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Ask The Guru: The Physiology of Prana

The Sanskrit word prana is defined as "life force" or "vital energy." It is the force which exists in all things. Prana permeates all of existence, sustaining and supporting the entire body of the universe. This includes our individual bodies. Ayama means "conservation or expansion," so pranayama means both the conservation and the expansion of our vital life force.

Conscious management of prana is a transformative medium for personal growth and spiritual unfolding. When prana moves downward and outward, it wastes your precious life force. This is a self-destructive, abusive and unconscious use of prana. Yogic breathing techniques are powerful ways to retain more prana by reversing the flow upward toward the heart and higher centers of consciousness.

Pranayama is a conscious way of living that prevents the dissipation of the life force. The eight limbs of Ashtanga Yoga are all directed at a single purpose-the preservation and management of pranic energy. Invariably, this pranic energy is disrupted by irritations in the relationship you have with yourself. When attention is driven by the ego mind, you operate in the field of conflict and stressproducing duality, which is then mirrored in external struggle and hardships. Now prana is disturbed both internally and externally. This is the main cause of the continuous depletion of vital life force. The ultimate aim of yoga is to learn how to prevent these mental irritations and emotional disturbances from dissipating your prana-no matter what the situation.

However, pranayama is much more than a discipline of breath or a set of breathing exercises. It is the extension of yoga practice into daily life and normal day-to-day interactions. An isolated practice of one hour of pranayama practice is not enough to recover the pranic power that is lost through unconscious interactions the remainder of the day. Even a single unconscious reaction can disperse your prana. Conscious use of both breathwork and postures extends this practice into the posture of consciousness, helping you overcome unconscious dissipations of energy all day long, in different expressions and interactions of life.

When the wasteful use of prana ceases, the benefits of pranayama are multiplied. When practiced as an isolated discipline pranayama isn't as powerful as when it is practiced holistically in combination with Patanjali's Ashtanga Yoga system. Aligning your practice with the first limb of Ashtanga Yoga, the yamas and niyamas, in conjunction with pranayama, can be very powerful for gathering and building prana. Focusing on non-violence, truth, contentment and purity move you toward the integrative forces of the higher centers. This life-force is then received not only through breath but also through food, water, sunlight, as well as balanced, conscious and meditative lifestyle.

Prana mimics the mind, and when the mind is divided, prana is also divided. When the mind is in hesitation and doubt, pranic flow is inhibited. Operating from the lower chakra centers of survival, sensuality and power, creates the perception of all problems and solutions to external. Attention becomes outwardly focused - and all of our energy flows down and out. Meditative, choiceless awareness disengages the preprogrammed habits, belief systems, and personal biases that create internal conflict. This allows you to see all problems that appears to be coming from outside are really coming from within. Only then are you empowered to solve problems from within.

Whenever you try to solve problems you encounter outside by changing external conditions, you only change the effects without removing the cause. The cause is hidden within you, while the effects appear outside of you. One who sees the source of problems as coming from outside blame other people for their own failures and unhappiness, and they live in a victim consciousness. The only way to access the power is to discover that its source is within, and to learn how to access that dormant source of infinite potential.

When this is brought to conscious awareness, attention and energy begins to reverse its flow from out and down to in and up. This means that the ultimate source of pranayama lies in the ability to shift the management from ego-mind engaged in externalized problem solving to inward management through meditative awareness.

Progressively subtler levels of perception are available, remarkably increasing the ability to manage mental and emotional energies. As prana begins to build, a unique ability to see, feel, explore, and experience the energy body is developed. In this space, stress-producing blockages can be removed, and physical, mental, and emotional health can be restored.

This article was originally published in Sacred Pathways Magazine

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