The Essence of Prana: Vital Energy in Yoga and Ayurveda

In the Shiva Swarodaya, Devi asks Shiva: “In this universe who is the greatest friend of man?”

Shiva replies Prana is the greatest friend, prana is the greatest companion. O fair one, there is no closer friend in this universe than prana.”


What makes any motion possible: the blink of an eye, the budding of a flower, the splitting of atoms or the fall of a meteor?

Thousands of years ago, the yogis living in the shadow of the Himalayas fathomed the inherent quality of motion in creation and they called it prana. One may roughly translate the word prana as ‘energy’ or ‘vital force’

Prana is the vital force that sustains not only the body, but also creation at every level. The Sanskrit word prana is a combination of two syllables, pra and ana, and denotes constancy, a force in constant motion. The root-sound of the word’ ana; is ‘an’ which means ‘to breathe’, ‘to move’. Therefore the word prana can be translated as breath or motion or movement. However, prana is not the oxygen or the air that one breathes. Yogis have proved that one can stop breathing for long periods of time and yet continue to live. All beings are composites of prana, which gives them life and existence. The quantum of prana of each individual is indicated by the power of the personality, which reflects one’s natural capacity to wield prana. Some persons are more successful, commanding and fascinating than others due to the level of their prana.

Prana is the universal principle of energy or force. It is a vital force. It is all-pervading. It may be either in a static or dynamic state. It is found in all forms of life, from the ant to the elephant, from the unconscious plant to the conscious man.”     — Swami Sivananda

Prana cannot be measured at this time, however, its interaction with the biosysytem has been the subject of study in Ayurveda and Yoga. Ayurveda emphasizes the interconnectedness of body, mind, and spirit, with Pranas serving as the bridge between these aspects of human existence.


The Upanishads tell the following story:

‘Once all the deities that reside in the body – air, fire, water, earth, ether, speech and mind – had an argument. Each claimed that it was superior to all others, declaring, “I sustain this perishable body.” Prana was listening to this debate, and ultimately said to them, “Do not delude yourself. It is I, having divided 2 myself into five parts, who supports and sustains this body.” The deities did not believe him. Indignantly, Prana began to withdraw from the body. Instantly, all the other deities found themselves withdrawing too. When Prana again settled in the body, the deities found that they had assumed their respective places. Convinced of Prana’s superiority, all now paid obeisance to Prana.’

The sources of outer prana and their digestion nourish our energetic sheath called pranamaya kosha through the nadis (canals through which our vital energy flows). 

   Prana can be divided into 5 sub-pranas (vayus):

  • Prana Vayu: ‘primordial air’ ruling over inspiration and going inward,
  • Apana Vayu: ‘Air flowing downward’ governs elimination, moving outward downward  
  • Samana Vayu; ‘balancing air’ that governs digestion and absorption,
  • Udana Vayu: ‘ascending air’ ruling over expiration and going upward,
  • Vyana Vayu: ‘diffuse air’ having and expanding action that circulates throughout our body .

The Upanishads illustrate prana’s supremacy with a tale of the body’s deities, who, despite their individual powers, depend on prana for their very existence. In Ayurveda and Yoga, prana is the bridge between the body, mind, and spirit, highlighting its crucial role in holistic health and wellbeing.

As we reflect on the teachings of the Shiva Swarodaya, one question lingers: How can we cultivate a deeper connection with prana to enhance our physical, mental, and spiritual vitality? The answer lies in embracing practices that harmonize our inner and outer energies, allowing prana to flow freely and nurture our true essence.

– Kaushlandra Singh
Research Intern, Centre for Human Sciences, Rishihood University

(Disclaimer: These articles are produced by undergraduate students from IIT Roorkee, interning at the Centre for Human Sciences, Rishihood University.)

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