Prana: Energy Meditation for Health and Higher Consciousness
"Let the irresistible current of universal energy come like the impetuous south wind of spring, let it come rushing over the vast field of the life of man, let it bring the scent of many flowers, let our newly awakened powers cry out for unlimited fulfillment in leaf and flower and fruit." - Tagore
It goes by different names depending on who you ask… energy, spirit, chi, mana, prana, or “the force.” We all experience it in different ways through its expression in nature and our cultures. Rather than try to define what it is or even where it comes from (a lifetime of contemplation), here we can focus on (1) how energy works in our daily lives and (2) establishing a scientific mindfulness meditation practice that creates health and awareness of universal consciousness by drawing energy into the body.
First, we can build a foundation for health with an awareness of how this energy works. Ancient Yoga texts describe prana as the intelligent life force that animates all things. In our world, the sun is an obvious representation of that life-giving power. In addition, you can feel it in each breath of air, the movement of rivers and waves, a breathtaking view from a forested mountaintop, and of course in every living creature. Ayurveda (the sister science to yoga), uses these same elements of prana (from most to least dense - earth, water, fire, air and ether) to define how the organs and internal subtle energy systems (meridians/chakras) of the body work. We can describe ether as the most subtle (lightest) variation of prana, accessible to us through breathing exercises (pranayama) and meditation.
Note: In Sanskrit, prana has three translations depending on its context: energy, life and breath, signifying how important proper breathing is for the individual to feel alive and energized. Pranayama (yama means control) translates to both energy control (discipline and willpower) and breath control (exercises). Remember to be gentle, don’t force the life force, it comes as you are ready.
Before we go into the actual practice, it’s essential to have a fundamental breathing baseline through what’s known as diaphragmatic breathing (DB), deep breathing, or belly breathing, which is perhaps the most important physical skill that you can practice for attaining health. Often times, we can get in the habit of shallow breathing, using only the upper half of the lungs around the chest, which can lead to excess stress. In order to practice DB, slowly exhale all the air from your lungs, then breathe in through your nose sending the air to your belly so that it expands like a balloon, exhale and repeat. Remember to maintain a gentle steady flow of air in and out. You can practice DB while walking, sitting, making food, working, driving, working out, laying down, etc. DB alone can improve many health conditions and give peace of mind.
Prana Meditation Practice
“Even afterward, though the dance of creation changes all around me in the hall of eternity, I stay the same.” - Anandamayi Ma
This meditation comes directly from a rediscovered tradition of yogis who kept it secret for thousands of years and passed it on only to their most advanced students when they were ready. In the last 100 years, as yoga has gained a foothold in the Western world, the disciples of these traditions (for this practice, Yogananda and the Kriya Yoga lineage) have encouraged the public to practice because these yoga skills are invaluable for stress reduction, improving health and living well in the modern world. It goes without saying, these practices are powerful for transforming body and mind, and as such dangerous when practiced inappropriately. So, proceed with respect and kindness in your heart.
This meditation has three main parts, (1) breathing exercises (pranayama), (2) silent internal mantra (harmonic sound) and (3) stillness (being one with the infinite universe).
Find a quiet place in your home or in nature where you can sit quietly without interruptions of people and technology. You can set up an altar, light a candle and some incense if you please. (You decide the time limit, 20-30 minutes 2x daily before and after bed is recommended).
Figure out how to sit comfortably on a chair or cushion with your spine unsupported by a backrest (unless you have a spinal condition, the you can use a backrest and cushion to support your lower spine or lay down on a flat surface so that your spine is supported.)
Make sure your spine is vertical from your tailbone to the top of your head (allowing for the natural curve of your spine.)
Close your eyes and allow your body to relax while maintaining good posture and natural rhythmic breathing (it’s ok if you twitch or fidget, just keep coming back to stillness) only using muscles that keep you upright.
Take stock of your energetic state (happy, sad, thankful, hungry, satisfied) and move on. It’s best to go into the practice feeling emotionally balanced and calm, by letting go of the outside world for this period of time and going to your “Happy Place.”
Start DB for 5-10 breaths, then begin to use your full lung capacity, filling your lungs from the bottom up, then emptying them from the top down for 5-10 breaths (Full Yogic Breath). You can imagine the breath flowing in and out like a wave.
Now using this same extended DB technique of filling and emptying lungs to capacity, add a short breath retention in between inhales and exhales with a 1:1:1 ratio of in-hold-out for 6 or 12 rounds, no more (Equal Count Breathing). Remember to listen to your body and find a count that works for you, starting with 4 seconds in, 4 seconds holding, 4 seconds out, increasing by 4 seconds to 8 second intervals, 12, 16, 20, and so on to find an interval that is useful to you. As you body adapts to this practice, you can increase the intervals to 30 seconds, remembering to be gentle, not to push, and allowing your body to evolve in due time.
After completing these equal count breathing rounds, exhale completely and tense the whole body three times. These breathing exercises still mind and body to prepare for deep concentration in meditation.
Resume your body’s natural flow of breathing in and out without attempting to change it, just observing it.
Focus on imagining a glowing light between your eyebrows, and as you inhale silently say “hongg,” imagining energy traveling up your spine and feeding that radiant point of focus, and as you exhale silently say “saaah,” imagining that light traveling down your spine and through your entire body as warm, tingling waves of bliss. In Sanskrit, the hong-sau mantra means “I am spirit” and these are seed sounds that resonate with body.
Focus on listening to the sound AUM (om) resonating in you (without chanting vocally or mentally). This can be tricky at first and takes practice. If you enjoy hearing the sound om, you can start and end this practice chanting it and/or listening to a recording of it. AUM is the vibration of creation, the sound the underlies all forms and is manifesting energetic force in the universe. Listening to it can make you feel calm and centered.
Finally, let go of these techniques and just sit still resting the body and mind, letting go of thoughts and allowing yourself to experience the oneness of the universe, in you, here and now.
That’s all folks! If you would like to learn more about meditation, find a yoga center/meditation group near you. Autobiography of a Yogi is a great book to start with. Remember to be kind and stay persistent. Perspiration leads to inspiration.
Remember to use common sense! Disclaimer: This information is not a substitute for medical advice and is for educational purposes only.
About Peter Fettis
As a Registered Yoga Teacher and and Certified Personal Trainer, Peter practices optimizing human potential as a way of life. His latest book How to Eat Well and Love Yourself dives into the practical principles of mindfulness and plant-based nutrition to give you a taste of the abundant harvest from the mind's inner garden of awareness. Peter’s vision with FlowPrana is to make waves in the current culture by rallying the wider public to recognize their inner healing power using a proactive, gentle approach.