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Yoga Breathing (Pranayama) - Prana and the Body

Breath is life. It is one of our most vital functions. Yogis recognize this importance through the Pranayama or Breathing Exercises which is one of the Five Principles of Yoga. They have formulated different Beginner and Advanced Breathing Techniques to help you breathe easier and enjoy a healthier and purer life.

The word Pranayama consists of two parts: Prana and Ayama. Ayama means stretch, extension, expansion, length, breath, regulation, prolongation, restraint and control, describing the action of Pranayama. Prana is energy, the self-energizing force that embraces the body. Pranayama is when this self-energizing force embraces the body with extension, expansion and control.

Prana and the Body

The Astral Body Prana, the life force or vital energy, is the center of all Yoga Practices. Prana is in matter, but is not in the matter. It is in the air, but it is not in oxygen. It is a subtle form of energy carried by the air, food, water and sunlight, and animates all forms of matter. Through the practice of Asanas and Pranayamas, more Prana is taken in and stored in the body bringing great vitality and strength.

Yogis believe that man is composed of five energetic sheaths, also known as Koshas:
  • the drop of divinity at our core
  • the karmic body - our karma with everyone on the planet
  • the astral body where things like spirituality and creativity originate
  • the mental/emotional body
  • physical body
Prana is the vital link between the astral and physical bodies. It is mainly in the Nadis that it flows as shown in the image. It exists both as a positive and negative energy when it is known as "Apana". Prana itself is in afferent impulse, whose nature is to move upward while Apana is efferent and moves downward. When the two are united in the Muladhara Chakra, the Kundalini energy is awakened.

Kundalini and the Nadis

The Nadis are nerve channels or tubes in the astral body through which the Prana flows. Asanas and Pranayamas are designed to purify the Nadis for the Prana to flow freely. If the Nadis are blocked, the Prana cannot flow easily and freely and results to poor health. According to Ancient Yogis, there are about two thousand Nadis. Of all these Nadis, the most important is the Sushumna. The function of the Sushumna can be compared to the functions of the Spinal Cord in the physical body. On either side of the Sushumna are two other Nadis called the Ida and the Pingala which correspond to the sympathetic ganglia of the Spinal Cord as shown in the cross-section of the spinal vertebra. Kundalini, which is a dormant or static energy and is depicted as a coiled snake, is located at the base of the Sushumna in the Muladhara Chakra. This energy is awakened by the practice of Pranayama and other Yogic Practices.

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Article Comments
Saturday 26th April 2008 at 10:53:39 AM  

I would like to point out an error in this article. In the article it is stated that yogis believe that the being is made up of a total of 3 bodies.

In yogic philosphy it is believed that the being is made up of 5 bodies or energetic sheaths called Koshas.

The first is the drop of divinity at our core
the next is the karmic body - our karma w/everyone on the planet
the next is the astral body where things like spirituality and creativity originate
the next is the mental/emotional body
finally the 5th is our physical body.
The astral body is the intermediary between our higher and lower selves, as the heart chakra is the intermediary between our higher and lower chakras/higher and lower aspects of our nature.
To see some beautiful yoga jewelry that integrates your chakras visit To see a gorgeous necklace that represents and integrates the 5 koshas visit

Thursday 14th October 2010 at 5:48:53 AM  

There seems to be some confusion with the information presented on this page, not aided by the above comment. In yoga philosophy are 2 energetic models: that of the 3 ''bodies'' (Sharira), and the 5 sheaths (pancha kosha). The three bodies are: Sthula Sharira (Gross body), Sukshma Sharira (Subtle body) and Karana Sharira (Causal Body). The five sheaths are: annamayakosha (''food'' or physical sheath), pranamayakosha (energetic sheath), manomayakosha (''mind'' sheath), vijnanamayakosha (''understanding'' sheath) and anandamayakosha (''bliss'' sheath). The two systems do fit together - most commonly the food sheath is seen as being equivalent to the gross body, the bliss sheath to the causal body, and the subtle body being equivalent to the middle three sheaths, however different authors disagree about the placement of the energy sheath in the sharira system. A good explanation can be found in Feuerstein''s ''The Yoga Tradition''. Hope this helps.

Thursday 14th October 2010 at 7:29:30 AM  

The system of five ''sheaths'' originates in the Taittiriya-Upanishad. The translations of the list I gave in the previous post can be noted in the translation of the following passage...
Tait Up 2.8: He who is here in a man and he who is there in the sun-they are one and the same. After a man who know this departs from this world-he first reaches the self (atman) that consists of food, then the self that consists of lifebreath, then the self that consists of mind, then the self that consists of perception, and finally the self that consists of bliss (Olivelle, 1996, p.189). These are the ''sheaths'' which are commonly agreed upon in both yogic and academic circles. The three ''bodies'' (shariras) are also common to Vedanta and Samkhya (Yoga) philosophy. Karma is said to reside in the subtle body (sukshma sharira), as it moves with one from life to life.

Tuesday 26th July 2011 at 6:07:48 PM  

Thank you very much for this article. very informative, but yet simple to follow. I have read it several time and finally decided I need to save a print for myself.
Thank you!

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