What is prana vidya? It may be a new term to you, but you will come across it very frequently in the Upanishads. Before I begin to explain the term prana vidya and its process, let me first make the word vidya clear to you. In the olden days, during the upanishadic period, vidya was used for the word dhyana or meditation. Vid means to know and vidya means knowledge. Prana means life force. So, prana vidya means knowledge of life force, meditation on life force, discovery of life force, or realization of life force.
In the Upanishads there are various systems of meditation for different types of aspirants. I may not be able to teach you these practically, but for the sake of your knowledge I will tell you about some of them.
Udagitha vidya concerns the recitation of Om in a particular manner.
Madhu vidya is meditation on the essence. The word madhu literally means honey or sweet, but here it means essence. Essence of what? Essence of earth, essence of fire, essence of life.
Ashwamedha vidya is meditation on horse sacrifice, but it is not a horse’s sacrifice, please remember it. When I explain this type of meditation, you will be surprised at how wrongly interpreted it is. Ashwa means horse medha means sacrifice.
Panchagni vidya means meditation on five fires. Panch means five and agni means fire.
Shandilya vidya is a system of meditation taught by Rishi Shandilya.
There are many other vidyas or systems of meditation which are taught in the Upanishads and in this way prana vidya is one of them.
Prana vidya is a system of meditation by which you acquire knowledge of prana. It is a mode, a process or a method by which you are able to move a particular aspect of consciousness which is known as prana. When we use the word prana, we refer to the energy which is the basis of our physical life, and which is psychic or astral in nature. Let us call it a force, an all-permeating force, which permeates the whole body.
What is the essential quality of prana? Living life. Where there is prana, there is life. What kind of life? Physical life, intellectual life, mental life, psychic life, spiritual life, higher life, lower life, that is prana. You have prana in vegetables, trees and flowers. It is not just in the breath which you inhale and exhale. It is much more than that. In the Upanishads another term for prana has been given in order to remove that misunderstanding. They call that force mahaprana.
Mahaprana means the great prana, the higher prana. It is something other than the breath. In the Upanishads a beautiful story has been given about it. They say that without mahaprana, there is no life. Your breathing may be continuous and your senses may be intact, but without mahaprana nothing will function. So, we should realize what mahaprana is, and the way to realize that is the practice of prana vidya.
Prana vidya is of great importance in the science of spiritual healing, although the experts in spiritual healing know very little about it. Prana is a force in the body which can be directed through imagination, through thinking. Wherever the prana is concentrated, there you can create an abscess and you can cure an abscess. When prana is directed to different parts of body, in addition to imagination and thought, you need a thorough knowledge about the inner functioning of the body.
If you have thorough knowledge of the alimentary canal, you can send the prana down the right tract. If you know how it goes, than you can send it by the power of imagination. If you know how many bones you have in your arm, then you can circulate the prana through them. So, although I will be telling you about prana vidya in this course, it will only be a very rough idea, because you must have a thorough knowledge of your body.
You must be able to see the blood vessels, the kidneys, the bladder and every part of the body. Then, if you practise prana vidya as I will teach you, it will be wonderful. It will be something like injecting every part of your body with nectar, with life. You will touch every part of your body with your imagination. Now you cannot. If I ask you to touch your kidneys through your mind, you don’t know where they are, but those who know can do it. When we are constipated, however, we always touch our intestines through our mind.
So, in the practice of prana vidya, you carry your concentrated, intensified, deeper force of consciousness to different parts of your body in a sequence as you did in yoga nidra, but it is not hopping, it is just flowing. I hope that the practice of yoga nidra will help you in this, but remember, it is a flow. Supposing you start the psychic flow from the fingertips and then you continue up the arm, you must have the knowledge that the psychic flow is going this way.
Now, the consciousness is to be slowly moved within the body, not outside the body. You must feel that you are inside. Gradually something formless is moving up through a passage. You should be able to visualize the movement through the different parts. However, if you have not got perfect knowledge of the structure of your body, you can still practise prana vidya but it will not be as effective as it could be.
There are different methods by which prana vidya is to be practised. The pranas can be taken through the bloodstream, bones, nervous system, spinal cord and so on. The pranas can also be circulated through a particular part or point of the body, for example, in the navel. Just take the prana to the navel and keep on rotating it there, or take the prana to the knee and keep on rotating it there.
What is prana? Is it cold waves or heat waves? Is it a pressure or any other sensation? Is it a force? No, prana is light, illumination. How does prana move? A small string of mercurial light passes through, that is the sign. It may just pass half an inch or less then that, but a small light passes. That is the indication that you have been able to go through the light process of prana vidya.
It is not merely imagination. Of course, in the beginning it is imagination and that is based on ujjayi pranayama, but little by little this imagination should be converted into a small streak of light which is very fine. In that way it should pass on. Sometimes you may just have a dim, faint glimpse of it or just memories of it.
Prana is neither heavy nor light, it is neither hot nor cold, it has no sensation, it is not something that you feel after sitting in padmasana for half an hour. It is nothing of the sort. Whichever way the discovery of prana takes place, the streak of light passes, whether in vision or in a dream, in thought or in imagination. So, you can concentrate your prana on any spot or point in your body.
In order to bring down the turbulent tendencies of the mind, prana must be contracted. When you contract prana, the movement is upward, never downward. When the mind is very restless, when you are thinking so many things, you don’t know what to do, at that time prana should be contracted, and when you contract, the psychic emotion is ascending. If you are unhappy, some sort of negative emotion has affected you and the mind has become very dull, at that time you should expand prana. This motion is downward, not upward. However, if you wish to practise both expansion and contraction of prana, then you have to descend and ascend both, and when you take prana to particular point in the body, you must always bring it back. Which is the centre of prana? The navel. Prana always starts from there. Whenever you send prana to a particular point, you have to bring it back again to the navel. That is the home of prana, the place where prana is generated. It is there that prana and apana meet.
Prana always has to be taken back to the navel, otherwise so much energy is lost. So you take the energy to a particular point, visualize it there, and then bring it back. When you are sitting in a room you switch on the fan and when you go out switch it off. It is something like that. You must turn off the energy; prana should always remain at the navel.
When the pranas are disturbed, they create disease in the body and pain in the mind. According to ayurveda (the ancient system of healing which is part of the Vedas), disturbance of prana creates many diseases. If one wants to practise prana vidya, one should have a definite process for oneself. One should either practise expansion and contraction or localization of pranic consciousness. This is the theory of prana vidya.
—First International Yoga Teachers’ Training Course, BSY, 1967, first published in Early Teachings of Swami Satyananda Saraswati