The 5 Pranas
1. Samana and Vyana
Having consumed and digested a certain amount of knowledge on the 5 pranas during my teacher training with Zuna Yoga and also from reading the likes of David Frawley’s ‘Yoga and Ayurveda’, I was inspired to delve deeper and discover more about the subtle differences which exist between them.
‘Prana’ is taken in its most basic form to mean ‘energy’, and we as humans use the five forms of this energy effectively as a means to connect with the universal experiences that are the physicality and consciousness of being. Frawley outlines how the one dominant force of prana within us divides into five separate types which can be categorized according to their movement and direction, and in this blog series we will delve into each pranas individual role and effects within the body in context to the whole.
Prana, Apana, Udana, Samana, and Vyana serve as a means to help us digest and assimilate with all elements of our environment. It’s interesting to consider these actions in terms of elements outside of food and water, something which I had never ever considered before I began to glean an understanding of the pranas.
Outside of the breath, oxygen or air, prana refers to the overall life force which sustains both mind and body and has the power to maintain equilibrium between them. While food and sustenance are included in the ‘balancing air’ of Samana, which works predominantly in the gastrointestinal tract digesting food, it also refers to other areas which deal with digestion – namely the digestion of oxygen through the lungs, and the digestion of experiences in the mind. Whether emotional, mental or physical, the correct and balanced functioning of this particular prana is vital to achieving and maintaining a balanced lifestyle.
Moving towards the midline of the body from the periphery inwards, one can imagine the digestive actions of Samana in terms of inhaling and exhaling, in terms of ingesting food, and also in terms of other sensory experiences – sight, sound, smell and touch. These actions all require the assimilation of an external sensation with the internal body as it currently exists, and as such the inward flowing direction of Samana means that it is the primary prana, or energy, required to do so.
A similarly fascinating combination of movements and energy can be observed in Vyana, which aids in circulation and continuation of energy throughout the body. Having established that movement is key to living and maintaining a steady balance, it follows that one of the main pranas must deal with this continuity of motion throughout the body – be it food and water moving through the digestive process, oxygen moving through the lungs, or thoughts and emotions through the mind. This is Vyana’s role.
Cogs and Wheels
The subtle differences between these two pranic energies (Samana and Vyana) is important to be aware of when attempting to understand the power of prana, the combined functioning of which must be broken down to ensure achievement of optimum expression and balance within the body. When Samana’s role ceases after the ingestion of sensory experience, Vyana kickstarts the movement of this externally sourced energy around the internal body. In a way it’s kind of like the cogs in a machine coming into action as their individual role becomes necessary to ensure correct functioning of the whole task. Similarly, for just one of these cogs to be even slightly off or imbalanced in its alignment, the machine does not function to the best of it’s capability.
Having experienced in the past what I have now come to understand as severe imbalances of these energies, manifesting itself within my tiny and self-absorbed world at the time as varying degrees of depression and anxiety, it follows that my fascination with this particular aspect of yoga and energy consumption is ongoing and ever-expanding.
The other 3 prana, Apana, Udana, and Prana itself are similarly linked and we will continue the discussion of them in the next post.