Prāṇa – A Thorough Analysis – What It Is + Is Not (via Yoga + Āyurveda)

Balanced sequencing is not about the postures alone. The expression of any posture needs to be born from the Kanda. The Kanda is the central axis of the body where the Naḍīs initiate. This can be confusing but the Naḍīs, the channels which carry Prāṇa, they are born at the Kanda which is located about 4 fingertips below the navel – in the center of the body.

In many ways, from a Western perspective, we can also relate to this as this is similar to the place where the umbilical cord is in utero. 


Hṛdāya – the Importance of the Heart


Prāṇa itself is born in Hṛdāya – the heart. The heart is known as a Mahā Marma. Mahā Marma implies the most important organs in the body. Significant injury to any of them can lead quickly to death. There are 3 Mahā Marmas in Āyurveda : Śiras (the Head), Hṛdaya (the Heart), and Basti (the Urinary Bladder).

Hṛdaya is known as the seat of Ojas. It has a unique capacity to connect the physical world – via Blood and Prāṇa, to the more ethereal one of the Manas (the Mind). Manas – especially relating to the sense organs – is said also to sit in Hṛdaya. (Ca.Su.30.6-7 and Ca.Śa.1.133).

According to Caraka, Ojas is “what keeps all living beings refreshed.” It enters the heart as the embryo begins to form. As our bodies develop tissue, Ojas is said to be the essence of this tissue. Ojas travels from the heart to the rest of the body via a variety of vessels – one group of which is known as the 10 mahā dhamanis.


Mahā Dhamanis (the Great Vessels that Pulsate)

The Mahā Dhamanis originate in Hṛdaya. There are 24 in total. 10 that move up, 10 that move down, and 4 that move laterally. The 10 which move up and down support the Indriyas (the sense organs). Through their structure, they deliver Ojas and Prāṇa to the entire body. They facilitate the liveliness (or not) of the 4 limbs, senses, the arthas (capacity to achieve the goals of dhārma), and engage with Su:kha (happiness) and Dū:kha (unhappiness).

They are known because they have a pulsation. This is why you can feel Prāṇa move through areas where Oxygen/the Lungs do not access. You are feeling the pulsation of your dhamanis!

They are made of Earth, Water, Fire, Air, and Space – the Pañca Mahā Bhūtas (the 5 Great Elements). This is where the term “going back to five-ness” comes from as one which describes death. When we go back to fiveness, the Elements that create the Dhamanis return to their origin as separate substances – blending back with the Earth. Thus, the channels which carry our life force (Prāṇa and Ojas) disappear. Since the substances that carry life have nothing more to travel through, our Soul has no more action to take on this Material plane, and so we pass on.


To Preserve Ojas

According to Caraka (Ca.Su.30.13-15), the proper way to preserve Ojas is to maintain the heart and its vessels in good condition. To do this, we must “avoid factors which lead to mental worry” and consume “diet and herbal materials which are conducive to the heart, ojas, and channels of circulation.” Additionally,

“Tranquility and wisdom should be followed meticulously for this purpose….Nonviolence stands the first and foremost among the promoters of longevity of living beings. Semen (sexual fluid) among the promoters of strength; knowledge among the promoters of nourishment; Self Control among the promoters of delightfulness; Understanding of truth among the promoters of happiness and abstinence from sexual acts among those leading to salvation.”

Finally, we have found where Yoga and Āyurveda directly overlap!

Do some of those instructions sound familiar? They echo the 8 Limbs from Patañalī’s Yoga Sūtras as well as the process to acquire “correct knowledge.”


How Does This Relate to Āsana?

The Naḍīs (Dhamanis of Prāṇa) are pathways constructed of Saṃskaras. What this means is that the Śuśumna, Idā, Piñgala are all road maps that appear through correct contemplate of them. ie. If we do not contemplate them, they do not exist. They exist for the purpose of self-realization (Mokṣa). 
 

In Yoga, we direct the Prāṇa born in Hṛdaya, to the Kanda (via Bandhas – the various internal locks – there are more than 3!). We then direct the Prāṇa from the Kanda in all directions via the Dhamanis (allowing the Mind to control the Vāyus – the particular directions Prāṇa flows – up/down/side to side). We allow our senses, which connect to Hṛdaya, to inform whether the intensity (or lack of intensity) is supportive to the current state of our Marmas and we ensure to engage with the intensity in a way that both protects them and strengthens them.


AHA!

To me, this distinction where the absence of this process transforms Yoga into body positions that resemble yoga poses, but will never create the effect of Yoga.

If the postures are not initiated from the center, if we do not become conscious of the Pulsation of the Dhamanis, the sequence becomes another thing to do that has little effect outside of the moment as it can barely have the virya (the potency) to penetrate even the body mass itself!

Balanced sequencing, when action and transitions are initiated from the place where all Prāṇa orients, allows the vāyus to become balanced relative to each other. Remember balance is always relative, so if you don’t know what it is balanced against….it’s just a buzzword.

Additionally, when the movement of the body has no means of orientation, the practice is random – even if the sequence is “balanced!” From this conversation today, perhaps you see why. Prāṇa is not just life force! It can have lifeforce if we engage with it in this way. If we do not, it becomes imbalanced and now we are using Āsana to spread unbalanced Prāṇa throughout the entire body and the heart. ie. we are spreading Vāta throughout the entire body and the Heart. Vāta is very dangerous to the heart as it is a rhythmic organ and Vāta implies a destabilized rhythm. Pumping Vāta there is an incredibly fast way to create long-standing issues.

This is why not all āsana is inherently balancing. If we are moving Vāta instead of Prāṇa, we are in big big trouble.

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