“[Duke] Ellington never let you forget that music was his profession. On the other hand, the popular vision of Coltrane is that he seemed to ask you, repeatedly, to alter your life.”
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Coltrane: The Story of a Sound

Religiousness in Yoga Part 10: Prāṇa, Ayāma, Apāna, Sūrya


Excerpts from “Religiousness in Yoga” by TKV Desikachar

Part 1: Prāṇa & Ayāma

… Let us continue with prāṇāyāma, the fourth aṅga … our first objective is to be conscious of the breath … Next we determine how to continue to be conscious of it. …

The word prāṇāyāma has two parts, prāṇa and āyāma. Ayāma means “to stretch out or to draw,” and this is the active part of prāṇāyāmaPrāṇa means “that which is constantly present everywhere.” The breath is constantly coming from somewhere within the middle of us. AS long as it is there we are not dead. In the following diagram we have an aura of prāṇa both within and around us. It is almost as if this prāṇa is radiating out from the center all through the body and a little beyond.

Different sources explain prāṇa as a friend to puruṣa. Prāṇa is simple the expression of puruṣa in all parts of the body and beyond. This prāṇa has an intimate relationship to the mind because the puruṣa sees only through the mind (see summary part 5). Thus prāṇa mind and breath are interrelated. Whatever happens in the mind influences the breath … an evident fact. In prāṇāyāma we use the breath to do something to the mind so that the prāṇa increases its intensity. Tradition tells us that an unsteady person, one who is confused, has more prāṇa beyond the body than within it. The measure of prāṇa beyond the body is more when we are not at ease and therefore, the prāṇa within the body decreases in quality

What we are trying to do in the practice of prāṇāyāma is to confine more and more prāṇa within our bodies. When prāṇa is not able to enter our bodies, it is because something is there that should not be. The Yoga Sūtra uses the word kleśa, “defilement” but let us call it “dirt” … one of the definitions of the word yogi is “one whose prāṇa is within the body.” … To influence the prāṇa we have to influence the mind … In life our actions often disturb the mind and increase the measure of prāṇa outside the body. We reverse this process by the daily practice of prāṇāyāma … as we practice … more and more of the covering of the mind, avidyā (see summary part 1), is removed and there it clarity. The mind becomes fit for dhyāna.

When we inhale it is as if the prāṇa goes in. When we exhale, it is as if whatever prāṇa cannot stay in the body goes out.

Part 2: Prāṇa & Apāna

There are five prāṇas, vital forces of the body. They have different names depending on their association with functions in the body: prāṇavāyu, udānavāyu, vyānavāyu, apānavāyu, and samānavāyu. We will concern ourselves with the two basic pranas, prāṇavāyu and apānavāyu. Prāṇavāyu centers in the chest. Apānavāyu is responsible for excretion. Apāna also represents the center where body waste collects. Sometimes that which enters the body is called prāṇa and that which leaves it called apāna. There is a lot of confusion over the world apāna. Let us understand it simply as meaning prāṇa that is located and accumulated where it should not be … conscious inhalation is prāṇa and conscious exhalation is apāna

… On inhalation the idea is prāṇa that is outside the body is brought in towards apāna. During exhalation the apāna that is within the body moves towards prāṇa. The more impurity a person has in the body, the more apāna increases. We decrease the apāna so that we can bring more prāṇa into the body … “defilement, dirt,” accumulates in life due to factors both within and beyond our control. Our action in Yoga is to reduce this. A person who has shortness of breath, who cannot hold the breath, or make longer exhalations is considered to have more apāna. A person with good, comfortable breath control is thought to have less apāna. The more apāna we have, the more problems we have in all areas of the body.

Prāṇāyāma is a movement of prāṇa towards apāna and a movement of apāna towards prāṇa. Holding the breath after inhalation bring the prāṇa towards the apāna and holds it there. Holding the breath after exhalation does the reverse.

Part 3: Sūrya

One of the concepts of Yoga is that we have a fire inside our bodies, and it is located somewhere between prāṇa and apāna. The seat of this fire is near the navel, but the flame itself shifts. On inhalation there is a downward movement of the breath … [which] creates a draft … which draws the flame downward. It is this flame that burns the “dirt” from the body. During exhalation the draft works the other way, it brings the “burnt dirt” out.

… Importance is given to exhalation to allow for more time to remove the “dirt.” It is not enough to burn the “dirt,” we have to expel it.

… It is not enough that we bring the flame towards the “dirt.” It is also necessary to bring the “dirt” towards the flame. That is why when we exhale and hold the breath after exhalation we use certain bandhas, physical body locks or contractions. Very gradually we develop the abdominal muscles so that we can life the lower abdomen, the area of apāna, toward the navel and hold it there during the entire prāṇāyāma. This technique is called mūla bandha … Every part of prāṇāyāma works together to remove apāna and bring prāṇa into the body. The moment there is no “dirt” the prāṇa goes into its proper place. Nobody can control the prāṇa it has its own movement. We create a condition in which the prāṇa returns.

… This same principle applies to inverted postures. Inverted postures bring the flame towards apāna … That is why inverted postures are given so much importance.

… Of course we need a minimum of apāna which is a part of prāṇa itself. There are other prāṇas elsewhere. For example … udānavāyu centers at the throat … [and] is responsible for speech … So all types of prāṇa are required but they must be in balance.

this fire … is the whole mechanism in the body responsible for producing heat … it relates to the process of making the food we eat easier to assimilate … Some say that the fire is in the stomach. I would say it involves the entire portion under the diaphragm and above the navel.

… We can control the fire by modulating the breath … The technical term for this fire is sūrya which means “that which is always hot.”

… The fire is always there.

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