The majority of this material is taken from tapes of speeches and lessons given by Swami Satyananda Saraswati over the last twelve years. It includes both theory and practice; however, any theory must always remain incomplete because prana penetrates the most subtle levels of being. Therefore, the emphasis here is on practice, so that you can gain your own experience of prana and therefore by pass all need for theories.
Prana is the energy, gross and subtle, which pervades the whole cosmos. It vibrates through all life from the flowers to human beings, from the tiniest atom to the largest galaxy. Manipulation of prana in the human body is the aim of prana vidya.
In the Upanishads, prana is precisely differentiated. For example, maha prana refers to the cosmic prana. This prana, which is contained in the breath without being the breath, is the instrument of consciousness. A person is considered dead when the maha prana leaves the body. In the Upanishads it is said, "A man may have ears, eyes, all faculties and parts of his body, but unless he has maha prana, there is no consciousness."
The word prana is sometimes used to refer to breathing or breathing practice. This leads to confusion. When prana is present breathing takes place, but breath and prana are two different things. Breath goes directly to the lungs, while prana goes directly to the nadis. Prana is inside the air, inside the blood, inside the bones, inside the breathing, inside the perception. The word prana refers to the energy which is the basis of all life. This energy is psychic or astral in nature. It is an all-permeating force. The essential quality of prana is living, life. Where there is prana, there is life. This includes physical life, intellectual life, mental life, psychic life, spiritual life, higher life and lower life. Thus the meaning of prana goes much deeper than the breath which we inhale and exhale.
The word vidya has a different meaning now from that used in the time of the Upanishads. During the Upanishadic period, vidya referred to meditation or dhyana. That is is why the word appears so frequently in the Upanishads, The practices of meditation were not known as dhyana, they were known as vidya. Prana means life force; vidya means knowledge. Thus prana vidya means knowledge of life force, meditation on life force, realization of life force.
The way of knowing or manifesting prana vidya is through meditation. As a force in the body, prana can be directed through concentration of will, purpose and knowledge. It can also be directed out of the system to reach another body. In the science of psychic healing, this knowledge has great importance.
To fully understand and direct the flow of prana, it is necessary to have a thorough knowledge of the inner functionings of the body. Prana can be directed along a particular path (for example, the alimentary canal) if one has a detailed knowledge of the particular path. The prana may then be directed through the power of imagination. To give another example, prana can be circulated through any of the bones of the body if the practitioner has a detailed knowledge of the inner body structure.
This detailed knowledge of the body is absolutely essential for the completely successful practice of prana vidya. If the reader were asked right at this moment to touch his kidneys mentally, lie would probably find it very difficult. Therefore, before beginning the practice of prana vidya, the kidneys, bladder, bones, blood vessels and any other part of the body should be located, visualized and then touched by the mind with full awareness. Prana vidya can still be practiced without this thorough knowledge, but the practice will not be as successful. This practice will probably be difficult initially, but once the visualization is perfected, it becomes a wonderful experience. The practitioner reaches the point where he feels he is extracting the life force essence and sending it to various parts of the body.
The practice of prana vidya teaches a person to carry the concentrated deeper force of consciousness to different parts of the body in a sequence It is somewhat similar to the practice of yoga nidra. The difference is this: in yoga nidra the mind is taught to jump from one part of the body to another, whereas in prana vidya the aim is to allow the awareness to flow to different centres in the body along specific channels. Yoga nidra is a helpful preparation for the practice of prana vidya. The awareness of the individual parts of the body gained through yoga nidra is combined with an awareness of the psychic pathways to each of these parts.
In prana vidya the consciousness is taught to be aware not only of the organs of the body and the internal functioning, but also of movement or flow. The mind is taught to be aware that something is moving, something is flowing inside the body. Feeling must be centred within the body, not outside of it.
Prana is not specifically heat, cold, pressure or sensation. Prana is illumination or absolute light. Wherever prana goes, a minute stream of multifaceted light particles pass along the nadis or pranic pathways of the body. When the practice of prana vidya becomes particularly successful, the path of these small particles can be seen as well as felt. This experience is not imagination. Initially, of course, the practice is imagination based on the sensations produced by ujjayi pranayama. As awareness deepens, however, the practitioner realizes the truth of the experience we have described, perceiving for himself the small, very fine streams of light as they follow predetermined pathways through the body. At times these rays of light will actually be seen, at other times there will be only a memory of this light. The discovery of these, passages of light in memory, in dreams, in thought, in visions, or in imagination is the discovery of prana.
There are different methods by which prana vidya may be practiced. The prana can be directed through the bloodstream, bones, nervous system, spinal cord and so on. It can be moved through any particular part of the body, such as the navel, and circulated through it again and again.
Each of the chakras is a centre of prana, but the home centre is manipura, where prana is generated. For the purpose of distribution and withdrawal, prana is stored in ajna. In the awakening practices of prana vidya, prana is drawn up from mooladhara, the supercharger, to ajna. Prana can be carried to any part of the body, but it should always be returned to its source to avoid dissipation.
Disturbance of the prana in the body is the primary cause of much disease, either physical or mental. Ancient physicians were aware that many diseases occur as a result of a disturbance of prana. Therefore, if you practice prana vidya, you should be careful not to upset this pranic balance, and furthermore, take care that prana is returned to mooladhara after practice. Awareness and control of prana should be developed gradually with regular practice. If this is followed, any harmful side-effects can be avoided.
Prana vidya is a definite technique which includes expansion, contraction, localization and visualization of pranic consciousness. Contraction of prana is used to calm down the turbulent tendencies of the mind. This contraction of prana corresponds to an upward flow, and serves to concentrate the mind and to still its chatter. Expansion of prana, on the other hand, is used when the mind is dull. In this case the motion of prana is downwards. Localization of pranic consciousness is used to direct prana to a specific region of the body by the will; this is made much more powerful if the movement of the prana is visualized. Visualization is the technique whereby the powers of will, concentration and imagination are focused to create a mental image. In prana vidya, the image is of a particular part or organ of the body to be invested with energy or prana.
The two factors of awareness and visualization harness the power of the pranic energy. This power is then directed by the will. Awareness and visualization are best perfected through the practice of yoga nidra. If prana vidya is to be perfected, the practitioner is advised to master the following specific techniques as preparation.
These three practices are important in their own right as methods of awakening prana. They are very helpful in developing prana vidya techniques and are fully described in the practice section.
The knowledge of prana is a complete sadhana in itself. Through a developed awareness of prana and using techniques which awaken psychic experience, prana vidya leads the practitioner to awareness of the spiritual self. Success also leads to development of the latent powers of healing. One is able to transmit prana into the body of another person for healing purposes. This healing force of prana can be applied to all living things as well as to the healing of oneself. In this respect it is important to know that psychic healing should not be conducted for material gain or any other selfish purposes. This would only be an obstacle in spiritual awakening, which is the main objective of prana vidya.
To succeed in the spiritual life, one has to be very careful. Right from the beginning, attachment to psychic powers and their selfish use must be shunned. The aspirant should be well established on the path of karma yoga. If he can perform physical, mental and intellectual duties with the primary objective being to serve, then the psychic energy generated can be properly channelled. This extra energy, which is responsible for siddhis, psychic powers, is thus properly utilized and directed.
The aim of prana vidya is to awaken and manipulate prana consciously. By developing awareness, one is able to perceive and gain knowledge of the nature of prana; this in turn leads to greater awareness. Prana vidya is concerned with both expanding consciousness and awakening prana in the individual. Eventually this leads to meditation and perfect union, healing being only a by-product.