PRANA - TATTWA
In the first chapter it has been pointed out that Bhootabhava takes up two forms. In one case it goes down and takes up the form of Viaarga Bhava, in the other it radiates without being involved, it then animates the individual bodies with the rays of life and is called Prana. The Universal Prana is called Mahat or Sat in manifestation, a universal life principle, whereas in individual cases the two aspects are clearly perceptible as body and life. The physical and astral bodies of a person belong to the category of Bhootczbhava, which reflect life with the reflection of Prana, whose rays emanate from the individualized Adhyama Bhava. At death the individual Prana leaves the physical body, which in consequence begins to decompose into its components in the universal Bhootabhava where these components dissolve into their respective elementary forms. But death does not cause separation of the astral body from Prana. The rays of prana which during life radiate from the self stop their out flux at death and revert to their centre in the subconsciousness of the causal body, Karan Sharir, taking within their fold the senses, mind, intellect and consciousness, intact into subconsciousness as happens during sleep, and the karan sharir migrates to take up a fresh physical body. Whereas at moksha the components of the astral body undergo an evolution and one after the other evolve to prana which merges into the Adhyatma Bhava and then in the Paramabhava. Therefore it is said that ...... “pranas of him do not get out when the mortal body is cast off.” Goudapada Acharya in his Karikas on Mandukyopanishad vide verse six says that it is definite that the production of all states of existence (waking, dreaming a sleep) is the creation of prana, the rays of life, (emanating from) purusha, a separate existence.
In answer to the question of Kausalya Ashwalayan, Rishi Pippalada speaks as follows, about the individual prana vide Prashnopanishad
“From Self this prana emanates. As Aura or Shadow is to the body so it is within it, it pervades and dominating the mind it comes into the body (3.3).”
“Just as a king appoints his officers and empowers each of them over certain towns saying, thou shalt rule over such particular town likewise the principal prana appoints others at different posts (3.4) .”
“At anus and genital organs he appoints ‘Apana’, on eyes, ears, mouth and nose the principal prana himself rules, in the middle appoints samana, so called because it equally distributes all over the body the food taken in, thereby the seven flames (two eyes, two ears, two nostrils and one mouth)
“Now in the heart abides the self, junction of hundred nerves (Nadis) and one. Of these hundred each sends forth another hundred and then the latter send forth off-shoots, seventy-two, each a thousand times. In these pervades and flows Vyana (3.6) .”
“Now, by the one going up, the Udana leads (after death) the virtuous to higher worlds and the sinner to the world of the sinful and brings one with both sins and virtues back into the land of man (3.7) .”
Thus the individual prana pervades the whole body and subdivides itself into five forms named according to the functionary activity of each. They all work through nerves. Generally the word prana is used for breath, but according to the science of yoga it is that force which controls breath. It is the force of life itself, the Jiwani shakti whose currents flow up and down the whole nervous system and as such may be described as life-giving motor power. It is also experienced that it can be transmitted from one person to another. The flow of its currents is both voluntary, i.e., subject to the will of a person and independent of it. In the case of ordinary persons this power works in a dormant condition and appears as an autonomous nervous impulse, but a yogi brings its flow under the control of his will and can transmit it out of his person. His attempt is to drive it to the root of the spinal cord and having focussed it there send it up the spinal channel to cerebrum, Sahasrar, when the yogi gets into a trance or samadhi. Function of Prana is threefold through volition, action and knowledge; the triply manifested one power is centred where the highest light of
The principal functions of the nerves of the autonomous system are what the yoga system calls Prana, apana, samtana, vyana and udana. Prana works the sensory nerves and all ingoing fibres and in the autonomous efferent fibres of the respiratory system, the middle Samana works the digestive system, Apana works the excretory system, Vyana the circulatory system, and Udana the muscular system. Udana keeps a person stand erect on his legs and at death leads the soul to other births for reincarnation.
The modern neurology has classified the nervous system under three heads:
Spinal system consists of the spinal cord and its offshoots from its different regions, cervical, thoracial, lumber, sacral and pelvic, which spread out to all limbs of the body. This system mostly consists of volitionary motor nerves. The spinal cord stands up from its lowest point fixed on the coccygeal pedastal, encased in a bony spinal column usually known as backbone and ends in the lowest brain called Medula Oblangata. Yogis call the spinal cord Sushumna.
The second system consists of the two gangliated trunks of nerves situated outside the backbone one on each side of it. They are joined in a knot known as ganglion im-par, behind anus and both rise upto the hind brain. Through each of their 24 ganglia both have connections with the spinal cord passing through the corresponding vertebra on the two sides. They are the Ida and Pingala of the science of yoga. Compare their description in the following verse quoted from Shat chakra Nirupana:
“Outside of Meru, the spinal bone, are situated on its left and right respectively the nerves of the Moon and the Sun and inside it is the nerve Sushumna of 3 aspectslunar, solar and fiery.”
Left half of the column is lunar, right half is solar and the central canal is of fire. The third system consists of nerves for eyes, nose, tongue, face and one descending from the floor of the fourth ventrical down through chest, heart, abdomen, and below down to the pelvic region. This last nerve is known as Vagus nerve. Others are sensory nerves and motor nerves for those parts. But Vagus nerve is autonomous in its function. Dr. Rele, the author of the Mysterious Kundalini, has given the right branch of this nerve a great importance, assuming it to be the Kundalini itself. The different plexuses of the sympathetic system, viz., pelvic, hypogastric, solar, cardiac, pharyngeal and nasociliary plexuses, which have communications with the right branch of
the vagus nerve are respectively regarded by him as mooladhar, swadhishthan, manipur, anahat, vishudha and ajna chakras of the yogic system.
Dr. Rele compares the vagus nerve with Kundalini in the following words ,” The vagus nerve may thus be divided into three parts, first portion in the medula is composed of efferent fibres and is situated at the lower part of the fourth ventrical of the brain and corresponds with the mouth of the kundalini. The second portion, from below the base of the skull down to its connection with the solar plexus is composed of afferent and efferent fibres. It is curved in shape and corresponds with the body of the kundalini. The third and the last portion composed mainly of afferent fibres connects the hypogastric and pelvic plexuses with the body of kundalini through the intermediary of the solar plexus. This is said to be the tail of the kundalini. The accelerative or the catabolic function is more or less a part of the sympathetic portion of the autonomic system and the inhibitory or anabolic function, a part of the para-sympathetic, i.e., mainly of the vagus. Thus the sympathetic system and the vagus are both opposite in action or directly antagonistic.”
Besides, the spinal system also possesses plexuses in the pelvic, sacral, lumber and cervical regions. Thus the nerves stretching out in legs have their roots in sacral and lumber plexuses, those of abdomen in the lumber and nerves of the pelvic region in the pudendal plexus, and those of arms and hands in the cervical plexus. These plexuses work under volition. Thus all the three systems are inter-connected though they have independent functions. It has already been pointed above that kundalini is not a nerve, vagus or any other, but is a power, which on being roused works the whole system. Her description as lying asleep at the door of SushumnA is figurative and should not be taken literally. Vagus nerve is named as Alambusa * in many Upanishadas described as running from kanda in the pelvic region right up to the acoustic nerves. Dijierently it is named as kurma-nddi in the thoracial region. See Vyas Bhashya on Patanjalee’s Yoga Darshan Sutra (3.31), as Vishwodari a in the abdominal region, see Yogashikhopanishad, and as Shankhini in the pelvic region.
To a yogi it is the sushumna that counts. The spinal cord entails down to a thread-like filminess, which rests on the triangular pedestral of coccyx. All the treatises on yoga with one voice declare that the place where the door to brahmanadi lies is there. The perinium and the muscle above it in front of coccygeal and sacral bones is the egg like kanda at whose centre the coiled up power of kundalini is regarded as stored up or rather locked up. When roused she assumes the Dynamic form and ascends up rising through the spinal cord to cerebrum and brings moksha to the aspirant. Thus the spinal cord is the nerve a yogi worships with kundalini at its root on the coccyx which is called mooladhar. The seat of the yogic chakras is also inside the Sushumna, on Chittra, i.e., the grey portion of the spinal cord and not the outside plexuses as Dr. Bale thinks.
These are centres inside the spinal cord and have connections with the plexuses of the spinal and sympathetic systems. Physical exercises of Hatha Yoga invariably pertain to the plexuses of the spinal system, they react on the plexuses of the sympathetic system, and the combined effect of both stimulates the spinal centres inside the gray matter. Yogis experience currents of prana flowing down and up the nervous system in the whole body and concentrating it near the coccyx and also through legs flowing up to the same point and then the whole energy is felt gradually entering the spinal cord at that point and rising up straight to the top in cerebrum giving the yogi a beatitude of bliss not otherwise experienced. He feels the passage of the power at different centres and acquires experiences of higher planes. Usually plexus of heart (cardiac plexus) is indentified with the anahat chakra of 12 spokes which in fact is situated within the spinal cord, whereas the Hridaya chakra is of only eight spokes, showing that the two are different, cardiac plexus has no connection whatsoever with the thoracial branches of the spinal. According to Hatha Yoga Sushumna is composed of 3 portions, the outermost is called Vajra, i.e.,the white matter of the spinal cord so named for its toughness of material, the middle portion is called chittra, the grey nervous column and the innermost is called the Viraja, the pure or the Brahmarandhra and is the canal filled with cerebro-spinal fluid. The yogic chakras or lotuses as they are called are nervous centres situated in the Chittra, one corresponding to each of the pelvic, sacral, lumber, thoracial and cervical regions. The ajna chakra of two radii is situated in the medula oblangata where right and left-sided nerves rising up from the spinal cord cross in their way still up to cerebrum. The empty canal, so called as it has no nerves but is a canal like tube filled with a liquid substance, is to these chalcras or lotuses as the middle canal like stalk of a flower. When kundalini rises up this canal, the bud like nervous tissues turned downwards, open up and give way to Her upward march, the process is known to yogis as ......i.e., piercing through of the six chakras:
“Mother sushumna the grand is like a fine stem of lotus flower. The inner portion of sushumna is called the beautiful ajrd nerve, within it is the fine chittrini, a passage for kundalini, wherein are situated as centres of nervous plexuses, the beautiful six lotuses.”
Now we shall show how the whole nervous system has a bearing on yogic practices. The science of yoga aims at the ultimate union of soul with God or the merging of the individual soul into the universal soul. Yoga shikhopanishad verse 68 defines yoga thus,” union of apana with prana, of one’s own rajas and retas (the genital fluids), the union of the moon and the sun and of the individual soul with the universal. Thus neutralization of the network of dualities is called yoga.”
· Thus union of all dual opposites of prana and apana, of luno-solar actions of ida and pingala nerves, or the male and female genital fluids supposed by the Hindu yogis to be present simultaneously in every man and woman ultimately leads to the union of mind and prana which effects the union of soul with God. The same Upanishad further says that
When the union of both the conscious self and God is had, i.e., on attainment of that union mind becomes lost and prana acquires stability with the dawn of Laya yoga,” i.e., merging of consciousness into samadhi.
Let us now study the nature of the sun-rays and moon-light, and their relation with the nervous system, prana and Mind, and how their union is effected and with what result. Effect of the sun and the moon on life ia three-fold through gravitation, heat and light, which act as Tamo Guna (inertia), Rajoguna (activity) and Sattwa guna (peace) respectively. Gravitation is on the cosmic plane the same force as of apdna and light is of prana, the inter-medium of ether serve as samana and the atmosphere serves as vytina because it distributes rains and, climatic temperatures all over the earth, whereas Ether is the seat of generation of heat, light and electric waves. Rays of the sun bring heat and light inseparably, but the moon absorbs all heat and reflects only the light component. Heat acts on the sensory nerves of touch and has a rather dulling effect, whereas light acts on the optical nerves, helps vision and is the source of all knowledge, it as such directly acts on the mind. Therefore, light is compared with mental and spiritual illumination, knowledge and enlightenment. On the other hand action of heat on mind is disturbing, tending to sloth, dullness and laziness. Light in general and the moonlight in particular delights the mind. As moon having absorbed the heat component of the sun-rays and reflects only the light, so does the mind-stuff reflect light of consciousness and knowledge, the life-giving component of prana having absorbed its creative power of dynamism, which mind ordinarily dissipates in vain pursuits. Therefore Prarta is said to be solar and mind as lunar in action. Life on earth is directly governed under the influences of both the sun and the moon. Rays of the sun and the moon-light help the growth of life in every sphere of vegetable and animal kingdom. Physically their influence is also apparent on tides, rains and seasons. During the intervals of solar eclipses it has been found that wireless electric waves show abnormal disturbances showing that electric zone enveloping the earth is affected by the loss of the sun-rays. All planets and heavenly bodies are governed by certain laws of gravitation and are inter connected, but the laws that govern their influences on the life inhabiting the earth through the medium of light emitted, radiated or reflected by them still need exploration and open a venue to another branch of science. Chromopathy has already tapped the door but still is in its infancy. Spectrology has chosen a field of research on quite a different plan.. Hindu yogis tell us that the sap that nourishes plant-life has a direct connection with moon-light and indirectly also through rains, and is accordingly named somaras meaning the lunar juice. Menses of women are also connected with the phases of the moon. Chromopathy is doing some spadework in the research field of curing diseases through the spectrum colours of the solar light and the results have not so far been in any way discouraging. All human, animal and vegetable life is highly influenced by the rays of the sun which seem to impart health-building energy to them all. Ultra-violet light is proved to cure mental disorders. The sun-rays give both heat and light. Whereas the moonlight is divorced of heat which is absorbed by the moon reflecting only the light component of the sun rays. Heat is found to nourish life within definite ranges of temperature only, otherwise has a killing effect. High temperatures are usually scorching and life killing but light is free from this baneful effect. Therefore the Hindu science of yoga declares that the sun radiates prana mixed with poison, whereas moon showers nectar; light therefore combined with a particular range of temperature helps the growth and nourishment of life. Therefore, Upanishadas claim that the sun radiates life (prana) as well.
Prashnopanishad says that the sun is the source of prana. When the sun rises, he radiates prana in all directions. Therefore the universal prana increases within the six months of Uttardyana when sun moves northward from the tropic of Capricorn to Cancer, during the day time from morn to noon and during the half lunar months from its first day till the full moon, when the phases of the moon increase, and the universal prana is on the decrease during the other six months, the other half of the day and of the lunar months. The sun verily is the prana says Prashna Upanishad (1.5) ..............
Life on the animal plane acts both on the conscious plane under volition and on the subconscious plane as autonomous, Nina is the source of both. The conscious state works under volition and is connected with mind and as such is lunar, the other state pertaining to the autonomous working of prana sub-divided as prana, samdna, vydna, uddna and apana is solar. The line of demarcation between th two is not very strictly defined, because the autonomous sy btem can be brought under volition to a great extent through practice. Therefore it is said that prana enters the body with the support of mind. According to Chhandogya Upanishad mind is built up of what a man eats and prana of what a man drinks. Animals eat vegetables and vegetables receive nourishment through sap, the vital juice of all plants, in Sanskrit called Somaras, so named because it is believed to imbibe its nourishing property from the moonlight. There is a general belief among the Hindus that full-moon helps the medicinal powers of all vegetation, perhaps builds up vitamins in hem, and mind is built up of and receives strength from the food that one takes and hence mind has been described as product of the moon. The sun-rays supply rains with the power of dynamism of prana and water consumed imparts the same to vegetables and animals both through circulation.
It has been pointed out that mind-stuff decomposes prana into its life-giving force which is reflected as consciousness and the other creative component of dynamism. The latter, if gathered, conserved and focussed objectively through concentration, can be utilized for higher creative works on intellectual and occult planes, but if focussed subjectively as reflexive on self it tends to reunite with the first component and there ensues a loss of all mental faculties into samddhi. This is the union of prana and mind above referred to, a preliminary condition for the union of the individual soul with the universal soul, i.e., God.
Union of Ida and Pingala nerves
In what has been said above it has been tried to show that prana is connected with the sun and mind with the moon. Now, in what follows we shall try to show their connections with the working of the nervous system. It has been shown already that the right and left sympathetic systems are respectively the pingala. and ida, the solar and lunar nervous systems of yoga. As prdna is connected with the sun and mind with the moon, life on the physical plane functioning under volition is lunar and functioning as autonomous is solar. When volition dominates, it is said that the moon is working and when volition is subservient, that is, it acts instinctively the sun is said to be working. Sympathetic nervous system com-bined with vagii constitute the autonomous system and the spinal system mostly works under volition. The vagus system is again divided into two branches,the right vagus neave and the left vagus nerve. Right vagus nerve is more prominent and spreads out from the lower brain down the pelvic region and serves as parasympathetic in relation to sympathetic system; both of the sympathetic and parasympathetic nerves form the autonomous system. The sympathetic columns have connectioqs through every vertibrum with the spinal system. It should here be noted that the right vagus nerve is more in connecti n with the right side of the sympathetic system and as such is solar in action, whereas the left vagus nerve is significa itly unimportant, therefore the left sympathetic sys-tem not being so connected with the right vagus is more in connect on with the volitionary system and as such is lunar in effect. The seat of the sun is described in the solar plexus of the right vagus nerve and the seat of the moon in the forehead, i.e., in the pons and hind-brain where all the sensory nerves originate. Naso-ciliary plexus which governs the action of both nostrils receives branches from the sympathetic system of both the sides. According to the different treatises of yoga when a person breathes through the right nostril the sun is said to be active because the right side of the system becomes active and acts more on the autonomous system and hence generates heat; whereas breathing through the left nostril does not so act and has a cooling effect, as the right vagus nerve works both the respiratory and digestive systems. Therefore the left sided idd or the lunar system is regarded as full of nectar and the other the right sided pin gald being solar is regarded as mixed with poison. It is therefore said that if a person breathes day and night through the right nostril continuously for many days he thereby invites death and soon loses health; whereas continuous breathing through the left nostril also deprives the person of vitality supplied by the solar system and therefore loses health though at a lower rate. For keeping the body sound and healthy a regu-lated breath is most necessary alternately through the two nostrils, at night breathing through the right or the solar nostril and during the day time through the left or the lunar nostril gives health and prolongs life. Breathing through both the nostrils simultaneously tends’ to neutralize the two and is regarded as the time when the sun and the moon unite and affords best opportunity for meditation and concentration of mind. The luno-solar conjunction helps the kundalini in opening the passage of sushumnd as well.
The left system ida is also compared with the cold and refreshing current of the
Union of Prana and apanapranaysm
The whole nervous system already described can also be classified as follows:
1. Sensory nerves of hearing, touch, sight, taste and smell. They convey perceptions to mind and are thus afferent or ingoing.
2. Motor nerves acting under volitional control of mind and are acted upon by mind, and as such are efferent or outgoing.
Both these systems are directly connected with mind. The third and fourth sets of nervous systems normally are not in any way connected with mind and are therefore called autonomous. They are the sympathetic and parasympathetic systems. The sympathetic system is mostly accelerative or catabolic, that is, these nerves are disruptive or discharging in their function and are affer-ent or ingoing. The parasympathetic system is inhibitory or anabolic, i.e., these nerves are constructive and up building in their function and are efferent or outgoing. Both the systems are named sympathetic because they work in sympathy with viscera and blood vessels. They are all worked by prdna which is named differently according to its different functions. Prana works the respiratory system and also in the medula oblangata. Apdna works the excretory and discharging system. In the respiratory system too exhaling is the work Prana and inhaling that of Apdna. Constructive or upbuilding is the function of vydna. It circulates blood all over., These fibres are efferent. Function of uddna is accelerative and disruptive, it works through afferent fibres. Samana works ‘the digestive system, it works through both the efferent and afferent fibres.
A yogi can acquire control over his autonomous system through practice of prdndijdrna (Control of prana),. i.e., by gradually learning the art of uniting prdna with apana. It can be done either by sending down the currents of prana to the pelvic region and there unite it with apdna or through slowing down respiration when prana working the action of exhala-tion tends to unite with apdna which works inhalation.
Lord Krishna has described three kinds of prana sacrifices vide Bhagwat Gita, chapter IV, verses 29 and 30.
1. By casting oblations of Apana into the sacrificial fire of Prana. This is done by filling in the lungs with air and forcing down the current of Apana to the pelvic region with the help of Jalandhar Bandha. When apana is made stationary through the practice of Moolabandha the two are united and the current sent up the spinal cord with the help of Uddidna Bandha practiced simultaneously with the exhaling of breath and emptying the lungs slowly. Jalandhar bandha is effected by contraction of throat and pressing down the inhaled air in the lungs. Moola Bandha is effected by contraction of anus, and Uddiana Bandha by drawing in the stomach slowly and gradually as the lungs give up the inhaled air.
2. In the second form of prana sacrafice breathing is gradually slowed down to a dead stop, thus the exhaling prana is sacrificed into the fire of the inhaling apdna.
3. In this case prana is sacrificed into the fire of prana itself through the practices of Shambhavi and Khechari, when the currents of prana are made to rise up in the region of medula oblangata and ultimately merge in the cerebrum.
The meaning of the word pranayama is literally the control of prana, that is, the power that works the autonomous system. Breathing exercises are simply means to that end. When complete control is achieved the various currents can be made to flow at will and can be made to rise up the spinal cord.
The right vagus nerve is composed of efferent fibres in the medula oblangata and therefore is purely the seat of prana, in the middle below the base of the skull down through the cervical and thoracial regions it is composed of both afferent and efferent fibres. Therefore it is the seat of both prana and apana. Still lower down at its connection with the solar plexus it is composed of both afferent and efferent fibres and is the seat of samdna and lower down at its connection with the hypogastric and pelvic plexuses it is composed of purely afferent fibres and is the seat of apdna. Through the control of autonomous system control over samdna and uddna can be acquired, and through their control certain occult powers come to a yogi. See Patanjal Yogadarshan Chapter 3, sutras 39 and 40. Through control of udana a yogi acquires the power of walking over marshes and thorny lands and through the control of samdna he can make his body as hot as he likes.
Control over this nervous system is acquired through the practice of certain exercises of the volitional motor nerves. The course of these exercises form an independent subject of Hatha yoga.