American Institute of Vedic Studies

Practice Pranayama to Access Higher Energies

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 is all 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 the great modern sage Ramana Maharshi, who uses these terms in this manner. Many Yoga Shastras and Yoga Upanishads explain Prana and 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 two 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 the term Yoga, which 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 complimentary. 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 non-elemental, unmanifest Prana of the immortal life. It is inherent in Eternal Being or Sat and is above all biological functioning.

Pranic based Yoga practices aim to access this supreme Prana, though it is a process that can only occur by degrees, starting at a physical level. 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 also indicate the cosmic creative force, the Ishvara, or Cosmic Lord, such as we find mentioned in the Yoga Sutras. Ishvara is the energy that creates, sustains and dissolves the universe. Our own individual soul or Jivatman can also be referred to by Prana, being the essence of our individual 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.

 


 

Prana and Breath

 

Prana is a cosmic force and pervades all of life and nature. Prana is not simply oxygen, which is but a carrier of prana at a physical level, but the very energy of life, and the basis of all other energies in the universe, including those that appear inanimate to us, like the force of gravity.

Yet it is the Prana that works within our own embodied existence that is the main concern for us. Most of us are first acquainted with Prana by its association with the breath. Often Prana is translated as breath or means breath. The breath is the main action of Prana in the body, and through the breath we can gain mastery over Prana at various levels, including accessing its higher forms.

Yet Prana is not merely the ordinary breath, it is the energy behind the breath. Pranayama practice is not simply breath work but moving to a deeper level of energy and awareness, accessing Prana at a level through, behind and beyond the breath.

Prana is also often regarded as the ‘vital force’ or ‘life energy’, which is sustained by the breath but pervades all bodily and mental activities. The vital force sustains speech, mind, the senses and our internal organs. Prana is the basis of Vata dosha in Ayurvedic medicine, the biological air humor, the most important of the three biological humors, which rules over all activities, functions and movements in the body, and is closely aligned with the nervous system.

The five senses are closely related to prana. The cognitive senses serve to take in various pranic influences, particularly the eyes and the ears, which take in the Prana of light and sound. But also the tongue, skin and nose.  The skin brings in both Prana and oxygen and conveys it through the sense of touch. The tongue takes in the Prana from the food. The nose takes in the Prana of fragrance, including subtler Pranas from the air than mere oxygen.

The motor organs work to discharge various pranic impulses as in speaking, moving, eating, elimination and reproduction, which are all pranic activities connected to our vital urges.

The mind has its own pranic connections, beginning with its connection to the senses, with our various associations and relationships, which form our own pranic network. Emotion itself is pranic energy within the mind, with its patterns of attraction and repulsion.

Yogic thought divides our nature into five sheaths, fields or enclosures (koshas). The first is that made of food (Annamaya Kosha), which consists of the gross body made up of the bodily tissues and organs.  The second is that made of Prana or Pranamaya kosha, related to the five Pranas and the five motor organs primarily. It governs movement, vital urges and the breath. Often the term Prana is used for the functions of the Pranamaya kosha.

However, the Pranamaya kosha is just the field of the outer or manifest Pranas, particularly those that interface with and energize the physical body. It is not synonymous with Prana as a whole. Prana operates in the deeper Koshas of mind (Manomaya Kosha), intelligence (Vijnanamaya Kosha) and bliss (Anandamaya Kosha). In fact, Prana in the deeper sense is often related to Ananda or bliss, which is the main power of creation and the main motivating force behind all aspects of life.

 


 

Pranayama

The manifest pranas are an expression of rajo-guna, the quality of agitation and turbulence. To reach sattva guna or a deeper peace and balance, we must calm and internalize the prana, which implies to calm and unify the energy of the breath. That is why Yogic Pranayama, like Asana, follows after the Yamas and Niyamas, the principles of sattvic living and rests upon them.

Pranayama is often regarded as control of the breath or mastery of the breath. When it is a question of control of the breath, the issue arises as to “who is controlling the breath?” If we use the mind or the ego to control the breath, it is not Yoga but a physical exercise. In Yogic Pranayama it is the witnessing consciousness that should be developed as the real master of the breath.

Pranayama often emphasizes holding the breath. The question here arises as to “what we are holding in the breath?” Some people may be holding negative emotions, fears, desires, or even ego energy in the breath. It is important to allow the breath to naturally deepen, so that there is a natural holding by the power of the inner Prana and awareness, not simply an ego effort. One should energize the breath with devotion, aspiration and a seeking for higher knowledge. Above all, one should not think any harmful thoughts about anyone while doing pranayama.

The goal of yogic pranayama is not simply to exercise the lungs and make us breathe better, though these are a natural part of it. The goal is to develop a ‘unitary prana’ in which the fluctuations and disturbances of the breath cease and one can access the inner energy of consciousness beyond the breath. This unitary Prana or breathless state is called ‘kevala kumbhaka’ in yogic thought. It is often practiced along with yoni mudra, closing all the sensory openings in order to access the inner light. It is the fruit of extensive Pranayama practices or mastery of the Prana.

 


 

Prana and Kundalini

Kundalini can be defined as the higher energy of the unitary prana. To access it, we must first balance the breath between the Ida and the Pingala or the left and right nostrils, the lunar and the solar currents. This implies taking our minds to a state of unitary attention and unitary awareness beyond the mind’s dualistic fluctuations of attraction and repulsion, like and dislike, love and hate.

It is only the unitary prana that can enter into the Sushumna or the central channel and opens the chakras, unfolding their powers.  As long as we are caught in the dualistic prana, the Kundalini lays asleep and dormant at the base of the spine, and the chakras are closed, working only at outer level to sustain our outer existence, not affording steady access to higher states of consciousness.

One can activate this unitary prana directly through the unitary awareness if one has the ability to create a strong focused meditation, but that is relatively rare. Only a few Yogis along the Yoga of knowledge are likely to have this power.

 


 

Nadi Shodhana: Alternate Nostril Breathing

All yogic pranayamas can aid in the development of the higher unitary prana, but for this purpose the main method emphasized is usually ‘alternate nostril breathing’ or nadi shodhana. This serves to balance the dualistic outer prana so that we can access the higher unitary prana.

The Pingala nadi that flows through the right nostril has a solar, heating, fiery and Pitta nature. It is stimulating and promotes movement, expression, action and digestion. The Ida nadi that flows through the left nostril has a lunar, cooling, watery and Kapha nature. It is calming and promotes rest, introversion, relaxation and sleep.

During the day our breath fluctuates between one nostril and another. Generally Pitta constitution people, those of fiery nature, will find the right nostril to be more open than the left. Those of Kapha or watery constitution will find the left nostril to be more open than the right. Vata dosha or airy types will experience greater fluctuations.

The practice of alternate nostril breathing, done with concentration and part of a sattvic life style, helps balance the breath and develop the unitary prana behind it.

After the practice of alternate nostril breathing, if done correctly, one can for a time enter in the flow of the unitary prana, in which inhalation and exhalation come to an end, or become very subtle. This is generally experienced as a flow of energy in the region of the Third Eye, a kind of light, pressure and vibration emanating from that location but expanding to pervade the entire body. One can learn to work with and direct this unitary prana through the various nadis and chakras or out of the body altogether.

 


 

Hamsa So’ham Nadi Shodhana

This is a simple method of combining mantra with alternate nostril breathing.

In Sanskrit symbology, the breath is governed by s and h sounds. This is common to many languages, but perhaps nowhere stressed so much as in Sanskrit. Especially the sounds Soham and Hamsa are used relative to the breath. In this special method, one can use both Soham and Hamsa relative to alternate nostril breathing.

In this regard, one should note that the Sa sound has a lunar energy while the Ha sound has a solar energy according to the ancient science of mantra. Similarly, the mantra So’ham also has more a lunar or Soma energy, while Hamsa has a solar energy. Inhalation in general has a more lunar energy and exhalation has a more solar energy as well.

In this procedure, one uses the mantra So for inhalation through the left or lunar nostril, followed by the mantra Ham for exhalation through the right or solar nostril. Then one uses the mantra Ham for inhalation through the right nostril, followed by the mantra Sa for exhalation through the left nostril. This process of So’ham Hamsa makes one round of alternate nostril breathing.

During this practice, one should let the breath naturally deepen. There need be no overt effort to hold the breath but if this occurs naturally it can be allowed.

After one has done this practice for fifteen minutes or more, one should let go of the breath and enter into yoni mudra, or simply just sit quietly with the eyes closed, allowing the background unitary prana to come forth.

The more one practices this alternate nostril breathing, the greater the access to the unitary prana, which will gain in strength even behind the ordinary breath. Begin with at least fifteen minutes morning and evening.

But remember to keep a peaceful prana in all that you do. Then all your pranayama practices will work in the best possible manner. The higher Prana is a power of peace, not a power of self-assertion! This unitary prana is best accessed through a deeper peace and surrender of our personal will to the Divine will, and an alignment with our highest Self.

 

David Frawley (Vamadeva)

Latest Articles
Articles on Vedic Counseling

Embodied Mind and Transcendent Consciousness

We human beings are embodied creatures defined by our birth in a particular physical body as indicating our real identity and the focus of our lives. Our minds are not only located in the body but ruled by an entire set of bodily needs, imperatives, appearances and actions and their

Read More »
Articles by Yogini Shambhavi

Kali as the Yuga Shakti: the Power to Create a New World Age

By Yogini Shambhavi   As the great power of time, Kali’s Shakti creates the different Yugas or world ages that humanity passes through during the long cycles of cosmic evolution. Kali is the Goddess of eternity watching over all our temporal changes and facilitating those which promote our inner growth.

Read More »
Articles on Vedic Counseling

Comparison and the Incomparable Self

Your inner Self (Atman) and true nature cannot be compared to anything. It has no name, form or action, no shape, size or color. It is beyond all elements and qualities of nature. It is beyond body and mind, time and appearance altogether. It dwells within everything yet is not

Read More »
Articles on Ayurveda

Shiva Ayurveda – The Yogic Power of Healing and Transformation

Most Ayurvedic practitioners look upon Lord Dhanvantari, an incarnation of Lord Vishnu, as the deity of Ayurveda and ideal doctor. Certainly that is an important tradition worthy of following based on profound Puranic stories and symbolism. Yet in the Rigveda, the oldest Vedic text, and Shruti or book of mantric

Read More »
Articles on Vedic Astrology

Winter Solstice, Galactic Center and New Time of Troubles

I have been writing for some years about 2020 as indicating the beginning of a “New Time of Troubles” for humanity, dangerous from 2020-2028, but continuing long beyond that. This relates astronomically to the Winter Solstice point transiting the Galactic Center in the constellation of Sagittarius. It is difficult to

Read More »
Articles on Yoga

The Ancient Yoga of the Sun

For the Winter Solstice December 21, which marks the rebirth of the Sun and Agni What if the most powerful force for energizing all Yoga practices were as obvious and visible as the Sun? The fact is that it is. The Sun, properly understood not merely as an outer but

Read More »
Articles on Yoga

Yoga as Samadhi

Yoga is defined as Samadhi in the Yoga Sutras. Yet few Yoga practitioners know what Samadhi is or how to approach it. But without understanding Samadhi one cannot understand Yoga in the true sense of the term. Samadhi is complete coherence and composure of mind, the mind fully united with

Read More »
Articles on Yoga

Yoga Nidra according to Adi Shankara

Yoga Nidra is a popular topic today but seldom taken to the depth that it is presented with in the Vedantic teachings. Here we will examine it according to the views of the great teacher, Shankara.   Adi Shankara or Shankaracharya is the most lauded exponent of Advaita or non-dualistic

Read More »
Articles on Yoga

Why Sri Krishna is the Avatar of Yoga

Sri Krishna is the only human guru and incarnation of Vishnu called Yogavatara or the Avatar of Yoga, and Yogeshvara or the Lord of Yoga. The Bhagavad Gita remains the most important and foundational Yoga Shastra or definitive Yoga text. To understand Yoga one must understand Sri Krishna, his life,

Read More »
INTERNATIONALLY BEST SELLING

Follow Dr David Frawley on social media @

Ayurvedic Healing Course

Take a comprehensive, yet affordable distance learning program in Ayurvedic healing, providing a vast set of resources, presented with clarity and depth. It is an excellent and accessible place to start your journey into Ayurveda from wherever you may be, and yet will take you very far. Our Ayurvedic Healing course covers mind-body constitution, daily health regimens, doshic imbalances, dietary and herbal treatment, sensory therapies and internal practices of Yoga and meditation. Our course aims to bring the deeper teachings of Ayurveda to everyone at an affordable price, whether for self-healing or helping others. It is connected to the classic books on Ayurveda of Dr. David Frawley. An internationally renowned course taken by over ten thousand people worldwide over the last thirty years, the course remains one of the best ways to learn Ayurveda both at a personal level and as a foundation for deeper study. Let the wisdom of Ayurveda transform your life and broaden your awareness!

Learn more and Signup Here »

Ayurvedic Astrology Course

Learn the secrets of Vedic astrology as taught relative to the healing powers of Ayurveda. View your birth chart to determine your Ayurvedic mind-body constitution according to their planetary connections, and promote longevity yoga and Self-realization. Learn how to read Vedic charts to help others recognize and optimize their karmas to fulfill their dharma. Study the teachings Dr. David Frawley (Pandit Vamadeva Shastri), a master educator in Vedic astrology and Ayurveda of worldwide renown. This course has helped pioneered Vedic astrology in the West and made it accessible to all serious students. Join in this Vedic movement to connect to the universe, the stars and planets, within you!

Learn more and Signup Here »

Yoga, Ayurveda, Mantra & Meditation Course

Take an inspiring online program on classical Yoga and traditional Ayurveda for body, mind and consciousness. Learn how to heal yourself according to a higher awareness that you can share with all! This many-sided course covers all eight limbs of Yoga according to Ayurvedic principles, from asana and pranayama to deeper practices of mantra and meditation. It teaches an Ayurvedic Yoga approach for the full unfoldment of our inner awareness. It shares the secrets of Jnana Yoga, Bhakti Yoga, Karma Yoga, the Yogas of knowledge, devotion and action, in the context of a greater Raja Yoga. Study with one of the world’s leading experts and Acharyas in the field of Yoga and Ayurveda. Dr. David Frawley (Pandit Vamadeva Shastri), linking yourself with authentic traditions going back to the Vedic Seers.

Learn more and Signup Here »
Learn Yoga, Ayurveda, Mantra and Meditationwith Dr David Frawley

Take an inspiring online program on classical Yoga and traditional Ayurveda for body, mind and consciousness. Learn how to heal yourself according to a higher awareness that you can share with all! This many-sided course covers all eight limbs of Yoga according to Ayurvedic principles, from asana and pranayama to deeper practices of mantra and meditation.

Learn Ayurveda with Dr David Frawley

Learn the greater wisdom of Ayurveda with internationally acclaimed scholar on the subject - Dr David Frawley (Acharya Vamadeva Shastri). Get a special limited time discount - sale ends shortly.

Layer 1