Post By: Vishwanath Iyer Published on: December 24, 2016 Reading time: 9 minutes
Prāṇa (motility) is a unit of motility in Yoga. It is also known as life-force or chi/ qi in East Asia. Thin face, prāṇa is a sentience which cannot be seen, but can be sensed and provides the existential drive to all creation.
This concept is very important, but also difficult to understand. Unlike medicine where the body is considered to be a biochemical process, in Yoga the body is considered to be driven by airstreams (vāyu), channels (nādi) and vortices (cakras), all of which are currents of motility (prāṇa). Since they are subtle, they cannot be measured and are experiential.
Prāṇa moves in a flow or vāyu. There are five such vāyu-s.
Cognition of prāṇa in the body (kṣetra) is prajñā (situational awareness). This awareness (prajñā) of the body is called awareness of the region (kṣetrajña). The body (kṣetra) is considered to be made up of five sheaths (kośa) these are;
For example: the world and all material are considered to be made of five cardinal elements or panchabhūtas which are earth (prithvi), water (áp), fire (agni), air (vāyu) and space (ākāṣa).
All of these elements can be sensed by the sensory system and decoded into what they represent by the cognitive and logical apparatus. So, when we shop for vegetables, we look at the gross aspects of the vegetable – its colour, texture and feel to ascertain its health through our sensory apparatus and this is decoded by our cognitive and logical apparatus.
Within our bodies, this translates to the sheath made by food (annamayakośa) and sheath of prāṇa (prāṇamayakośa). This is called sthūla-śarīra or cognition of the gross body, which covers awareness of the material aspect of the human body driven by diet (annamayakośa) and motility (prāṇamayakośa).
For example – The body is a complex mechanism and health is primarily determined by a condition known as homeostasis where you are considered healthy if your vitals are within a certain range, such as blood pressure, temperature, weight etc. But, how does the body maintain everything within homeostasis? That subtle element which controls physical manifestation of normalcy is the subtle body (sūkṣma-śarīra).
In the body, this is the awareness of the movement of consciousness within the body is called sheath of cognition (manomayakoṣa) and sheath of awareness of the system (vijñānamayakoṣa).
For instance, when you read this sentence, the primary information you see is derived through its physical attributes (sthūla-śarīra), of alphabets and words that are transmitted through a device. However, your experience of the underlying principles (sūkṣma-śarīra) comes from the quality of your awareness as you decipher the information (manomayakoṣa) relating to the subject (vijñānamayakoṣa).
While the base is Brahman, it is also the launch point of experience. This is called the sheath of joy (ananda-maya-kosha).
For example – we know that Archimedes was bobbing physically (sthūla) in a bathtub in a state of null (Brahman) watching the waters sloshing over the tub and his body bobbing. Suddenly, an inspiration occurred (ānandamayakoṣa), and he cracked the problem of buoyancy (sūkṣma). The same can be applied to Newton sitting under a tree watching the apple fall down or August Kekule imagining the Benzene ring to be a snake chasing its own tail or Watson to discover the ATGC (adenine-thyamine-guanine-cystocine) model of DNA. This is the causal state (kāraṇa-śarīra).
It is known in yoga and other forms of Oriental healing that rate of energy flow through these centres affects the behaviour of the person. As a matter of fact, ancient Oriental texts on this subject from India, China, Korea, and Japan speak of multiple energy vortices (cakra), but all agree that there are six major vortices in the human body which control all major organs.
The first of the energy vortices aligns itself with the perineum, a flat region above the coccyx and between the anus and genitals. This centre affects the physiological aspects of the individual, that is, the overall energy levels, feeling of safety and health.
This energy vortex corresponds to the sacral region around the genital area. It affects sexuality, social and communications skills of the individual. Control of this centre results in strong response control and emotional stability.
This energy vortex is placed around the navel and corresponds to the lumbar area of the spine. This is a centre that controls situational and management skills.
Placed at the centre of the chest, this responds to the thoracic region on the spine. This is also the centre of emotional energy. So, a balanced centre is essential for emotional stability.
This energy vortex is placed around the Adam’s apple and corresponds to the cervical region in the spine. The thyroid, parathyroid and lymphatic systems, which control metabolic activity reside here. Since metabolism is the ability of the body to convert food into usable energy and rebuilding of tissue, seamless energy flow here is critical.
This is also the area which controls breathing and food intake, so any disruption in our stress levels will immediately impact the quality of our breathing and digestion.
This energy vortex is placed between the eyebrows in the front of the cranium. It controls the functioning of the other energy vortices. It energizes the amygdala, pituitary and endocrine glands etc. and controls both, primary and secondary response. Consequently, this energy vortex is the primary input point for “fight or flight” stimulus.
One can see that the cakra system of Yoga is highly evolved and can be used in therapy. Another important aspect is that Yoga recognises that each of these vortices may be activated, depleted or congested to varying degrees and that this is an actively changing parameter. This makes the Yoga system subtle and sophisticated.