I owned a favorite pair of Prana pants BEFORE I dove into the world of researching mindfulness and before I had any inkling that prana was far more than a brand you want to try to find on sale.
Since then, not only have I learned that the term “prana” plays a role in yoga and meditation, but I have also come to realize that prana energy has been described by a multitude of cultures over 1000s of years as vital, cosmic, atomic energy that connects us to the universe.
Yep. It’s pretty important.
This article will explain the meaning of prana in terms newbies (like myself) can understand, and also offer action steps you can take today to start building more of that sweet energy!
What is Prana?…
My yoga instructor explained it best when she said “prana is what separates you from a cadaver.”
Prana is a Hindu term, the Sanskrit word for breath, which translates as “vital principle” or “life force”.
Cultures from the Romans to the Japanese, Hebrew to Native Americans may have called it something different, but they all described the same energy that encompasses and connects all.
Though it cannot be seen by the naked eye, prana is cosmic energy that circulates within us and flows around us.
It’s cosmic because this energy that flows through and around us is the same energy that exists in all living things on earth, in the sun and all stars, in our galaxy and others.
This concept may sound a little “out there,” but actually is quite scientifically sound as all energy on earth originates from our sun, the sun gets its energy by the splitting of atoms, and atoms make us everything in the universe.
In fact, the discovery of the connection between energy and mass (like us) is pure Einstein.
“It followed from the special theory of relativity that mass and energy are both but different manifestations of the same thing”Albert Einstein
That is part of a slightly longer quote and if you click here you can actually listen to Albert Einstein explaining this himself. (SO cool!!)
Even though they may not have had a formula like E=mc² to describe it, ancient cultures understood this relationship, developed traditions and customs around it, and passed the information on from generation to generation.
So, just as qi, chi, and ki are the life forces that practitioners of Qi Gong, Tai Chi and Reiki work with, prana is the life force that we work with in yoga.
I am still seeking and learning like you, so it is beneficial to both of us to listen to the definition of prana as explained by contemporary spiritual leader and founder of Isha Kriya, Sadhguru:
Some people also refer to prana as “vibration,” or “vibes.”
You may have heard someone talk about this concept and say something like “she has a high vibration” or maybe you have experienced walking into a place or even encountering someone that gave you “bad vibes.”
The “vibrations” people are referring to is prana.
As you can imagine, prana is a topic that could have (and has had) volumes dedicated to it so this was like the “Cliff’s Notes” version of an explanation.
If you would like to dig deeper, I found this incredibly interesting and more in-depth article in Yoga International that can shed more light on the meaning of prana.
Interested in training to become a yoga teacher online? Check out our post on online yoga teacher training!
Is prana the same as the breath?…
Prana is a concept from early Hindu philosophy which Upanishad, an important Hindu religious text, expresses as the vital power that manifests our highest selves and sustains the rhythm of our breath.
This is why the breathing technique called pranayama (breathing exercises) has become an important practice amongst yogis everywhere.
This begins to make sense when we see that “Ayama” translates as “to extend or draw out.”
So, together the two words mean breath expansion or control.
While prana is connected to the breath, it is important to note that prana is not the breath.
But, when we can control the breath, we can control the rhythms of our pranic energy to achieve a balance of mind, body, and soul.
So no, prana and the breath aren’t interchangable, but as you will read more about later in the article, breath plays a huge role in moving and balancing prana energy.
How does prana move in the body?…
One way to begin to understand the movement and flow of prana throughout the body is to think about the interstate system.
Prana would be like the cars and trucks traveling along the roads.
Whether you’ve been to a few yoga classes or you’re a seasoned yogi, you might have heard of the term “nadi”.
We can think of nadis, the pathways and channels, like the interstates throughout the body that prana flows through.
There are three main nadi systems.
One travels throughout the left side of the body and is called the “ida nadi,” and one that travels through the right side called the “pingala nadi.”
Running right through the center of our body from the tip of our spine to the crown of our head is the “sushumna nadi.”
The goal in yoga and meditative practices is to move prana energy up the center channel, the sushumna nadi which is said to be the path to enlightenment.
Along this central prana interstate, the sushumna nadi, are places where the left and right channels connect.
Where the ida and pingala nadis connect along the central sushumna nadi are called chakras.
In our interstate analogy, the chakras would be the interstate interchanges where the prana can move from one nadi to another.
Western practices of yoga focus on 7 interchanges, or chakras, along the main interstate, the sushumna nadi.
Why are chakras important?…
You may often hear people talking about “unblocking” or “balancing” their chakras.
By keeping the seven chakras open, we can maintain an even flow of prana energy which allows us to find harmony between our physical body, mind, and spirit.
Each chakra is associated with specific aspects of our mind and body and we can use the study of these chakras to understand how to keep prana moving evenly.
In case you aren’t familiar with the seven chakras emphasized in the western practice of yoga, below is a quick primer.
Root Chakra (Muladhara)
The center for a feeling of belonging and having basic needs of life met. A balanced Root Chakra makes a person feel calm and secure. A blocked Root Chakra may be indicated by a feeling of scarcity or uncertainty, or physically through problems with the legs or feet. It is located at the base of the spine.
Sacral Chakra (Swadhishthana)
Our Sacral Chakra is the center for creating. This could be through creative pursuits or creating another human being through procreation. A blocked Sacral Chakra could result in an inability to think creatively, infertility or hip problems. It is located below the navel.
Solar Plexus Chakra (Manipura)
The Solar Plexus Chakra is the seat of our self-identity. This is the center for our confidence, self-love, and self-acceptance. If this Chakra is blocked there could be issues with self-esteem, and physically there could be stomach or digestion problems. It is located above the navel but below the breastbone, right in the center point of the spine.
Heart Chakra (Anahata)
Unconditional love s the name of the game with the Heart Chakra. In Western culture we associate the heart with romantic love, but the Heart Chakra is more focused on love for all with no strings attached. A blocked Heart Chakra could be indicated by either being numb to others or judgemental. Physically it could be associated with heart-related disorders, high blood pressure, etc, or other problems in the chest. It is located (you guess it) at the heart.
Throat Chakra (Vishuddha)
The Throat Chakra is the center for how you express or convey your thoughts and emotions to the society or people around you. It is all about effective communication in all of the many forms that comes in, including hearing and listening. A blocked Throat Chakra could be evidenced by an inability to get your point across or being unable to understand others. Physically, symptoms could be problems in the neck, throat, jaw, or ears. It is conveniently located in the throat!
Third Eye Chakra (Ajra)
I think this Chakra has the coolest name, and it is associated with thinking, perception, and intuition. It is all about how you see and perceive the world around you. A blocked Third Eye Chakra could have symptoms such as an inability to reason, misdirected intuition, or even eye problems and headaches. It is located between your eyebrows.
Crown Chakra (Sahasrara)
Located just above the top of your head, the Crown Chakra’s realm is the connection to spirit. It is tapping in to divine consciousness. An unbalanaced Crown Chakra could result in a person feeling disconnected and depression.
So one example of using this knowledge to keep that sweet prana flowing this would be thinking about our root chakra, or Muladhara, which sits at the base of our spine.
When we experience a blockage in the root chakra, we may feel a lack of confidence in ourselves, and our ability to stand on our own two feet.
When this root chakra is open, we can more easily obtain the confidence necessary to move forward in life, despite our current circumstances or any struggles that stand in our path.
On the opposite end, we have our crown chakra, or Sahasrara.
The crown chakra represents our ability to connect spiritually and access higher consciousness.
A blocked crown chakra may leave us feeling disconnected and wandering in the spiritual sense.
Chakras are a also a VAST subject, and you can look up a million and one ways to heal them, unblock them, and balance them, through use of stones, chanting and self-affirmations, and even focusing on specific colors.
Different yoga philosophies, such as traditional tantric yoga, even detail and focus on different chakras in different parts of the body entirely, which you can dive much more deeply into in Christopher Wallis’, also known as Hareesh’s, site The Tantrik Institute (which is fascinating, by the way).
He wrote THE book for westerners to better understand tantric yoga as it relates to prana and chakras called Tantra Illuminated.
Check it out here if you want to read more on the tantric view of chakras and get a sneak peek inside the book.
How can we move prana with mindfulness?…
The practice of yoga plays a big role in balancing chakras, and in turn, how prana enters and moves throughout the body.
For instance, if we wanted to open our root chakra to allow more prana to enter, we might practice Malasana, or garland pose, to help us feel more grounded by literally bringing us closer to the earth.
We may even simply perform a standing forward fold, or Uttanasana, to help calm our minds in order to open up space for greater confidence and sense of self.
Yoga helps move our prana by activating specific chakras and focusing energy along the line of the spine where these chakras are located.
According to yogic philosophy, by moving prana in from our sides toward our center channel, we can affect specific glands and organs of the body that exist there.
When it comes to our minds, though, there is a metaphor that says prana is like a horse looking for a rider, which is to say that thoughts ride our prana as a rider on a horse.
If we can be intentional about our thoughts and guide them throughout our body then we, as the rider guiding our horse, can guide our prana.
One way to do this is to focus on pranayama (specific breathing exercises) and meditation to control the flow of breath.
Again, pranayama is another concept that could have a series of posts dedicated to it, but I found a video from Michael Bijker that explains it easily and quickly.
When we meditate, we become aware of our thoughts and our breath.
We may notice that our thoughts are loud or our breath seems unsettled or unsteady, but when we can stay in the meditation as long as it takes to reach a state of calm, we will notice that our breath is well, barely noticeable.
Because our breath and our thoughts and mind are all interconnected, through meditation if we can even focus on one of those things, we can address them all at the same time.
Another way we can move prana is through chanting, such as kirtan chanting.
Kirtan chanting is a call-and-response form of chanting ancient Sanskrit mantras.
Through this repetition we can reach a higher level of calmness and self-awareness, therefore reconnecting us to our original state: our higher self.
Are there other ways to increase it?…
Yoga and meditation are two very spiritual ways to do so, but they aren’t the only path toward more blissful prana energy.
Being in natural environments can increase our prana, and an article from the Chopra Center details just that.
As author and Vedic Educator, Michelle Fondin, explains “when you are stuck in artificial environments with stagnant energy, you may become tired, sluggish, and seek stimulants to pick you back up.”
I know I have definitely found that to be true. Hello, winter!
Walking barefoot, listening to the sounds of lapping oceans, lakes, or babbling streams or rivers, walking in the forest, even having the sunlight shine on your face are mentioned as ways to build prana.
Some think prana can also be obtained through the food we eat, with foods the most fresh having the most prana energy.
Also eating food “furthest from us” is emphasized, meaning plants who are further genetically from us than say, cows.
Many traditions believe that our thoughts have control over our bodies, and depending on the culture, can also apply to life-energy.
Thinking again about vibrations, according to the philosophy one can raise or lower their vibration (or prana energy) with the types of thoughts they are having.
In it, she mentions gratitude, forgiveness, and simply thinking positive thoughts as ways to up our vibes and increase our prana.
She does an excellent job of describing the idea of vibration in terms of life-force energy:
“A vibration is a state of being, the atmosphere, or the energetic quality of a person, place, thought, or thing…you can tell a person’s energy when they walk into a room, for example. While some people draw you closer, others make you want to keep your distance. You see a depressing and violent news story, you get a heavy feeling in your gut. You witness a puppy cuddling with an infant, and you suddenly have hope for all mankind.”Karson McGinley for the Chopra Center
She goes on the add that “when you are vibrating at a higher level, you feel lighter, happier, and more at ease, whereas lower vibrations feel heavy, dark, and confused. Almost all spiritual traditions point the way toward higher realms of consciousness.”
Speaking of encountering other people as you walk into a room, some believers of this philosophy feel that one other way we can obtain prana is through other people.
So… this can be good for us, or not so good for us, depending on if you are the giver or the taker.
This article from Mindvalley does a terrific job at explaining how persons with low vibration can “absorb” energy from those who have a higher vibration, and vice-versa.
“When someone in a bad mood walks into a room, they can instantly bring everyone down. It works the other way, too – a happy person can uplift a room full of grumpy people. From an energetic standpoint, the energy of the person who walked into the room changed the vibration of the people already there.”Mindvalley
A fascinating article from Scientific American explains new research that suggests that the frequencies of energy emitted from human consciousness can, in fact, interact, be affected by, and “sync” with other energy sources including the consciousness of others.
“An interesting phenomenon occurs when different vibrating things/processes come into proximity: they will often start, after a little time, to vibrate together at the same frequency. They “sync up,” sometimes in ways that can seem mysterious. This is described today as the phenomenon of spontaneous self-organization.”Scientific American
Yogis would not be surprised to read that this “resonance theory of consciousness” doesn’t limit us to “syncing up” with other humans, but includes all living things and everything made out of atoms.
Everything would be connected, even our thoughts.
WOW. This is a rabbit hole I definitely want to dive down and read more about.
What does prana feel like?…
So now that we know how we move and obtain prana, how do we know when we are encountering it?
Prana may be unseen, but it is certainly felt.
One way we can connect with our prana is by paying attention to the sensations we feel as we breathe.
This is why you may have heard your yoga instructor guide you breath by breath by saying “inhale this” or “exhale that”.
There is power in the words we choose to connect to our thoughts, and there is power in those thoughts as we connect them through movement.
We inhale things like love, happiness, joy, or acceptance and we exhale self-doubt, fear, frustration, and anger.
It is with intention, be it through physical yoga poses or the flow of our breath, that we can notice these powerful sensations.
This is why, either during or at the end of a yoga class or mediation, you may experience tingling sensations, gut feelings, or shivers.
This is thought to be prana charging through your body and stimulating your mind.
You may feel prana when you do something you love.
For me, this happens when I listen to live music outdoors.
There is something I feel when I am standing in the sunshine feeling the vibrations from the instruments and voices, standing among others who are “vibe high” in a shared experience that I have felt nowhere else to that degree in my life.
I feel mentally and even physically changed and more energized during and after.
For me, it’s music, but for you it may be art, writing, reading stories, math, conversation, wherever your passions lie.
The beauty of prana is that over time we build it, we manifest it, we flow with it, and we expand it, which means that the effects of prana might not be felt until after months or years of consistent yoga practice.
But, prana is like finding your soul mate or discovering a favorite food…once you know, you know.
When a balanced flow of prana is traveling throughout your innermost being it eventually begins to take its shape outwardly, through your actions and in how you treat others as well as yourself.
You may look back after a year of practicing yoga and think to yourself, “wow, I’ve been a little less angry and a little more peaceful, a little less anxious and a little more grounded, a little less careless and a little more attentive”.
You may say to yourself, “wow, it feels amazing to finally know what it means to be content”.
Resources for building and moving prana…
Some ways in which we build prana we do naturally, like being grateful or taking a walk in nature, but there are traditional practices which are have been built around increasing our flow of prana.
The ever-popular Yoga with Adriene offers this 30-minute yoga practice focused squarely on getting your prana flowing.
If you have more time, Travis Eliot offers this 90-minute practice the combines power yoga and meditation that will get your fire burning while boosting your prana energy.
YouTube yoga is free and has some quality classes, but if you find yourself wasting too much time searching for a decent class, take your practice up a notch!
YogaDownload offers multiple classes and programs aimed at unblocking and balancing chakras to allow prana energy to easily flow, and one of them is this 7 class series taught by world-class yoga instructor, Elise Fabricant.
YogaDownload offers classes in probably any yoga style you have heard up and then some. You can buy one class, or a monthly subscription which makes it super affordable.
A 7-class chakra opening yoga flow series (read more about yoga flows here) is offered by yogi and author Dana Damara.
Pranayama and Meditation…
One other traditional practice that builds prana is specific breathing exercises, pranayama, combined with meditation.
YogiApproved.com offers this pranayama and meditation combo that is a little over 10 minutes long and easily guides you through the practice.
Have a few more minutes? This practice from Shrimad Rajchandra Mission Dharampur is 15-minutes long and combines soothing music with meditation and pranayama to leave you calm yet energized.
Don’t want to go the YouTube route? YogaDownload also offers meditation and pranayama classes from experienced instructors April Laliberte and Maria Garre.
With YogaDownload you can quickly and easily find a high quality class in whatever yoga style you’re feeling at that moment.
Well, yogis and yogic philosophers will say that the aim is to expand our prana. That to expand our prana, we must use our prana. Just like we might invest and spend money to make money, or we would drive our car rather than leaving it in the garage for its battery to die, we must always use our prana to keep it moving. Our prana is necessary for all living things to function, and it is called a life force for exactly that reason…our prana is meant to be lived.
Thank you for reading and take care!
FIND MORE YOGA EXPERIENCES