Prana shakti has been given many names by different people. By some it was known as ki, the universal energy, others called it odic force, vital energy, or bioplasmic energy. The yogis of ancient India called this force prana, and the ancient scriptures abound with their references to it. For example, the Satapatha Brahmana says that: "Prana is the body of the self, supreme consciousness."
Prana was thought of as being in intimate connection with the different levels of consciousness. Because consciousness and matter are mutually dependent entities, prana can also be related to the manifestation of matter, and due to the relationship between matter and energy, we can then equate prana with energy. This is in perfect keeping with all the other aspects of this universal force, known most often nowadays as the psi plasmic force. Psi plasma is a vapour of charged particles which can be affected internally by the mind and externally by electric fields, magnetic fields, or by both.
Prana has been known in various cultures and civilisations for thousands of years. Now we shall look at the scriptural description of prana.
The diagram shows the traditional divisions of prana into the five zones of the body. These main subdivisions of prana are as follows:
Prana is the first division of the bioplasmic fluid energy, and is located physically in the region between the larynx and the top of the diaphragm. It is traditionally associated with the respiratory organs, the organs of speech, the gullet etc. It is the force by which the breath is drawn in. Apana is located below the navel region, and provides the energy for the large intestines, kidneys and the functioning of the anus and reproductive organs. Samana is located in the region between the heart and the navel. It activates and controls the digestive system, the liver, pancreas and stomach. It is said to be responsible for the assimilation of nutrients. Udana controls the parts of the body above the larynx. Thus, the eyes, nose, ears and sensory receptors in all parts of the body and brain are activated by this prana. Vyana is the force which pervades the whole body. It regulates and controls the overall movements of the body and co-ordinates the other vital energies.
There is also another subsection of the pranic force called the upa pranas. They are responsible for minor transformations of energy, as for example when we sneeze, yawn, belch, hiccup and blink our eyes. These upa pranas are naag, kurma, krikara, devadutta, dhananjaya.
Traditionally, these pranas are controlled by vayus, currents or winds, generated by the process of breathing. These vayus are like energy corridors along which each particular division of the pranic force flows internally and externally.
Psychic physiology refers to different planes of experience which are more subtle than the physical. We all have access to this psychic plane, although very rarely and spontaneously. The psychic state of consciousness may be thought of as existing at a different level of consciousness. It is like a parallel miniature universe, with which we are able to communicate under certain conditions. It is a reality, a dimension of our awareness, of our consciousness, of our existence. Just as water can freeze and become ice, or boil and become steam, so we can also transform our own awareness so that it becomes more and more subtle. As water can be broken down into hydrogen and oxygen by the appropriate supply of energy, so with prana we are able to separate the components of our own consciousness, of our own mind.
One dimension of our mind is the psychic or ionoplasmic level of energy, which is capable of being affected by different influences at varying intensities. Any change in the ionoplasma immediately reflects itself in the mind and physical body of the person. The various techniques of kundalini yoga are intended to bring about a controlled energy build up in the ionoplasmic field which permeates the physical body. This leads to many so called 'psychic' experiences such as visions, feelings of bliss, great physical or mental energy. These, however, are only considered as stepping stones to the greater heights of yoga. Kundalini can be most scientifically interpreted as the latent higher energies, which open up the dormant cells of the brain, for as many people know, we only use about one tenth of the brain's capacity.
Kundalini is usually pictured symbolically as a serpent sleeping with its head downward and tail upward, coiled three and a half times around the swayambhu linga. It is located in mooladhara, the first chakra or ionoplasmic centre of the body.
The ionoplasmic centres, sometimes called psychic centres or chakras, are many, but eight are most important to the yoga practitioner. These chakras are located along a main stream of bionic or bio-electric energy situated in the centre of the spinal cord. This main stream is known as the sushumna nadi. Winding around the sushumna nadi in paths at right angles to each other are two other nadis or channels of energy, one carrying negative ionic charges known as the ida nadi and the other positive ionic charges, known as the pingala nadi. These three nadis are capable of being influenced by physical, emotional and mental energies as well as other forms of energy supplied from outside the physical body. The ida and pingala nadis not only coil but also revolve vertically around sushumna nadi. They are able to expand or contract to encompass physical space even outside the body. These ideas are approximately represented by the following diagram.
As can be seen from the diagram, ida and pingala curve from left to right. Ida emerges from the left of mooladhara chakra and pingala emerges from the right, as seen in the mind while meditating on the spinal cord.
Mooladhara is also known as the root centre, and is related to the element earth because it is in the most gross part of the body. It is the seat of the primal energy in man, the dormant, potential, unharnessed energy having many dimensions, which is known as kundalini. Its colour is deep red. Its form is circular, and its alignment is at right angles to the sushumna nadi. It has four petals, which represent the activity level of pranic energy in that region. The petals are seen in meditation as such, because of electrical discharges in that region. These emit light particles which, due to their proximity, form the pattern of four petals. Thus the chakras, ionoplasmic centres, are also known as lotuses. Each chakra or ionoplasmic centre has a different number of petals which are indicative of the pranic intensity level in that particular region. When kundalini energy awakens, a great deal of heat, light and sound are generated, then it begins to uncoil and travel upward from mooladhara to the other higher chakras. Each chakra has a corresponding physical trigger point in the body, which if concentrated upon, helps the awakening of that chakra. The trigger point for mooladhara in the male body is the area between the anus and the genitals, and in the female body, the cervix, the juncture of the uterus and vagina.
Swadhisthana is traditionally associated with the unconscious mind. Its colour is vermilion, and it has six petals arranged symmetrically around a central pericarp. The associated element is water. Its trigger point is located at the level of the pubic bone or coccyx.
Manipura is the centre of heat in the body. It is associated with the vital heat, the digestive fire, energy. Its element is fire. Its colour is bright yellow and it has ten petals. The trigger point is the navel. Remember that these chakras are in the spinal cord, and are different energy levels situated at specific points along a specifically defined energy flow. The trigger points are given because it is easier to concentrate on them than to try and find the exact point in the spinal cord. There is, however, a direct connection between the trigger point and the chakra, the ionoplasmic centre.
Anahata is the seat of inner sound. Its colour is blue and it has twelve petals. It is known as the heart chakra, the centre of spiritual love. Its element is air, which becomes more and more subtle as we ascend the sushumna nadi. The trigger point is at the level of the heart behind the breast bone.
Vishuddhi is regarded as the centre of purification for various secretions in the body. It is visualised as a violet lotus with sixteen petals. Its element is ether, space - more subtle than air. The trigger point is at the base of the throat, where there is a small depression.
Ajna is known variously as the third eye, the centre of intuition, the guru chakra or the command centre. It is said that when it is awakened the practitioner can view events on different planes of consciousness with complete awareness. Its colour is silver blue, and it has two petals. Situated at the top of the spinal cord, it is the terminal point of ida and pingala nadis but not sushumna, which travels upward to the next chakra. The trigger point of ajna chakra is called bhrumadhya. It is situated at the eyebrow centre, where Indian ladies as well as many Brahmins make a red mark. The element is also ether.
Bindu is considered one of the most important chakras in kundalini yoga. It is another chakra where inner sounds manifest due to the movement of pranic energy. It has no petals but is symbolised by a tiny crescent moon on a clear night. The trigger point is at the small depression at the back of the head, where Hindu Brahmins traditionally wear a tuft of hair.
Sahasrara is the most subtle of the chakras. It symbolises the threshold between the physical realm of space and time to a transcendental realm beyond both. In this realm of space which is beyond normal physical laws, the practitioner experiences a state of mind which is indescribable in terms of mundane concepts of emotion, thought, feeling etc. Sahasrara is visualised in meditation as a shining red lotus having an infinite number of petals, or 1,000 as its name suggests. In the physical body its point is at the very crown of the head. Its element is also ether, space.
Nadis are subtle pathways through which pranic energy flows. According to the ancient texts, there are 72,000 of these pathways extending to all parts of the body. They are all interconnected, and we postulate that they form a matrix in three dimensions, on three planes at right angles to each other. Any change occurring in any part of this matrix is immediately relayed to all the other parts. The three most important of these pathways of energy we have already discussed, the ida, pingala and sushumna nadis. You will recall that the ida and pingala nadis are at right angles to each other, and cross the sushumna nadi at specific points with a wavelike motion. At the crossing points of the nadis, the ionoplasmic centres or chakras are located. The currents of energy which are generated in the spinal cord in ida, pingala and sushumna are one and the same bio-plasmic energy, prana.