Prana is also known as the breath of life. It is essentially the breath of the Universal Divine Being. It is the life breath which all living beings thrive on. Prana is as important in the tantra as consciousness. Conscious living requires both mindfulness and vital energy. It is the union of consciousness energy with life energy, the union of mind and body, as a complete and total experience of being alive.
Without the prana of life, the vital breath, the consciousness inherent in us cannot be awakened, cannot be developed in the body, and cannot be sustained. We must learn to consciously breathe life in the body. This blends together the energies of consciousness and life, and it produces a sustainable being presence within us. This is the great secret of life and the essential means toward self-realization of divine presence in the body, that is, realization in life and sustained in life. Prana vitally energizes the body and its essential centres of potential.
The tantra understands that all powers of the universe are accessible through the body. The major etheric centres located in the body have the potential capacity to resonate with and accumulate these powers. In one sense, the centres have all these powers or energies locked within, and in another sense, they are digestive and accumulating organs for these cosmic and earth powers. Both views are equally correct, in that the cosmic and earth powers are as much within the body and the earth as they are anywhere else, for they are omnipresent throughout life, though awaiting release and awakening, while they also surround us about the universe and can be introduced into our body and into our life. But either way, something must enter us from outside our own bodies. Either the powers must enter us from the cosmos around us, or the centres of their dormancy must be stimulated or catalyzed from outside us.
The easiest understanding of prana is in the air we breathe. As we consciously breathe in the air around us we can feel our body strengthened. We can feel our body energized. And if we breathe in fully and hold for just a moment we can feel specially this gift of the vitalizing air. There is no doubt that any person can feel specially vitalized and purified by the freshest of air in the countryside, in the forests, or in the mountains. Good quality, fresh air is so important to our lives, that it is so very strange how we do not appear to value it as much as cars and other material goods which end up polluting our precious air. A good dose of fresh prana from the air is worth more than we think to our psyche-physical health.
Yet, this vital earth-life energy, prana, is more than just good air. Prana is actually within all the four elements, according to tantric philosophy. Prana comes from the earth-ground, from fire, from living waters, and from fresh air. It is the vital life essence within all the elements, and it can be taken in and accumulated within one’s body for present or later uses. This prana naturally or automatically enters us from the breathing lungs, from foods and liquids, and from the lowest centre called the Mulad-hara, meaning the bottom power centre, connected with the earth.
This prana moving through us from the earth elements is our living inter-connection with the earth. It is the earth continually moving through us and sustaining us with a vital life energy. This prana is also known as a subtle energy. It is not merely the oxygen of the air or the heat of the fire. It is a subtle form of electromagnetism. Prana cam manifest physically as a measurable electromagnetism, but it often cannot be measured as such, for it is essentially an etheric substance underlying all the elements of matter. It is the etheric substance of life, which vitalizes living forms and helps pattern these forms through its various resonating vibrations. It is not the intelligence of life but the energy vehicle of this patterning intelligence having its source in the dimension of mind. It is, thus, the energetic connection between mind and matter, or potential manifestation and actual manifestation.
Let us take the example of air and oxygen. Oxygen is known to feed us with a needed life energy. This oxygen contains a certain amount of usable pranic energy, but it contains has a large amount of latent prana which can only be tapped under certain conditions. The same is true of water. We normally use only a small part of this total pranic energy. Most of it remains latent and circulates out of the body without being used. But it is possible to untap more of this latent prana within the elements, and then the latent prana becomes an actualized energy, measurable and functional in the body and within its energy system. Only the living body can untap this latent energy, so its transformation from a latent etheric state to an actualized material state can never be measured in isolation by scientic instruments. Nonetheless, we can experience an assimilation and digestion of this etheric prana within the body centres.
Prana is one name for the primal life energy of the earth, found within the earth or within its four elements. But it is not the same as atomic power, chemical power, kinetic power, or light power. It is form of light energy and it does exist within atomic structures, and it can move between matter and transfer across space, but it is a latent, unmeasurable energy, until accumulated and used by living organisms. It is called the life energy, but it is not life, nor actually living. It is the essential food or vital energy for life-processes. It is the primal energy of this living planet. It’s nature is passive and unintentional and it does not organize itself. Yet, it does accumulate in mineral structures and naturally attracts to living organisms and is organized by those intelligences. Living processes attract this prana and the prana is attracted to them.
Prana is a subtle life energy within the elements of the earth. It’s innermost essence is really light energy from the sun and the stars, and the essence of this light is really the eternal pure consciousness into which prana returns in the Crown centre. So, prana is sometimes referred to as solar energy, and yogis can gather prana from the sun, though this is the prana of the fire element and not the quintessence prana. Yet, the earth has gathered and continues to gather this solar prana. It sinks into the earth elements and stores there, awaiting some living organism to gather it for its use. The rocks of the earth store this prana in their granite or crystaline structures.
It stores in plants and trees as well. Large rocks and mountains have a lot of stored prana. The prana stored in the minerals of earth may exhibit a subtle form of electomagnetism, but generally their prana is only realized by living organisms tapping and making use of these latent energies.
Many special places on earth have an extra amount of accessible prana, and the prana more concentratedly flows along the land as lines of energy, known as ley lines. The Chinese call this the chi of the earth, which interpenetrates the body as well, all of which is the linguistic equivalent of prana. The science of earth energies is fascinating but we should hold to the present subject. We can note that the pranic energies are all over the earth, but they are more accumulated and accessible in some special areas, of which there are many more than most people think. The most accessible and positive prana are found in what we can call power sites across the earth.
These places emit a more actualized and usable form of prana. They also have a kind of gravitational attraction to each other which tends to cause the emission of prana to pattern itself in more concentrated lines of least resistance to the other power centres, though these connecting lines usually curve with the ley of the land rather than being completely straight. Opposite to the power sites, also known as energy springs, are power drains, or energy sinks, where the prana of the sun and flowing around the earth is digested into the earth. At these places the prana is in process of being stored and digested deep into the earth. Here, energy is being drained into the earth, while at power centres the energy is being released for use.
So, one kind of place is better for life to gather prana from and thrive in, while the other kind of place is more for composting or letting be. One gives out pranic energy, while the other takes it in. One is a clockwise vortex, viewed from above, while the other is counter-clockwise.
Humans are better off near the energy springs, but many forms of vegetable and insect life actually transmute and thrive on the de-volving energy process at the sinks. The pranic earth energies have two polar tendencies, one of which can be much more dominant than the other. We call these tendencies or qualities magnetism and electricism. The energies may or may not exhibit all of the measurable properties of such terms of physics, but these terms are used because the manifesting prana reveals some analogous properties to the physical phenomena which scientists call magneticism and electricity. Some places have a great amount of electricism, a kind of excitable vital and emotional intensity, while others have more magnetism, a kind of gentle, relaxing, peaceful, and lovely vital-emotional quality of energy. The former areas are known as the power spots, where one goes for recharging and visions. The magnetic areas are places more suited for comfortable living and community, because they tend to have a warm-feeling, cohesive energy. Both of these polar types of areas can be labeled under power sites, though the power of each is different in kind. These are polar opposite kind of places, but they each are positive, having a predominance of the out-going, usable spring energy. A place having more of a balance of these energy properties could be considered a third type of positive site. All other areas of the planet have some combination of the two basic polar types, and they uniquely combine various degrees of positive, out-flowing energy with degrees of negative, digesting energy. Much more can be said of this subject, but what’s most significant to our accumulation of prana is that we can tap into these positive energy currents or place ourselves in appropriate areas for accumulation of prana, either automatically or consciously. We can also gather prana from trees and also through our feet from the very ground we walk upon.
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Prana is also the essential energy of kundalini and shakti. Prana accumulates in the base centre, digested as a form of potential chemical energy which can be actualized and used for body maintenance and can be brought upward into the other centres to energize them. Shakti is an energy term often used synonomously with kundalini, but the kundalini generally refers to this energizing effect upon the other centres. Yet, we prefer to use the term shakti when speaking about the feeling of pleasure and delight within the body. Shakti is considered an earth energy, definitely a physical reality vs. a mental phenomena, and it is considered the spiritual energy of the body. One could think of shakti as a sexualized or exciting form of the basic kundalini, or one could think of kundalini as a base potential form of shakti. Either way is correct.
When the earth energy is accumulated by breath, especially into the Manipura centre, where it is felt as a vital power, usable in one’s activities, it is called prana, though some might call this the shakti power in the Manipura. Energy latent in the base centre and used for natural body functions and felt as a kind of expanding heat energizing the various centres is usually called kundalini. And shakti is mostly used to describe the pleasurable and exciting sensations flowing in and from the sacral centre, or energizing the various centres with a physical delight.
The ancient teachings tell us that prana comes in four essential forms, that is, it exists as one of the four elements of earth, air, water, or fire, and psychophysical health requires a relative balance of these four elemental qualities of prana. The teachings speak of a fifth element called ether, but this is really the quintessence of the four elements, the primal pranic essence of each, which is only distilled in its complete purity through its transmutation into the light of consciousness, accomplished in the higher head centre, the pranic quintessence feeding and opening that centre of consciousness.
Prana from the elements of earth can be actualized from latency and brought into us by the conscious breath. The latent energy is actualized by the power of concentrated or focused consciousness. An analogy can be seen in atomic physics, when certain energies within an atomic element can be released if some other energy is focused into that atomic structure. Focused consciousness acts as a directed form of light energy upon the various earth elements as they enter us through the breath. And this consciousness can not only release the latent prana but can direct it into one of the centres through the breath. Consciousness can direct the prana from the breath to where it is needed. It can even direct prana outward from the body to a place of need, or it can release from the body to the composting earth various waste-products or emotional tensions that stick to the prana. Our main concern now, though, is understanding the accumulation and use of prana within the energy system.
The major digesting and accumulating centre for prana is in the third chakra, known as the Manipura located around the belly area. Yet prana energizes all the centres. We have the ability to intentionally bring more of this prana into us by the conscious use of breath. Through the conscious breath we can draw into us prana from all of the elements, not just air.
Thus, prana, shakti, and kundalini are mostly associated, respectively, with the third, second and first chakras. Prana can be thought of as the primal earth-body energy which vitalizes and awakens all the centres. The centres need this prana to actualize their inherent potentials or uses. The various forms of consciousness inherent in the higher centres require a vital energy to actualize and maintain themselves. Complimenting this need, those higher centres of consciousness are needed to intentionally and intelligently direct and organize the basic prana, shakti or kundalini.
So, both consciousness and vital energy are interdependent and necessary to each other for spiritual evolution. They work together in our spiritual body. Consciousness without body vitality is but a latent, unmanifest potential, and vital energy without conscious intelligence is an unorganized spiritual potential. The goal of tantric practice is to consciously and intelligently use the vital and enjoyable energies of the earth and body, as well as manifest intelligent consciousness right in the body and in the earth. At the polar extremes, pure consciousness of the Crown centre, and from the cosmos surrounding us, is brought down into all the centres, even awakening the potential energy of the base centre, while the energy of the base centre, and its connection to earth prana, rises up, even unconsciously under sufficient conditions, to vitalize the other centres and eventually reach the Crown where it awakens that potential pure consciousness. This interdependent relationship between vitality and higher consciousness can evolve with conscious intention and inner practice, and it can begin in a rudimentary manner or be helped along by certain applied help from outside oneself, as directed by experienced spiritual initiates or masters. Yet, the majority of this spiritual evolution must come from one’s own conscious work and from one’s own physical body, though help from others is always useful.
First, understand that prana comes through the lowest centre and then into the other centres. It naturally saturates the lowest storage centre, producing the power of the kundalini and feeding the overall etheric energy body that maintains health. The kundalini, though, remains as a latent form of energy, until consciously allowed upward through the etheric channel called the sushumna. Yet, prana can also pass freely through the lowest centre and into the sexual centre or into the Manipura centre. One will usually not feel the prana passing through the lowest centre but feel only its vitalizing effect in either of the two other lower centres.
The Manipura, the third centre, is the centre for actually accumulating this prana, digesting its power and eventually distributing it elesewhere or into the active muscular system. Thus, we can intentionally store prana in the Manipura, which is often called the power centre. This is accomplished with conscious breath, consciously breathing the prana into the Manipura, then digesting it through the relaxed and diffusing out breath. It is experienced as a concentration of energy in that centre and a relaxed warm diffusion all around that area.
Spiritual awakening often needs help from outside the body. This help comes in three major forms. One kind of stimulating catalyst comes from other people, from spiritual teachers or healers, who provide certain needed energies of consciousness and love. These compassionate ones, who are already awakened, can help awaken us and provide us with a spiritual love that can help open our own love within. They can also help guide us on our spiritual path or provide certain external conditions that will catalyze the the awakening of our inner spiritual capacities. Such help requires at least some opening of the Heart centre, which is why many gurus stress the importance of loving the teacher.
Yet, this catalyst could also be one’s lover, who helps open love with love and teaches about love through loving. Another form of outside energy may come from cosmic beings or spiritual energies transcendent to this physical dimension. These bring various energies of consciousness and realization into our Crown centre and then into the other higher centres, which help awaken our own latent capacities.
The third form of outside help comes from the earth and the lower kingdoms, especially from trees and power centres around the earth. This is the vital energy of prana, which we can allow or bring into our body, to vitalize and stimulate the various centres and the whole body in general. This is, in a way, the most important or most primary help from outside, because without it no other forms of help are possible. That is why yoga stresses first the importance of breath and prana. Vitality is the ground of all life. Prana is what energizes life and brings forth its development. Prana develops and sustains life. It comes into us from outside us, so we must develop the ability to acquire and accumulate this prana or vital life energy. It vitalizes all our higher centres, and it is the necessary catalyst for their awakening and sustained unfoldment.
There are many kinds of breath practice in the teachings of pranayama and also in kundalini yoga. But in general, it is best to practice an even, natural, gentle, pranic breath, that is also ryhmical and deep. So it is best and safest for breath practices to be without much forcing, and to follow an even, natural and enjoyable rhythm of breath. A natural conscious breath practice can be gauranteed as safe yet also profound in its power to transform our energies in healing ways, and these natural breath practcies can safely be practiced for longer periods of time.
The most important factors in a good breath practice
consciousness in our breathing,
the rhythm and flow of our breathing
the feeling of being charged throughout our whole body with vitality or light.
Breath can be used to increase consciousness and also light. Simply breathe in consciousness, then breath out consciousness. One can do the same with light and also with love.
Natural, unforced and relaxed breath is the best. However a few other kinds of practice can be briefly mentioned. At times it may be useful to employ what is known as a power breath, which is a quicker inhilation and a holding of the breath for a few seconds to feel the prana fully digest, then relaxably release and repeat the rhythm for a minute or so, until one feels completely charged to deal with some immediate situation at hand. Another form of pranayama forces the breath to be continuously full and fast, in a kind of hyperventilation. This is used as a kind of therapy, breaking down stuck patterns or early traumas, but it should only be practiced in a safe place and with someone experienced. Other practices hold and tense the breath in certain areas of the body, but these are not recommended.
Prana can also be directly brought up into the higher centres, through the Manipura, but this should only be done gently, gradually and unforced; otherwise these centres may become over-stimulated which has no use and can be temporally harmful. Some practices, which can more safely be experimented with, are those used for emotional and etheric purification, releasing subtle toxins on the out-breath.
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