In yoga philosophy, both energy (prana) and consciousness (citta) are considered to evolve directly out of cosmic intelligence (mahat). Mahat is the universal intelligence of Nature. The rocks have universal intelligence. Every leaf has it. Every cell of every creature has it. It is all pervasive and infinite. The genius of nature’s intelligence is self-expression. That is why nature is infinitely varied, infinitely inventive. Prana is our link to this infinite intelligence. What a shame it is that we have such access and ignore its use and development. We are like someone with a vast fortune locked in a numbered bank account who forgets the number and so must scrape by in poverty. We live within our individual consciousness with its limited intelligence, often feeling lonely and puny, when there is a conduit available directly to cosmic consciousness and intelligence. Through this conduit flows prana, joining each individual among us to the highest original principle of Nature.
I remember the moment I knew with firm conviction that I would dedicate myself to asana practice in a major way. It was a summer afternoon in Manhattan. I had just finished taking class and I was walking to catch the crosstown bus.
I looked like just another person walking down Third Avenue, but inwardly I felt completely lit up, alive with an energy that was sweetly pulsing throughout my entire body. It was as if I were a string of lights around a Christmas tree that had just been plugged in. I was compelled to just be with the experience. I found the nearest place to sit which happened to be a concrete landing outside of an office building. I paused for a while, enjoying this extraordinary state of being.
More than 20 years later that image, and the feeling that gave rise to it, has stayed with me. It has become more familiar over the years in varying degrees. I recognize it not only as a cool after-effect of practice but also as a tangible reminder that through asana we are awakening consciousness and expanding prana in the body.
Prana Shakti is the vital force, the life energy within us and all sentient beings. Akin to chi in the Chinese system, ki in Japanese, and ruach in the Judaic tradition, Prana is recognized as the animating, enlivening power of spirit.
Prana pulses within us in the form of the breath, it moves the fluids that flow through our bodies and enliven our organs. It powers the movement of our minds, emotions, our senses and our subconscious. It is the energy of connectivity and communication that coordinates all our bodily functions and systems. Everything about our aliveness is powered by prana. When we talk about energy in yoga, we are referring to prana.
Alignment-Based Asana and Prana
Alignment-based asana practice is grounded in the notion that we all have a particular organization of our musculo-skeletal body that is optimal. This includes the placement of our skeletal structure in relationship to gravity, the positioning of our bones in relation to their joints, and the relationship between bones and muscles.
On a physical level, the closer we move toward and can sustain this optimal alignment of our bones and muscles, the greater our ability to support easeful movement and healthy biomechanics and the more we support health, healing and recovery from injury. The farther we veer away from it, the more imbalances are created and entrenched, and the more likely we are to get injured in practice.
Energetically, the more optimal our musculo-skeletal alignment is, the more the prana can flow freely supporting greater connectivity, immunity, overall vitality and well-being. When we are out of healthy alignment, prana gets blocked. In many ways, alignment-based practice is about moving the body into a more optimal alignment to allow for the flow of prana to move fully through the system. This affects us on all levels, since prana not only enlivens every structure and system of the body but also powers the mind.
Furthermore, as we become physically stronger and more flexible as a result of asana practice done with healthy biomechanics, I feel that we also become stronger “energetic” containers to hold increased flow and movement of prana through our subtle systems and reflect the vital power of spirit more fully through the body.
How do you experience the movement of prana in your body and through your being?