Prana as a general term refers to the life force that flows through all things. Of the five primary pranas in the body, two pranas – the prana and apana– are regarded as the most important.
Where does parana live? Above the navel – it accumulates at the base of the heart
Function: The expansion of our lungs and inspiration
Why do we need it? When you are full of prana you’re ready for life and charged with energy, your respiration is open and your mind is positive
Where does apana live? Below the navel
Function: Governs all functions that help with elimination through the rectum, the bladder, the colon and the genitals
Why do we need it? To help us eliminate toxins It gives you the ability to know what you need to retain and what you need to let go of.
These two forces or energies are opposed yet complementary. In Kundalini Yoga, we apply the bandhas (or the body locks) in order to bring these two energies into balance. This is done to boost the health and functioning of the body, and to bring the mind into a state of stillness.
The exhalation is moved by an energy known as apana. The apana wind is a force for expelling from the body, usually taking the form of a downward contracting movement. Its home is the pelvic floor, so the impulse to exhale originates from a point at the center of the pelvic floor.
The inhalation is moved by the energy of prana vayu in the opposite direction. Although the inhalation draws the breath down into the body, the energy of the inhalation is at the same time experienced as rising within and spreading like the opening of a lotus flower.
The act of breath control or what is known as pranayama in yoga, brings together the apana and the prana and balances the two energies by retaining the effect of one even while the other is in motion.
The movement of apana is outward and is grounding. The apana vayu puts down roots through the foundation of the body, such as through the sitting bones. The movement of prana, on the other hand, is inward and upward, bringing a lift, opening and expansion.
Prana is the vital air above the navel and apana is the vital air below the navel
When we inhale, the air moves downward into our lungs, but the energy moves upward in the main channels of the body called the Nadis. These are 2 forces in us which are positive and negative – they are in turn governed by the Ida and the Pingala – Left and Right
Ida is the left channel, feminine, cold, related to the moon
Pingala is the right channel, masculine, hot, related to the sun and running from
Sushumna is the central channel that runs along the spinal column.
So how do we heal? A lot of healing takes place when we re arrange the flow of prana in our bodies in an appropriate manner. Under the pressure of mixing the prana and the apana together, we bring the kundalini up through the central nerve called the shushumna. By blending the pranas appropriately, we can regulate our moods and expand our mental capacity – this is how our kundalini (our potential rises)
So why is it so important?
The first thing we ever did when we were born was to inhale. The last thing we will ever do when we die is to exhale. In between we are part of a journey called life, and the manner in which we breathe will dictate the quality of our life.
Our experiences along the way help us cultivate many breath patterns, some that serve us well, but many that don’t serve us in the long term. If we can learn to master the quality of our breath, we can in turn experience a greater quality of life. It isn’t our mind that controls our breath, it’s actually our breath that controls the mind that in turn influences our thoughts, our emotions, our decisions and even the food we crave.
Yogic Scriptures tell us that our life span is determined by the amount of breaths we have been allocated in this lifetime, not necessarily by the amount of years we are destined to live. If we can master the quality of our breath, we can in turn master the quality and the quantity of our years on this Earth.
Personally, I have manages to control my stress levels so that they no longer overwhelm me, simply by making my breath fox part of my everyday meditation ritual. Have you had any positive breath experiences? I’d love to hear them below.