prāṇa - प्राण

What Is Prana?

What is the definition of prana? Prana can refer to energy, life, or breath. In other traditions, it is called chi or qui. Pranayama is a technique of breath control.  (1)

Paramhansa Yogananda states in his Advanced Course on Practical Metaphysics:

Prana means Life Energy. There are two kinds of Prana:

  • Cosmic Energy, the source of all living things
  • Specific Prana or energy pervading each human body

The Cosmic Energy is the cause of the creation of planets and all living organisms.

The Life Energy in the body of all organisms is secretly supplied by the Cosmic Energy. But the Life Energy loses this contact the more it becomes individualized, selfish, body‑bound, ignoring its Cosmic Connection.

The Cosmic Energy is finer than Electrons or any other vibratory force existing in Nature, and is conscious (but not self-conscious). It is the missing link between Consciousness and matter.

The Spirit vibrating outwards first becomes Cosmic Consciousness, then as it vibrates into grosser states, it becomes Conscious Cosmic Energy, followed by the grossest material vibration or matter. Hence the connecting link between the human consciousness and the gross body is established by the specific Life Energy.

The Soul vibrates into Consciousness, Consciousness vibrates into Life Energy, which in turn vibrates into the gross human body. Hence those that do not understand the functions of Life Energy find a great difference between mind and matter, or ignorantly deny the existence of matter.

Mind exists, matter exists, both are vibrations of Spirit. Invisible mind vibrating as Life Energy is converted into gross matter. Matter does not exist as it appears to us, it is nothing but vibrations of Life-Energy which in turn are vibrations of Consciousness.

To be able to understand the five functions of Life Energy is to be able to dematerialize the body into its original constituent principles.

The Life Energy in general as present in the human body is spoken of as Prana in Sanskrit; it is conscious Energy, it builds the human body out of a spermatozoon. Its seat in the human body is the Medulla.

There are five (5) pranas or forces of air in the human body that support and help  certain physiological systems:

Pran – crystallization
Byan – circulation
Saman – assimilation
Udan – metabolism
Apan – elimination

What Is Prana?


Prana is the universal sea of energy that infuses and vitalizes all matter. This sea of energy coalesces into sub-atomic particles and atoms, which become the basic building blocks of all matter manifesting the physical world. So, every atom, molecule, and cell is an extension of prana, just as waves are extensions of the sea that lies beneath them. (1)


Prana is also the power that flows in all living forms and performs vital functions. Paramhansa Yogananda called this aspect of prana “life-force.” He further explained that life-force possesses an inherent intelligence enabling it to carry out the life-sustaining processes.

To give clarity to this image, he even coined the term “lifetrons.” We have a subtle or astral body made up of prana that underlies the physical body. Oriental healing techniques, such as Ayurveda and acupuncture, work to harmonize and strengthen the flow of life-force, calling it variously prana, chi, or ki. When the life-force flows properly, the result will be a natural state of health and vitality. (1)


Prana is also used to refer to the breath. When we take a physical breath, there is a corresponding movement of prana in the subtle or astral spine. Prana flows up in the subtle spine in conjunction with the inhalation, and down with the exhalation.

This link between breath and the flow of prana is central to many of the techniques of meditation. By controlling the breath, which is easily felt, we can influence the flow of prana, which is much more subtle and difficult to feel. (1)


Pranayama (prana = energy + yama = control) is a type of meditation technique that involves various ways of controlling the breathing (1), with the goal being to raise one’s prana (also called Kundalini in this case) up the deep spine to the spiritual eye or sixth chakra, which brings one to enlightenment. Kriya Yoga is one such technique, made well known by Paramhansa Yogananda in Autobiography of a Yogi. (2)

How Pranayama Works

On either side of the spine there is an energetic nerve channel, or nadi: ida on the left and pingala on the right.

The prana or energy travels upward through the ida nadi. With this upward movement, the breath is automatically drawn into the lungs. As a result, the mind is drawn outward to the world of the senses.

The energy then travels downwards through the pingala nadi. When the energy is going down, it is called apana rather than prana. This downward movement is accompanied by physical exhalation, and signifies a rejection of external circumstances.

One manifestation of this cycle is the association of inhalation with excitement and happiness, and exhalation with defeat and depression. Happiness and sadness must always follow each other when the cause of each is external circumstances, which are always changing.

However, through pranayama techniques a person can instead redirect the energy through the deep spine in between the ida and pingala, called the sushumna. When the level of energy in the sushumna reaches the top of the spine and goes into the spiritual eye, or sixth chakra, one becomes enlightened. (2)

  1. a b c d e How to Meditate, Jyotish Novak. Chapter 4, “Relaxing the Mind.”
  2. a b The Art and Science of Raja Yoga, Swami Kriyananda. Step Thirteen, “The Anatomy of Yoga.”