|[ Excerpt from The Science of Yoga, page 171 ]
Prana remains an intangible notion to the modern mind. We often have an irresistible tendency to try to translate it into those theoretical models of contemporary science that we are already familiar with.
Prana is not air. It is not oxygen. It is not any particular nutrient component of the food we eat, nor is it revealed in the concepts of electromagnetics, ions or any form of subatomic particle.
The fact remains that prana, that universal, life-giving energy presents not only a philosophical, but also a linguistic hurdle to intellectual analysis. Fritjof Capra, in his landmark book The Tao of Physics: An exploration of the Parallels Between Modern Physics and Eastern Mysticism, reveals this elemental problem yet to be reconciled in modern physics:
"Although we know a lot about nuclear structure and about the interactions between nuclear particles, we do not yet understand the nature and complicated form of the ‘nuclear force’ on a fundamental level."
In yoga, the control of the breath is often synonymous with pranayama, yet the breath itself is not prana. I.K. Taimni, in The Science of Yoga, makes a distinction between the breath and prana, and also points out an important connection.
"Though prana is different from the breath, as electric current is different from the movement of the blades of an electric fan, still there is a close connection between to two. A connection which enables us to manipulate the currents of prana by manipulating the breath."
In Western science the nature of life is still a mystery. In the yogic understanding, the difference between an uninjured corpse whose organs and muscles are still perfectly intact but lifeless, and a healthy living human being, is simply the presence or absence of ‘life energy’. Death is the strong compulsion for this energy to leave the physical body for one reason or another. In Sanskrit this energy is known as prana.
Prana is also the great missing link for Western philosophy. Philosophers have long searched for an explanation of the mind-body connection, the interface between thoughts and feelings that are ephemeral and have no physical manifestation on the one hand, and on the other the body that acts in the physical world, under the influence of the former.
That interface is none other than the prana of the yogis.
The yogic tradition understands that all forms of matter, gross and subtle, are comprised of prana (or, rather, the action of prana upon akasa, the primordial ether).
Modern science, from the perspective of nuclear physics, confirms this very understanding, deeming the whole of matter as being energy arranged in various manners. Therefore, all that manifests in our Universe is, in one way or another, prana. The CHARAKA SAMHITA states:
“The wise men do not talk about the capacity of uttering words, about the sight, the hearing, or meditation; they speak only of the different types of pranas that make all these things possible. For all the rest is nothing but the manifestations of prana.”
NOTE: This yoga article is an excerpt from The Science of Yoga, an online yoga training program with streaming yoga videos and 600 pages of step-by-step yoga instruction.
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