Prana and Yoga Asana
Yoga asana is not an external form created to get you more likes on Instagram. They are a set of various shapes designed to activate powerful internal actions that create more space and alignment throughout the skeletal, muscular and nervous system. Each form is designed so that the practitioner may increase their perception and experience of Prana, or life energy.
Often times Prana is mistaken for the breath.
However, Prana is not the breath, the breath is merely a vehicle for Prana. Prana, life energy, exists in everything – including and especially in the spaces between things. From the rocks, to the trees to the ocean and mountain tops. There is even Prana in the skyscrapers that block out the sunlight and the asphalt that soaks it up. In quantum physics it is both the wave and the particle – interchangeable as both physical matter and unseen energy. It is the universal and mysterious energy that interconnects and underlies everything.
Prana is not good or bad and it makes no judgement calls. However, like electricity, there are materials and forms that are more conducive to the flow of Prana and materials that are less conducive. The work of Yoga asana is to make the physical form of the body more conducive to the flow and perception of this life energy. This then affects all the other layers (Koshas) of existence as well. This is why I tell my students the science of Yoga Asana is Magic. In observing the intricate internal actions of Yoga asana you transform your body into a Pranic alchemy machine that creates internal combustible reactions throughout the various layers of existence.
The Purpose of Yoga Asana
In every Yoga Asana exists every other Yoga Asana. Correct and true principals of movement and form are repeated again and again through Asana practice to help the student experience greater life energy and remember, on a visceral level, rather than a mental one, the nature of existence. All of the pain relief, increased strength, flexibility and reduction in stress are the side effects of a consciously executed Asana practice, not its purpose.
The Duality and Non-Duality of Existence
We live in a world of time and duality. Even our brains function in opposition. Of up and down. In and out. Back and forth. Yet, according to Yogic philosophy at the root of all existence there is no time and therefore no duality. This goes back to the concept of Prana as merely being a force of energy, electricity, that exists in everything. It is not up or down, in or out, back or forth. It just flows towards and fills material and space. In Yoga Asana, this flow and expansion of Prana is created by internal forces of opposition.
These 5 basic forces as discussed in the Upanishads and illustrated below are:
Udana: Movement Upwards
Vyana: Movement Ouwards
Samana: Movement Inwards
Apana: Movement Downwards
Prana: Has no direction: Exists everywhere
The duality of these aforementioned forces in opposition create a space of non-duality where Prana expands. In Yoga Asana as we increase our observation of duality within our own bodies, we can perceive that beyond it there is a canvas of non-duality upon which these various opposing energies paint pictures and scenes. The energy itself is non-directional. Non-dual. Not good or bad. The various forces around it decide the path it will go.
Think of a piece of music. There are notes that move in all sorts of directions with all sorts of rhythms and speeds. These opposing notes, rhythms and speeds is what moves the energy and mood of a person, a group, a room. It is what breaks up the misery of monotony and makes music so moving. Nonetheless, it is the silence between the notes that makes the music possible. And this is the alchemy of Yoga. In working with the body through the tool of Yoga Asana we perceive on a visceral level the opposition that is a necessary part of growth. Of expansion and movement. Without it there is no transformation. Yet if we deepen our perception, listen and observe we can experience for ourselves that behind the ups and downs, the ins and outs, and the back and forth, there is stillness, silence, a state of pure potentiality, bliss and non-dual existence.
Covid 19: A force of opposition
It has almost been a year since the world was turned upside down by the restrictions
surrounding Covid 19. Many people have suffered from the virus itself and arguably many more have suffered from the resulting restrictions of isolation and confinement. Many people, including myself, have lost loved ones, their businesses and homes. There are various perceptions concerning the virus and the measures taken. For many of us, it appears to be a matter out of our hands. Yet, nothing is ever out of our hands. How we choose to react to a situation is always within our power and our responsibility – our ability to respond.
Just like in Yoga Asana. We can choose to give up the moment we feel restrictions and difficulty in a pose. That is a legitimate response. Who wants to be in pain? However, if we allow ourselves to feel into the restriction and explore the difficulty of the pose, adapt the pose and find the modification that allows us to best observe those forces in opposition actively working to create more space, we can begin to experience the expansion of prana, of blissful life energy. We can begin to observe and even enjoy the various directions and sensations of expansion that each Yoga Asana offers.
So it is in life. We have the choice to simply give up and crawl under the covers as difficult and uncomfortable circumstances come our way. Circumstances that seem to pull us apart in all sorts of directions. It is a legitimate response, but it is not one that will transform you or get you closer to bliss. So as we enter into the 11th month of Covid 19 restrictions, pull out your yoga mat, take a deep breath. Observe. Move. Take an even deeper breath. Observe. Move….and repeat. Then apply the the principals of using those opposing forces to create more space and expansion on the mat – off the mat.
Observe your situation. You can always modify something, change something, or just observe something new. Take a deep breath, than move. Repeat. Avoid blame or the desire to scapegoat. These are merely mind games to avoid responsibility and only serve to stop creative thinking, problem solving and progression. Perhaps you are not doing exactly what you want to do right now, but no one learns how to stand on their head in one day. It is a process. Trust the process and just keep moving in the direction you want to go, no matter how slow or uncomfortable it is. Observe. Breathe. Move. And in the silent spaces in between, be sure to enjoy the expansion of your perception of BEING. That silent space of no-time duality, void of judgements and interpretations, a quiet expansive space full of pure pranic potentiality and bliss.