Dr. David Frawley (Pandit Vamadeva Shastri)
Pranayama is a very deep but often misunderstood aspect of yoga. From ordinary breathing practices to yogic mastery of the vital force and promoting the higher energy of consciousness, it all relates to Pranayama at various levels. In the following article, we will explore the deeper aspects of Prana and Pranayama, including how to achieve a unitary prana beyond the fluctuations of the ordinary breath, senses and mind.
In many classical Sanskrit texts, the term yoga is used primarily for pranic practices, while the term jnana or knowledge is used for meditation. This is reflected in the teachings of Ramana Maharshi, who uses these terms in this manner. Many Yoga Shastras and Yoga Upanishads explain prana and the related factors of Pranayama, chakras and nadis in great detail. Sometimes the term Hatha Yoga is used for this pranic yoga and Raja Yoga for the yoga of meditation. So yoga and Pranayama are closely related and sometimes equated.
Yoga is not just control of the mind but also control of the prana, which go together. Mind and prana are often said to be like the two wings of a bird, with the mind as the power of knowledge and the prana as the power of action. Both always move and act in accord with each other. Yet prana has deeper meanings as well.
Prana: Levels of Meaning
Prana is a word, much like yoga, that has a broad range of indications and several different but interrelated levels of application. You may be surprised to find that prana can mean much more than what you may have already thought it to be. These different meanings are not contradictory but complementary. They help us bridge the gap between our ordinary breath and the highest energy of universal consciousness.
Prana in the higher sense is the spirit, the awareness that inhabits the body and mind, but transcends them. This higher prana is much more than the physical breath. It is the great Prana, Mahan Prana, which is synonymous with the energy of consciousness, Chit-Shakti. This is the nonelemental, unmanifest prana of the immortal life. It is inherent in the eternal being or sat, not the result of any biological processes.
Pranic-based yoga practices aim to access this supreme prana, though it is a process that can only occur by degrees, often starting at a physical level. But we should always remember that immortal prana as our ultimate goal of Pranayama practice. This is the Prana Purusha of the Upanishads, the Supreme Self, whose nature is the highest life energy beyond birth and death.
Prana can indicate the cosmic creative force, the Ishvara, or Cosmic Lord, such as we find in the Yoga Sutras. This is the energy that creates, sustains and dissolves the universe. Our own individual soul or Jivatman can also be referred to by prana. Jiva, or the soul, means prana or life. This prana of the soul is what allows us to take various births and to ultimately transcend the process of birth and death.