Yogah–Chitta-Vritti-Nirodaha (Patanjali Yoga Sutra, 1.2)
One of the greatest sages of all time and the father of Yoga, Maharishi Patanjali describes yoga as “the suspension of the modifications of the mind.” Controlling the mind is not possible without controlling the prana, and the two are intimately connected. We can easily see this connection if we observe the breath of a person engaged in deep thinking or meditation. The breathing will be very slow and steady. Alternatively, the breath of a person engaged in an argument or the one who is anxious will be fast, irregular and unsteady. These observations strongly indicate the interdependence and interaction of the prana and the mind.
WHAT IS PRANA
Prana is a Sanskrit word containing two syllables- pra and an. ‘An‘ means movement and ‘pra‘ is a prefix meaning constant. Therefore, prana means constant motion. The word Prana denotes the vital force or energy which is the basis of sustenance of all life forms in the universe. It is the cosmic energy permeating the universe at all levels and is a powerful force in constant motion. In Vedic terminology, it is believed that whatever is manifest is the sthula rupa or the gross form of the subtle cosmic energy known as Prana. As per Yoga and Tantra, the eternal truth is that the basis of all existence depends on two forces – Shiva and Shakti, or consciousness and energy. Ultimately, these are not two separate forces but one. Shakti or prana is the creative force of Shiva or consciousness. The purpose of Yoga is to realise Shiva or consciousness by the means of Shakti or prana. Prana is universal in nature. The individual prana is a microcosmic representative of the universal energy system and should not be mistaken for the air that we breathe.
Prana is not merely a philosophical concept; it is in every sense a physical substance. Just as radioactive or electromagnetic waves exist even though we can’t see them, in the same way, in the physical body, there are pranic waves and a pranic field. Throughout the body, there is a pranic field which is known as the Pranamaya kosha. We must know how to tune this Pranamaya kosha with the universal prana through the practice of Pranayama.
PRANA AND THE BRAIN
Prana and the mind are intricately related. Fluctuation of one means the fluctuation of the other. When either of them is balanced, the other is steadied. Hatha yoga says, control the prana and the mind gets automatically controlled. Raja Yoga says, control the mind and the prana gets controlled. These are the two paths of Yoga.
The mind is equated like a wild monkey jumping here and there, difficult to control. Therefore the practice of pranayama helps in controlling the flow of prana and as a result, the stilling of the mind. When the impulses through the nervous system are steady and rhythmic, the brain functions are regulated and the brain waves become rhythmic. The breathing process is directly linked to the nervous system and it is the most vital processes of the body. Erratic breathing sends erratic impulses to the brain centre and thus creates disturbed responses. When the brain is receiving a deficient supply of prana, one suffers from depression or nervous breakdown. The mind is unsteady and constantly generates negative thoughts. This state indicates that the brain is only receiving a very small quantity of prana.
As per scientific theories, the brain is divided into ten compartments of which nine parts are silent and not participating in the scheme of man’s life. These areas of the brain are called ‘the silent areas’ and their qualities are unknown. If these nine silent portions of the brain were operating, one’s human faculties would be greatly expanded. In the course of man’s evolution the silent areas are slowly developing and coming into active participation. Imagine a big city with beautiful houses, roads and buildings, but without electrical energy. In the same way these areas of the brain are not functioning due to the absence of pranic force or energy. The present amount of pranic energy is insufficient to activate these silent areas of the brain, and thus the need for Pranayama.
SEAT OF PRANASHAKTI
The pranas which are universal in nature exist as dormant potential energy in humans in lowest energy centre called the mooladhar chakra. This great pranashakti is also known by the name of kundalini. The awakening of kundalini means awakening of the great universal pranic force within the individual human system. This tiny little centre or gland in mooladhar chakra is not a myth, a story or a fable. It is a scientific formula of utmost importance in man’s evolution.
Through the practices of pranayama a certain amount of heat or creative force is generated in the entire body, which influences the existing quantum of prana. For example, if you produce heat inside a closed room, it will heat the existing amount of air. There is a certain amount of prana within us giving us life, and pranayama heats that quantum of prana, which then makes its way through the subtle energy channels into the brain centre. When sufficient heat is generated within the system, the brain centre known as the Ajna chakra monitors the message back to the base of kundalini and the actual awakening of the great prana takes place. This in short is the purpose of pranayama.
PRANA AND PRANAYAMA
The biggest objective of Pranayama is to purify the energy carrying channels, i.e. the nervous system. Some practices are intended to create heat in the system while others stimulate the brain centre.
The whole science of pranayama is based on the retention of prana, known as kumbhaka. Inhalation and exhalation are incidental. In order to awaken the silent areas of the brain, it is important to slowly perfect kumbhaka. The scientific studies on pranayama state that during kumbhaka an increased supply of blood is poured into the brain and at the same time extra heat is generated within the system.
Pranayama also influences the cerebral fluid in the brain. When energy is generated, it changes the chemical structure of the cerebral fluid surrounding the brain within the skull. When this fluid is chemically influenced, it acts on the behaviour of the brain. For example when you take a narcotic drug it produces an immediate chemical reaction within this fluid. As a result you experience certain psychic phenomena. During the state of kumbhaka, extra energy in an electrical form is generated and in the course of time it changes the chemical structure of the fluid in the brain. This is why one experiences the feeling of dizziness. Therefore the practice of pranayama has to be done very intelligently and patiently under the guidance of an expert teacher. It cannot be learnt from books alone. Thus, the practice of pranayama is of utmost importance in order to accelerate the speed of individual evolution.
Prana is not only the life force; it is also a very powerful healing force in the body that can eradicate the most severe physical problems. Moreover, the prana within us is a part of the universal prana. Therefore, the need is to align our own prana with the universal prana.