Several readers have asked, what really is prana? Prana is the energy permeating the universe at all levels, including physical, mental, intellectual, spiritual, and cosmic energy. While it is hidden, in that the common person cannot hear, touch or feel it, the yogi knows that it is actually the mover of all activity. Both creation and destruction are made possible with prana.

While prana certainly is the power behind creation and destruction, its real power is how it sustains our body. Without it, the body and mind cannot function. Therefore pranayama, often mistaken for merely breathing exercises, is actually a series of techniques developed to enhance the prana in our body which leads to greater vigor and vitality. Prana flows through our nadis, or energy channels, and it is through the use of breath that we are able to influence it.

Knowing this, it may be difficult to distinguish prana and aatma. The Prashna Upanishad clarifies the two when one disciple asks what is “prana and how it is related to aatma?” The Rishi replies, “Prana is same to the aatma as a shadow is to the body.” In other words, they are not the same but move together.

In the next article about Pranayama, we will discuss the nadis.

Pranayama is the science of breath control. It is a subject worth studying due to the effect breath has on our five koshas (sheaths), including the pranamaya kosha (vital energy sheath). For example, the quality of our breath can change due to our mental and physical states, but how we breath can also affect our mental and physical states. The Yogic scriptures thus give great importance to pranayama, and it’s mastery is considered a prequisite to dharna (concentration) and dhyana (meditation). We will explore it in a series of articles over the next several months.

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