The essence of prana

By A. G. Mohan and Dr. Ganesh Mohan

To channel prana and control the mind, we have to transform the activity of the body, breath, and senses

The mind is an experience — the experience of thoughts and emotions, which pass in rapid succession. But for the functioning of the mind, body and senses, we need energy or life force. This subtle life force that we cannot see with our eyes or other gross senses is given the name prana. This prana is responsible for all life functions, and in turn, is rooted in the presence of consciousness behind the body and mind. Our connection with our mind and body begins with that feeling, “I,” but that is not the prana. That feeling “I” lies at the root of our experiences in the mind and body. We notice happy thoughts and feelings in the mind. We notice unhappy thoughts and feelings in the mind. We feel pleasantness, tiredness, or pain in the body.

We taste the food we eat and enjoy it. But once the food is in our stomach and intestines, we do not perceive all the steps of it being digested. The functions of the prana are usually not within our direct experience, yet we understand through inference that these life functions are proceeding within us. If I don’t want to see something, I can close my eyes and prevent my eyes from seeing it. However, once I have ingested a meal, I cannot decide not to digest it. “Let me stop the digestion of the food within me that is happening now,” is not a practical goal for an ordinary person. That is, the functioning of prana is generally outside of our direct voluntary control.

The root of the word prana means ‘to lead or to go’. The flux that forms the basis of life, the constant momentary changes that happen in the body, mind, and senses, are led and supported by prana. We cannot stop this flux or flow of life-force, or prana; we can only direct or channel it. Instead of prana being scattered, we can direct it to bring about specific transformation in the body and mind.

To channel prana and control the mind, we have to transform the activity of the body, breath, and senses. Asana transforms the body along with the breath. Our breath plays a key role, since it is linked to our mind, senses and body. We begin this with control of breath in asanas and extend it in pranayama practice. The root of pranayama is the subtle experience of the breath.

Practising gradually more refined pranayama is a pathway to the experience of prana. This is a form of inner sensation that should be pleasant and easy. As the mind settles onto that feeling, it leads to progressively greater inner awareness and senses are drawn inward, away from the distractions that beckon from without. Thus sense control becomes easy. As the sensation of prana within is pleasant and easy, mental focus on it is not difficult. With steady practice, the mind gains the nature of being consistently focused.

This article appeared in The Hindu newspaper.