-force called the five Pranas.
- Prana = forward moving air. It moves in the upper part of the body from the top of the body to the navel.
- Apana =air that moves away. It moves in the lower part of the trunk from Muladhara to the navel.
- Samana = equalizing air. It has its seat in the stomach.
- Vyana = outward moving air. It is all-pervasive.
- Udana = upward moving air. It is the breath that rises, goes up, rising from the feet to the head.
The collection of five Pranas is like the working of a machine. The key to health and well-being is to keep our Pranas in harmony. When one Prana becomes imbalanced, the others also tend to become imbalanced as well because they are all linked together. Generally Prana and Udana, which are the forces of energization, work opposite to Apana, the force of elimination. Similarly Vyana as expansion acts opposite to Samana in contraction.
As we practice Yoga, the subtle aspects of these Pranas begin to awaken. This may cause various unusual movements of energy in body and mind, including the occurrence of various spontaneous movements or kriyas. We then see the subtle application of these five Pranas:
- subtle Prana : heightened vitality and sensitivity
- subtle Apana : deep groundedness and stability
- subtle Samana : great peace
- subtle Vyana : new expanses of energy
- subtle Udana : a sense of lightness or levitation
We will now cover the various aspects of Prana. In the Synthesis of Yoga, Sri Aurobindo discusses the purification of physical and psychic Prana.
- Physical Prana
- Psychic Prana
- Spiritual significance of Prana
Physical Prana is life-energy acting in support of the physical body in various functions such as digestion, assimilation, etc.
- Prana: concerned with inspiration and expiration of the universal Breath, with the chest as its normal base of operation. It brings in the fuel.
- Apana: engaged in the expulsion of what is not assimilated or not necessary in the system. It functions below the chest.
- Samana: is concerned with digestion of what is taken in and has its seat in the stomach. It converts fuel into energy. Prana and Apana meet together near the navel and create samana. It regulates the interchange of these two forces at their meeting-place, equalizes them and is the most important agent in maintaining the equilibrium of the vital forces and their functions.
- Vyana: regulates both the Prana and the Apana and keeps them in harmony, the breath which sustains when prana is held in abeyance as in actions requiring effort. It is all-pervasive, distributes the vital energies throughout the body.
- Udana: It governs the positive energy created and determines the work that the machine is able to do.
Psychic Prana is the life-energy acting in support of the mind. Every fibre of mentality is pervaded by psychic Prana
- Prana: governs the intake of sensory impressions. It governs our receptivity to positive sources of nourishment, feeling and knowledge through the mind and senses. When deranged it causes wrong desire and insatiable craving. We become misguided, misdirected and generally out of balance.
- Apana: governs the elimination of toxic ideas and negative emotions. On a psychological level governs our ability to eliminate negative thoughts and emotions. When deranged it causes depression and we get clogged up with undigested experience that weighs us down in life, making us fearful, suppressed and weak.
- Samana: governs mental digestion. It gives us nourishment, contentment and balance in the mind. When deranged it brings about attachment and greed. We cling to things and become possessive in our behavior.
- Vyana: governs mental circulation. It gives us free movement and independence in the mind. When deranged it causes isolation, hatred, and alienation. We are unable to unite with others or remain connected in what we do.
- Udana: governs positive mental energy, strength and enthusiasm. It gives us joy and enthusiasm and helps awaken our higher spiritual and creative potentials. When deranged it causes pride and arrogance. We become ungrounded, trying to go to high and lose track of our roots.
Spiritual significance of the Five Pranas
- Prana: It is pre-eminently the breath of life, because it brings the universal Life-force into the physical system and gives it there to be distributed. It gives proper aspiration for our spiritual development.
- Apana: It is the breath o£ death for it gives away the vital force out of the body.
- Samana: On a spiritual level, Samana Vayu governs the space within the heart (antar hridyakasha) in which the true Self, the Atman dwells as a fire with seven flames, governs the central internal space or antariksha. Samana regulates Agni with fuel, which must burn evenly. Without the peace and balance of Samana we cannot return to the core of our being or concentrate the mind.
- Vyana: Vyana governs the movement of Prana through the Nadis, keeping them open, clear, clean and even in their functioning.
- Udana(upward): It moves upward from the navel to the crown of the head and is a regular channel of communication between the physical life and the greater life of the spirit. It’s work is to carry the virya (tejas) to the head. The movement of udana is different to the Yogin, for then its movement is from the Muladhara from where it carries the virya to the crown of the head and turn it into ojas. It is the breath by which one can take one’s stand above the body in meditation [see Ascent Experience] or the means by which one shoots above the head at the time of death. It governs our growth in consciousness and takes the mind into the state of sleep and into the after death realms. Udana also governs the movement up the sushumna channel. Udana is often the most important Prana for spiritual growth [3, 4].
- Sri Aurobindo. Kena and other Upanishads, CWSA vol. 18, p 19.
- The Mother. Collected Works of the Mother, vol. 5, 20 May 1953, p 60.
- David Frawley. Yoga and Ayurveda: Self-Healing and Self-realization, Wisconsin: Lotus Press, 1999. (Click here to view the PDF file for the chapter on Five Pranas)
- Sri Aurobindo, Synthesis of Yoga, CWSA vol. 23-24, p 521.
- Sri Aurobindo. Synthesis of Yoga, CWSA vol. 23-24, pp 348-355, 648-662 passim.
- Sri Aurobindo. Record of Yoga. CWSA vol. 10-11, p 1462.
- Sri Aurobindo. Isha Upanishad, CWSA vol. 19, pp 237-238.
- M.P.Pandit. The Upanishads, gateways of knowledge, 2nd edition, Madras: Ganesh, 1968, pp 209-219.
- Descent experience.
- Vital immobility
- Four movements of consciousness
- Four Austerities and Four Liberations
- Stabilizing the body before meditation
- Transcending the work-leisure cycle
- The transmutation of sexual energy
- Sublimation of the sexual urge through Yoga
- Equanimity as the foundation of Integral Yoga
- Rising above ennui or boredom
- Discussion on Five Pranas in the Gorakshashatakam of Gorakshanath
- Webpage on Pranas at the Moscow Integral Yoga Center