Kabir says, “Student, tell me, what is God?”
He is the breath inside the breath.”
– Kabir, Robert Bly
Prana is the subtle energy of life. It is an aspect of the quantum field. We use the term “subtle” to indicate that this energy is different from the electro-magnetic spectrum available to our usual scientific instruments. However, in 1939, Russian scientist Semyon Kirilian accidentally discovered what has come to be known as Kirilian photography. He discovered a way of measuring the aura surrounding living beings . Yogis have known about this energy for millennia. When our higher centers or chakras awaken we can sense this energy directly.
The aura surrounding our bodies reflects our physical and emotional health. It also reflects our level of consciousness. Enlightened beings are known to have powerful extended auras often depicted as a halo surround them. When we are depressed or ill our auras shrink and become dim. Although often dismissed as “pseudoscience,” people with a sensitivity to energy can sense the fields of others. In my experience I felt the powerful fields emanating from advanced Yogis who I met. Once sitting watching a movie at the ashram, I felt the presence of my guru, who was sitting a few feet behind me as a hot sensation along my back. Energy healers, such as Reiki practitioners or Pranic healers, work effectively with the energy fields of their clients for healing on many levels.
Yoga teaches that there are two aspects of prana: the individual and the universal which is known as Mahaprana. Mahaprana is the universal life-force which permeates and informs everything. Energy healers tap into this cosmic energy and channel it to heal others and themselves. It is one pole of the dyadic aspect of creation: consciousness and energy. In Tantra these are known as Shiva and Shakti. As we develop our consciousness our energy vibration increases. Even stones have an energy signature. As Swami Satyananda stated,
“You know the famous equation of Einstein: E = mc2, that is, matter is energy in its potential state. There is a small scientific experiment which we can use to illustrate this more clearly. If you look at a piece of bone with your naked eye, all you see is a bone. But if you look at the same piece of bone under a super microscope, what do you see? First you see molecules, then atoms, and later the nucleus of the atom. Ultimately, you discover the fantastic behaviour of energy.
The piece of bone, which ‘appeared to be dead matter, was not really dead at all; only our eyes were incapable of detecting the energy within it. Scientists who have gone into the study of energy fields, maintain that the so called dead matter is also permeated with pranic energy. Therefore, prana does not only mean life, it means existence as well. The etymological meaning of prana is ‘life in existence’. Where there is mobility and stability combined, there is prana. If an object is devoid of prana, it will disintegrate”.
I think the reason the materialists are so opposed to the concept of prana is that they can’t see the forest for the trees. The universe is both conscious and alive on every level. Prana, of course, is not just a concept but a deeply felt experience. We struggle with it because of our Western newtonian cartesian paradigm. On a deep subconscious level, we have cut ourselves off from the whole of life. Our modern egos are exaggerated caricatures of the universal principal of uniqueness and individuality. Everything in existence is a unique expression of the underlying wholeness.
As I have been writing this, I felt a need to take a break and go out into the daylight, walk barefoot in the grass and commune with the gnarled tree next to my place. Life, i.e. prana, is all around us but we enclose ourselves in artificial environments. To connect with prana, we need to go out into nature, bring plants into our homes, connect. . . Life, the universe and everything is always there for us. “Seek,” taught Jesus, “and you will find it.”
Pranayama is the yogic science of using breathing techniques to enhance life-energy. According to Yoga, prana is imbibed with the breath along with oxygen. It is also metabolized from our food and absorbed through sun light, moon light and being in nature. In deep states of meditation, we connect directly with Mahaprana, the universal life-energy.
Even if you are skeptical about prana, pranayama has man demonstrable benefits. It reduces stress, elevates blood oxygen levels, improves mood and energy levels, promotes relaxation and prepares one for meditation. Respiration is a bridge between the conscious and unconscious functions of our body-minds. It the only autonomic nervous function that can be brought under conscious control. By properly controlling the breath through pranayama, we can better regulate our emotions and reduce harmful stress responses in our bodies.
In the Yoga tradition there are different breathing techniques which can be categorized as balancing, tranquilizing and vitalizing. The balancing practices bring the sympathetic and parasympathetic functions of the autonomic nervous system into balance. The tranquilizing practices promote the parasympathetic response while the vitalizing practices promote the sympathetic. The balancing practices are used to prepare for meditation and help to balance the left and right hemispheres of the brain. The tranquilizing practices are used to promote rest and relaxation. The vitalizing practices are used to help one stay awake and alert.
On an esoteric level, Yoga practitioners use pranayama to awaken the latent energy centers or chakras in the subtle body. Advanced practices help practitioners to awaken the dormant kundalini energy which leads to the evolutionary transformation of consciousness connecting the individual consciousness with the Universal Consciousness (i.e. “God”). This is the Yogic goal of these practices and the health benefits are regarded as by-products.
For us modern practitioners, pranayama helps us to overcome the stress of our daily lives and develop focused awareness. Thus, it is a tool for health, success and happiness. It is an essential part of our awakening as cocreators of our realities. It is a means of quieting the “monkey mind” and raising our vibrational frequency. It is a means of empowerment and transcendence.