Prana, as defined by Swami Vivekananda in his book Raja Yoga, is the Infinite manifesting energy of the universe, and yoga is union or possibly at best, cooperation with that power which has posited all life. Prana or life force is embodied in all living things, even the rocks and dust on the ground were at one time part of the vastness of unformed space and in which future form existed only in the mind of God, or if you prefer as pure potential within the field of the Absolute.
All matter is a modification of power and it is this energy of life that we assimilate in the form of the foods that we eat, the yoga diet consisting mainly of fruit, grains and vegetables and those foods as close to natural sunlight as possible, and not processed second hand as in the case of meat products. Whether yogis or not, we can all appreciate clean air on a summer’s day and the vitality of the air at the seaside, or when the wind blows across wide stretches of heath land. It is Yoga that takes prana assimilation further than most and has developed techniques that help to improve vitality and health.
The techniques of prana assimilation are very subtle, even the practitioners of Yoga can miss the point when caught up in breathing techniques that try to control the breath by use of the mind. Other things which are counterproductive are stress and those things that distract from the present moment, as we ponder on past and possibly future events. Stress interferes with the natural wavelengths at the cellular level which are necessary for the health of the body. The effects of stress are a disturbed night’s sleep and lying awake with the mind racing. This negative condition can be turned into a positive by taking control, stilling the mind, and returning to the stillness within the ‘here and now’. Such is the nature of the mind that thoughts do not remain in isolation from the rest of the body,as can be observed during periods of stress, such as emotional tension affecting the heart and lungs, tension felt in the neck and shoulders, also in the hands and the wrists.
Always take a little time out, either day or night, to become aware of unnatural tension in the body. Follow this by learning to let go of the tension simply and progressively, by taking a few deep breaths, then calming the breath as you relax internally and finally letting go of the thoughts in the mind and allowing the body to enjoy a period of complete and refreshing stillness.
Prana is the life force that can be sensed when we are completely still; it is the field of life that posits all beings within it. All beings embody this life force, and apart from the food we eat, the principle focus and source of prana is the sun. The sun is not unlike the eye of God in the sky, as it is a centre for the far reaching energy of the Cosmos, from which energy and light is redistributed. There are very few life forms not dependent on or aware of the Sun, as is evidenced by the heliotropic nature of plants as they follow the Sun’s passage across the sky. Even the simple daisy closes its petals and lowers its head when the Sun descends below the horizon at night. Humans also appreciate the benefits of fresh air and sunlight.
Below the visible world lies a subtle template on which all life rests and which is the foundation for this world. This potential for development has guided the evolution of mankind from the beginning of time. The rocks and minerals in the ground break down to make the formation of plants possible, plants evolving into animals, animals into man and man into angelic forms and spiritual beings, able to guide the evolutionary process of the universe.
Mankind has largely grown out of touch with the intelligence that has generated life. The way back is by means of that ancient art form called yoga and discovering the true nature of prana and its development into the breathing exercises called pranayama. It was the yog’s who discovered the way into life and health by means of the breath; these techniques are often misunderstood by imposing elaborate breathing patterns onto the breath. There is a difference between breathing exercises that are designed to improve the depth and action of the lungs and the subtle techniques for the assimilation of prana.
There is a word in Sanskrit ‘Iccha’, which means the Will of God or ‘Ishvara’, who is the initiator of all life, who is also the sustainer and disposer of merit and demerit. The wisdom of prana is discovered in each ‘iccha’ moment, when the mind is still and the breath peaceful so that it does not disturb the surface of the emotions, not unlike a gentle breeze that does not ruffle the surface of a lake. The breath and the emotions are closely linked and it is by calming and quietening the breath that we bring peace to the mind. It is in the moments when the mind is still and the breath peaceful that we become more aware and experience the light of the breath that is the consciousness of the breath.
We are all individually unique, as the vibrational patterns from the cellular level upward are not identical. This makes us easily recognisable and even when not seen it is not difficult to recognise an individual voice on the telephone; it is these unique patterns from the very centre of our being that determines the characteristics of each. To follow breathing patterns indiscriminately can lead to emotional breakdown, the best and most natural way forward is a meditational approach to pranayama exercises and that is by first calming the breath and feeling for one’s own natural response to the energy charged breath.
All matter is a modification of power and it is by feeling into the energy that underlies the breath that we can attune ourselves to the rhythmic levels of life force that suits us best. There are many books written suggesting a variety of breathing techniques that control inhalation and exhalation, interspersed with long periods of breath retention. It is awareness and sensitivity of feeling that enables us to attune ourselves to the life enhancing prana. It is feeling that will determine the most suitable length of inhalation. It is feeling that will be the guide to breath retention, which is when pranic assimilation is at its height. It is feeling that will guide the out breath. There are no hard and fast rules, as it is the intelligence that arises in each ‘Iccha’ moment from deep within us, which is the best guide to our own unique breathing pattern. At no time should there be strain, as each breathing sequence should be harmonious and conducive to the health of the whole being