This month we are going to be looking at prana and bandhas.
Prana is a word often used in yoga classes, but I find that it is not completely understood. The vernacular leads one to believe that prana is the breath, but this is not true. Prana comes in on the breath and it is one of the many ways we can enhance prana. But it would be limiting to believe that was the only way we can experience prana. We can enhance and stimulate the prana in our body through all of the senses and our thoughts and actions. We can also deplete prana in the same way.
Prana and the mind are closely linked. Where the mind goes, prana goes. So when you have a problem in your head and you keep thinking about it and thinking about it, the problem appears to get bigger. It may also be solved by your considerations. When you focus on your body during asana, on the contraction of your quadriceps in warrior one for example, it will get stronger and more vibrant than if you are thinking of something else.
There are 5 major movements of prana in our body. When we understand these movements and understand what they give us we can enhance our experience of the world. I kind of want to equate knowing the pranic movements to apps on your smart phone. We have some apps that we kind of know how to use, and then there are the others that the phone might have come with, or your friends have, but you are not sure how they work or how it relates to your life. If we took the time to learn their function we may find that they make things easier and more efficient. Like prana, they exist, but we aren't sure how to navigate, or what the functionality is.
The primary prana is adhya prana and that is the energy that takes things in.
Next is apana prana, and that is the prana that grounds and helps with downward elimination
Samana prana is the prana of digestion. It has a circulating sensation, usually in the belly, and is often accompanied by heat. Udana prana is the upward moving prana and has an elevating effect. It makes us feel light and helps to clarify the information coming in from the senses. It also eliminates upwardly.
Vyana prana is the last and maybe most subtle. It gives us the feeling of expansion outside of our physical body. So when you "sense" someone is near, or feel their "energy" or you give energy to someone, this is vyana prana. It is also experienced when we feel expansive.
This month as we practice asana we will try to find these 5 pranas, and see how what we do with our body and minds shifts our prana. It will!! It always does!! We just don't always notice.
Bandhas are sometimes translated as "locks". We put physical blocks in our bodies to help move, organize or contain our prana. The lowest lock is called mulabandha and is experienced when we contract the perineum. Udyana bandha comes from a lift of the lower abdominals, and sometimes can be more rigorous with a drawing in of the abdominals up into the rib cage. Jalandara bandha is chin lock, a lowering of the chin towards the chest and a constricting of the throat.
The differences in how we engage the bandhas can be based on our intentions. When we are not sure of them we can activate them on a very physical level to see how it affects our physical body and how to articulate them. When we get more adept, they become subtle so we can feel how they can move the prana in the body. As always, the more subtle the experience, the more power and stability it contains.
We will practice these also in class and see how subtle we can get. And then the fun part is always to see how we can use these tools off the mat.
See you in class!