Pranas and Upapranas
The Vedic texts state that all living entities are sustained by the life-giving force called Prana. The concept plays a central role in ayurveda and yoga and their holistic view of life.
According to Ayurveda, prana emanates from the sun. It flows through the bodies of living beings through a system of subtle pathways (nadis). We experience prana as breath, but it also exists in blood. Prana is most concentrated in reproductive fluids.
Ayurvedic texts classify prana into five subdivisions – the currents that energize and sustain the body’s physiological processes:
- The air entering the nose is Prana; it governs the functioning of the heart and circulatory system.
- The air evacuated from the rectum is Apana, that which removes waste products from the lungs and excretory system.
- Samana is the air responsible for metabolism and the functioning of the digestive system.
- Udana flows through the throat. It regulates the vocal chords and the conscious ability to produce the varied sounds of speech, laughter, crying and singing, as the situation demands.
- Vyana circulates throughout the body and controls voluntary muscular activity.
Yoga scriptures break down prana into five more sub-categories responsible for various bodily functions:
- Naga is the air that regulates burping.
- Kurma is the upaprana that controls contracting movements e.g. blinking.
- Krikala is the upaprana that governs sneezing.
- Devadatta controls yawning.
- Dhananjaya controls the functioning of heart valves.
Pranayama – the specialized yogic technique of deep breathing – is practiced to control the flow of these currents in the body, so as to enhance the vitality of both body and mind.