Living the teachings - Prana

Understanding yoga’s everyday spiritual meanings - This Month: Prana: Universal Lifeforce

For many, their first yoga class is the start of a transformational journey, a journey that is about body, mind and soul. We learn that when we let go and look within, we can find more inner peace than we ever thought possible; it really can have the power to transform our lives.

The yoga sutras are considered to be the authoritative text on yoga. This ancient text can assist us on our transformational journey and provide us with many great threads of wisdom including a discussion on prana, the universal life force in sutras 49 and 50 (Chapter 11).

11.49: “The universal life force (prana) is enhanced and guided through the harmonious rhythm of the breath.” 11.50: “The movement of the life force is influenced through inhalation, exhalation and sustained breath.”

Everything in the natural world has a field of energy surrounding it and circulating through it. In yoga and Eastern medicine, we believe that prana (or chi) inhabits and surrounds each cell. It is said that we are allocated a quantity of this vital energy at birth and it is then continuously circulated throughout our lives, and at different times in our lives the quantity and quality of the prana may vary. Many things can influence the quality of the prana and we aim to balance it through careful lifestyle choices, including good diet, mindfulness and yoga. When the movement of prana gets stuck in one of the nadis — energetic channels that run throughout the entire body — the chakras, or energy centres of the physical body, can become misaligned. Blocked or imbalanced prana is thought to be the root source of many diseases and common maladies.

In our yoga practice we can experience the flow of prana through the practice of breathwork as discussed in the yoga sutras and by gaining awareness via the senses. Breathing exercises, like breath control and the deepening and elongating of the breath, are examples of breathwork techniques that you can employ to tap into the feeling of prana. With regular practice, we begin to understand that one of the main objectives of doing yoga poses is to control and bring stillness to the mind, not just fix that aching back. The mind and prana work in tandem: the balance or imbalance of one affects the other. Yogis can feel subtle shifts in their energetic bodies with years of yoga practice.

Immersing yourself in nature can also help you become more sensitive to prana, as can meditating or practicing visualisation. Together with the physical poses these powerful practices can help redirect negative thoughts, free up stagnant energy in the mind, and restore harmonic balance to the physical body.

Sue Pugh is a yoga teacher and the founder of and

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