What is Prana?

Bob Hubbard

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From MartialTalk Online Martial Arts Encyclopedia Project

In Hinduism, Prana (Devanagari: प्राण, prāNa) is the infinite matter of which Odic force|energy is born. Also interpreted as the vital, life-sustaining force of both the individual body and the universe. Its first expounding came in the Upanishads, where it is part of the worldly, physical realm, sustaining the body and the mother of thought and thus also of the mind. Prana suffuses all living form but is not itself the Atman|Atma or individual soul.

According to Telles (2005) ancient Indian and Chinese texts contains an understanding of subtle energies (prana or chi) which operates outside of a western understanding of physiology. According to this worldview prana is understood to flow through a network of channels or meridians, so-called nadis. The three main channels are: the ida, the pingala, and the sushumna. The ida and pingala channels are said to correlate with left and right uninostril breathing. If Prana enters a period of uplifted, intensified activity, the Yogic tradition refers to this stage of Prana as Pranotthana (Sovatsky, 1998).

The popular understanding of prana as being the same as air, or the breath of the human body, could be said to be a misunderstanding, or a simplification of the concept. The incorrect assumption that Prana is breath arises from the popular understanding of the practice of Pranayama, in which the control of Prana is achieved (initially) from the control of one's breathing. According to Yogic philosophy the breath, or air, is merely a gateway to the world of prana and its manifestation in the body. In Yoga, pranayama techniques are used to control the movement of these vital energies within the body, which is said to lead to an increase in vitality in the practitioner. However, the practice of these techniques is not trivial, and Kason (2000) mentions circumstances where pranayama techniques might disrupt the balance of a person's life. The possibility of adverse effects resulting from these techniques must therefore not be underestimated.

In practical terms, prana can be explained in various ways. Feelings of hunger, thirst, hot, cold, etc. in the body could, according to this worldview, be interpreted as pranic manifestations. All physical feelings or energies that arise or flow within the body might also be interpreted as evidence that prana is at work. The presence of prana is said to be what distinguishes a living body from a dead one. When a person (or any other living being such as an animal) dies, the prana, or life force, is thought to leave the body through one of several orifices.

Prana is also a term which can be further classified into subcategories, referred to as pranas. According to Hindu philosophy these are the vital principles of basic energy and subtle faculties of an individual that sustain physiological processes. There are five 'Pranas' or vital currents in the Hindu system : Prana, Apana, Vyana, Udana and Samana. The pranas constitute the second sheath (kosa) of a human being (who is essentially the Atman or the Self). The kosas are listed below.


Senior Master
Oct 25, 2002
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In the Indian philosophical system known as Vedanta, prana is treated as something along the lines as an intermediary or a bridge between the "gross" body and the "subtle" mind.


Xue Sheng

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Jan 8, 2006
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First I agree with heretic888 definition under the philosophical system Vedanta

If youre talking yoga, and comparing it to Qi, prana is seen as the breath which is seen as one of the life-giving energies or forces of the universe

It can also be understood as a process of breath control

And it can also be called pranayama

First talked about in the Upanishads

Its meaning in Hindu is `breath of life'


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Dec 13, 2006
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I have a site that will help explain how the approach of Prana is used both for the medicine an helth sid ethat will help you understnd what i going on with the breath an movement of Prana through the kidney connected channels. There is a cycle kinds lead by the breath over certain period of days.

This link explains it better than i could.