Different methods of regulating prana

Modern Ayurveda

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There are various methods of manipulating and influencing the flow of prana throughout the whole psychic body. The Chinese developed the two systems of acupuncture and tai chi chu'an to bring the pranic system into balance1. In the system of tai chi chu'an a series of dynamic movements are utilized. There are various systems in vogue today, though it is said to have been originated by San Fung Chang. The movements are so designed to bring the negative and positive forces (yin and yang) of the pranic body into balance and coordination. This in turn calms the mind and allows the state of meditation to spontaneously flower.

In yoga the practices of pranayama and asanas are utilized to bring about the same results. Asanas manipulate and harmonize the energies in the physical and pranic body as well as the mind. If asanas are performed correctly then pranayama is automatically done without effort. In this way there is a direct influence on the human framework via both the physical and pranic body. In pranayama, on the other hand, regulation of the mind and body is accomplished through manipulation of the pranic body by means of the breath. Both pranayama and asanas aim at the same thing. Pranayama has the greatest influence on the mind, however, for it acts through the pranic body which is more intimately linked to the mind than is the physical body.

If one practises the various meditational techniques, then the aim is to bring about relaxation of the mind through the medium of the mind itself. This in turn has repercussions on the pranic body and in turn on the physical body.

In kriya yoga all these different approaches are combined. One simultaneously practises physical movements, specific static body positions and pranayama as well as various meditational practices. This is why kriya yoga is so effective in bringing about changes in one's being.

The nadis or psychic passages The nadis are pathways along which prana or bioplasmic energy travels. In acupuncture these pathways are known as meridians (at least in modern western terminology). Various ancient yogis said that there are seventy two thousand nadis in the psychic body. Others said the number is in the region of three hundred and twenty thousand. Whatever the number, we can definitely say that they are numerous.

Of these nadis three are particularly important. They are known as the ida, pingala and sushumna. The most important one is the sushumna, which runs within the spine2. It should not be confused with or identified with the physical spine that we are normally aware of. This nadi runs from the region of the perineum (between the anus and sexual organs) to the region of the brain. It connects the mooladhara chakra (chakra meaning pranic or psychic centre) in the perineum to ajna (mid-brain) chakra at the top of the spine passing through various other chakras en-route. Again these chakras should not be regarded as physical entities; they are part of the bioplasmic or pranic body. As such they are located within but are not of the physical body.

Emanating from the left side of the mool-adhara chakra and passing through the intervening chakras in turn in a curving, crisscrossing path, finally ending up on the left side of the ajna chakra, is the ida nadi. Emerging from the right side of the mooladhara chakra and passing in a similar but opposite sense to that of the ida nadi, up to the right side of ajna, is the pingala nadi.

The ida and pingala nadis are the pathways of the two different aspects of prana. They represent the two opposite poles of the same energy. The ida is denoted as being negative and is also known as the chandra (moon) nadi. The pingala, on the other hand, is positive and is often called the surya (sun) nadi. Associated with these two nadis are various attributes or qualities. Some of these are as follows:



























These two nadis are associated with the two nostrils: pingala with the right and ida with the left. The ancient yogis, with their detailed awareness of the human body, found that the flow of breath did not pass equally through each nostril. In fact at any given time it was more than likely that the flow of air through one nostril would be greater than the other nostril. This is an aspect of our body that even physiologists have never seriously researched. No one seems to have asked the question: "Why have we got two nostrils?" There should be a good reason and perhaps it is directly related to ida and pingala. Incidentally, the reader can test this for himself taking care to remove all mucus from the nose. Merely block each of the nostrils in turn and you should find that the flow is greater through one than the other. If you don't find this to be so, then try at a later time for occasionally the flows are equal.

The yogis of antiquity discovered that when the left nostril had the predominant flow of air then the pranic flow in ida nadi was also predominant. And when the right nostril had the greatest flow the pingala had the greatest flow of prana. The flow of air through the nostrils and consequently the pranic flow continually alternates. Under normal conditions the flow through the left nostril is predominant for about an hour and then the right flow becomes predominant for about an hour. During changeover from one to the other, flows are equal and the prana flows through the sushumna nadi. This generally lasts for a few minutes. These flows can also be artificially altered in response to individual needs. The study of these flows, their meaning and implications in life is the subject of the science of swara yoga1.

Each of us fluctuates between periods of mental and physical activities. Generally, because of the type of work that each of us does we tend to either do too much mental work or too much physical work. We are either too introverted or too extroverted. There are times when we attempt mental work yet find it more difficult than usual. We generally force ourselves and end up with a headache or in a bad mood. At other times we want to do some physical work yet our mind is not on the job; we are thinking of everything else but the physical work involved. At other times just the opposite is the case - mental work comes easily and without effort; or conversely we can do physical work with zest and enthusiasm. There are auspicious times when we are tuned in to certain types of work. If we are introverted then we are more likely to successfully undertake mental tasks; if we are extroverted then we are more likely to accomplish physical or active work with more success.

A sure indicator of which type of work is suitable is the predominant flow of air in the nostrils. If the right nostril has the greatest flow then we are most likely to be actively inclined. We are more suited to physical work. The mind is extroverted and the body generates more heat. If the left nostril has the greatest flow then the mind is introverted and any kind of mental work can be undertaken. During sleep ida is dominant. If pingala is flowing it is normally more difficult to sleep. Ideally during meal times pingala should flow. If it doesn't then the digestive processes may not be as efficient as they should be.

These two aspects of prana, which are particularly characterized by the flows in the ida and pingala nadis, represent the two most obvious characteristics of each human: the abilities to think and act2. The flow of breath through these nostrils and the flow of prana through their corresponding nadis greatly influence our lives. Generally the flows are involuntary, but it is possible to manipulate the flows using willpower and various yogic techniques. One of these techniques is prana-yama, in particular nadi shodhana stage 23.

One can make either of the air flows predominate for a specific reason. For example, if there is work to be done but we feel sleepy, it is possible to muster the necessary physical energy by artificially activating the flow of air in the right nostril and curbing the flow in the left nostril. This in turn ensures that pingala is dominant and that ida is subservient. However, under ideal circumstances the flow in each nostril should be dominant for a total of about twelve hours over each daily cycle of twenty-four hours. Under these circumstances one is neither too physically or mentally active.

In yoga practices the usual aim is to make the flow in each nostril exactly the same. Again, this is done by means of pranayama. When the flow of air is equal in each nostril then the flow in the ida and pingala nadis is also the same. Under these conditions prana begins to flow in the sushumna, the most important nadi in the bioplasmic body. This is the most auspicious time for the spontaneous occurrence of meditation. In fact, it is said that prana must start to flow in the sushumna for the experience of meditation to take place. Without this, meditation cannot occur. Under these circumstances one is neither too physically restless nor bombarded with excessive thoughts. One is content in the middle point between the two extremes. This is why pranayama is so important in yoga. It is an excellent tool in preparing the body and mind so that they become a perfect receiver of higher awareness. Prana-yama practices help to prepare the ground for meditation.

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