What is Prana?

Satisfying the question ‘what is prana’ can be difficult for the analytical, scientific mind. After all, you can’t see it, you can’t smell it, you can’t hear it, or even taste it … Nor does it register on any scientific instruments we’ve invented so far. …


But it’s there… everywhere you could possibly look, and all the places you might not think to as well…

So, What is Prana Then?

Prana refers to the essential subtle energy that underlies all of reality.  Well if that sounds important to you, you’re starting to get the picture. Let’s take a closer look at this mysterious energy …

The word prana can be broken into its Sanskrit roots, pra which means ‘prior’ or ‘to have previous existence’, and ana, which refers to a singular element, that basic unit, anu (or atom), which lies at the very foundation of everything. In this sense, the word prana literally implies that which is the ‘precursor of’ or ‘prerequisite for’ manifestation or material life.

It can be very easy to get all twisted up in semantics and logical gymnastics when discussing the concept of “universal energy”. Let’s remember that with prana we’re dealing with something that is by all accounts a fair bit beyond our human capacity to fully understand… or at least to satisfactorily define with words…

… So with that in mind, we can best understand prana by stepping back, squinting (cuts down on the ‘glare’) and taking in a bit broader view of the landscape…

The Life-Force

It is precisely the action of prana, that ‘life-giving force’, which gives birth to the world and its entire range of phenomenon. With the broad vantage-point that we’ve taken up, we could simply see prana as the total sum of ‘energy’ that enlivens the human being and all of nature.

Sure, we can’t see prana with the naked eye. I suppose that theoretically scientists may one day be able to develop the right instruments in order to detect it. But that would also suppose that they know what they are looking for… which is another matter altogether.

… But just because we cannot ‘see’ prana, we should be no less certain of its existence. Just as we know the wind by its effects on the trees, so too can we just as easily know prana through its effects. With every thought, every word and every movement of life we see the action of prana.

How Do We Acquire This Life-Force?

“The wise men do not talk about the capacity of uttering words, about the sight, the hearing, or meditation; they speak only of the different types of pranas that make all these things possible. For all the rest is nothing but the manifestations of prana.”

~ The Charaka Samhita

As human beings, we receive this ‘life-giving’ prana most abundantly through the air that we breathe. But it’s also in the food we eat and the water we drink. We absorb it in other ways too, such as through the skin.

But don’t get confused…

The modern mind has an irresistible tendency to answer the question, what is prana, by trying to translate prana into those theoretical models of science with which we are already familiar.

In yoga, the control of the breath is often synonymous with pranayama, yet the breath itself is not prana either. I.K. Taimni, in “The Science of Yoga,” makes a good distinction between the breath and prana, and also points out an important connection.

“Though prana is different from the breath, as electric current is different from the movement of the blades of an electric fan, still there is a close connection between to two – a connection which enables us to manipulate the currents of prana by manipulating the breath.”

What is Prana, But Life Itself?

In Western science the nature of life is still a mystery. In the yogic understanding, the difference between an uninjured corpse whose organs and muscles are still perfectly intact but lifeless, and a healthy living human being is simply the presence or absence of ‘life energy’, that which they call prana.

What is Prana? …

“’God is breath’ is the oldest Sanskrit writing… The Hebrew mystic states ‘God breathed into Man the Breath of Life and he became a living Breath.’

To be ‘in breath’ is to be ‘in God’. The Greek word for the taking in of the breath, ‘in-spiro’ means to be ‘in Spirit’. The taking of breath is a holy, divine function and those who aspire to Divinity must master Pranayama, the Yoga of Controlled Breathing.”

~ Swami Gitananda Giri Gurumaharaj

What is prana, but also the great missing link for Western philosophy. Philosophers have long searched for an explanation of the mind-body connection…

… the interface between thoughts and feelings that are ephemeral and have no physical manifestation on the one hand, and on the other the body that acts in the physical world, under the influence of the former.

… That interface is none other than the prana of the yogis.

Pranayama Yoga

All of the efforts that the yogi makes to increase, store and manipulate this life-giving force make up that area of yoga called pranayama yoga

Back to Basic Yoga Information from What is Prana

Back to homepage from What is Prana