The 5 Pranas – Apana, Udana, and Prana

The 5 Pranas

-Apana, Udana, Prana

As discussed in the previous post on Samana and Vyana, the 5 Pranas or energies are an important aspect of both yogic science and ayurvedic medicine, which as a discipline also aims to achieve and maintain balance between said energies within the mind and body.
Having already come to understand Samana as an energetic movement stemming from the periphery of the body moving inwards and focused in the area of the naval, and Vyana as a circulatory movement to aid with the transportation of energy around the entire physical body, it follows that Apana, Udana, and Prana each travel along their own individual paths too.

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Elimination

Apana can be understood literally as ‘the air that moves away’, therefore signifying the downward and outward energetic pathway which it follows. Apana is associated with the elimination of toxins from the body, and is sometimes considered the definition of our pranic or energetic immune system. Again, this can be understood in terms of physical waste and stools, sweat, carbon dioxide and urine, but also in terms of negative sensory, emotional and mental experiences which prove unpleasant or unsuited to our composition. Centralised in the lower abdomen, Apana not only governs elimination, but also reproduction, providing an instinctual self-sufficiency and replenishing sense of continuity when functioning at the height of it’s potential.

Support

Udana on the other hand is an uplifting force of energy, literally translated as ‘upward moving air’, and is primarily associated with the progression, growth and transformation of the body and mind as they evolve continuously throughout our lives. Physically, Udana aids with balance, growth, and our ability to stand and carry out actions. It also governs speech and is said to stem from an area in the throat, supporting the head and organs associated with our mentality balanced upon the spine. This force of energy being continuously drawn upwards is easily blocked, resulting in stunted growth and stagnancy within our actions and thoughts. Yoga and Ayurveda are used as ways to reopen these pathways and aid the correct flow of Udana throughout the body, unblocking both mental and physical pathways and habits which have hindered our growth and expansion into the world.

Guidance

Prana in it’s own right serves as the energy of ‘forward moving air’, and although Samana constitutes inward moving energy from the external and its assimilation to the internal,  Prana as a whole deals with the reception of all sensory engagement and its propulsion around the body. Not only does it provide the energy which is necessary for all other pranas to function, but it guides them from its seat in the region of the third eye.

While all 5 Pranas on a physical level have many inherent effects on our body’s reactions and chemical processes, the “receptivity to mental sources of nourishment” (D. Frawley) that can be achieved by incorporating pranayama techniques successfully into one’s yoga practice is an invisible yet exceptional way to achieve and maintain a better mind/body balance and ensure the healthy functioning of the channels through which the pranas travel (nadis). These channels will be discussed  further in another post.

The Meaning of ‘Om’

Originally posted here for Zuna Yoga

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“For it to have its effect, the sound of AUM is remembered with deep feeling for the meaning of what it represents.” (The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, 1.28).

“Om,” in the yogic tradition, is chanted at the beginning and end of class or practice. It’s one of those things that’s often assumed as universally understood yet it’s rarely explained properly, if at all, by yoga instructors.

Om is an ancient sound used by various Eastern religions, including Buddhism, Hinduisim, Sikhism, Jainism, to denote the beginning and end of sacred scriptures, texts, and prayers. Many of the world’s religions indicate that creation began with sound, the vibrations of which are said to be contained within om. Each time we chant om, we connect with the eternal vibration of being that has been in existence since the beginning of all things and is the creative source of energy behind all existence.
The Om symbol consists of 3 curves, a semicircle, and a dot. The curves represent mind, body, and soul, and the semicircle at the top is maya, understood as an obstacle to achieving the highest form of enlightenment. Om is sometimes spelled “aum,” a more accurate phonetic spelling which divides the chant into its three individual sounds of a-u-m. “Aum” encompasses all possible combinations of sounds and lies at the root of all potential or pre-existing sounds. In linguistics, all sound is said to be produced between the root of the tongue and the entrance of the lips, the throat sound being “a,” the lip sound being “m,” and “u” representing the rolling forwards of all sounds until they stop at the lips. Like the letters of the alphabet, which in all possible combinations give rise to every word ever spoken, the sounds of a-u-m pass through every formation in the mouth necessary for vocalising language, making it a magnificently meaningful sound.

Om allows us to tap into the existing energy which always surrounds us but which modern distractions and lifestyles have shifted from our immediate awareness. For millennia, various names and personifications have been used by religions to represent a single all-powerful being. This placement of belief in a deity instead of in our immediate environment ignores the connection between the individual and that which surrounds us. We chant om to not only honor the beginning of all things but to appreciate all of creation that still surrounds us. The Upanishads refer to this state of collective consciousness and universal awareness as ishvara. Om is our key to accessing it.


We do not create om simply by chanting it. Instead, om serves as a medium through which we connect to these vibrations. Physically, chanting om creates a pranava or humming sound, as Patanjali describes, which stimulates the body into a meditational state, increases relaxation, and is said to stimulate the body to remove toxins and increase our capacity for self healing. Mentally, speaking om allows us to focus, shifting our attention outwards, away from internal struggles and helping us tune in to that which can provide us harmony in mind, body, and soul.
It’s common to hear the word “shanti” included after a final expression of om. Shanti means “peace” in Sanskrit and is intended as a parting wish for peace and happiness within the universe at large and within everything around us. Shanti is commonly used throughout India to express a light-hearted and peaceful state of being in casual conversation and descriptions of everyday occurrences, while om is reserved for more spiritual practices such as yoga practice or religious ceremony.
Om shanti.

How Yoga Can Enhance Creativity and Productivity, in Business or Otherwise

“I am burdened with what the Buddhists call the ‘monkey mind’ – the thoughts that swing from limb to limb, stopping only to scratch themselves, spit and howl’ – Elizabeth Gilbert

It’s often been observed that a regular yoga practice can help promote a more productive and efficient work ethic, allowing practitioners to excel in their various specialised fields and carry out work with a clearer, more focused mind. It’s a mark of a good business man or woman to possess a natural spark or flare for creativity, allowing them to stay on top of trends and aware of competition, and it is this spark which must be nurtured by a consistent base and supply of healthy energy to succeed. In this case, we’ll consider that nurturing care and careful maintenance in terms of a yoga practice, and the spark a focused idea or task which requires certain circumstances to come to light.

When this focus and clarity is added to an already creative and highly-active mind its potential becomes magnified, as the existing creative energy can be harnessed correctly and more efficiently directed solely towards creative output, whereas before it may have been scattered elsewhere. The ‘monkey mind’ of overactive imagination and the ‘creative’ individual is successfully directed to a single task or idea at a time, instead of flitting momentarily from one to another and ultimately failing to produce anything worthwhile. This way, a smaller number of tasks or ideas get realised to their full potential, instead of a handful of incomplete or unfinished ‘maybe’ or ‘what if’ ideas being dropped half-heartedly along the way. Patanjali describes this focus in the Yoga Sutra as nirodha, a particular state of mental activity and function, characterized by consistent directed attention, and ceasing to identify with negative or damaging practices.

Yoga helps us to sit with our thoughts and ideas, focusing upon them as they come and go. We learn resilience, we learn persistence, and we learn how to recognise thoughts for the truth and potential they contain. It is this belief in our own potential and capacity to carry out tasks and fulfill ideas which allows them to come to fruition, and through a strong physical and mental core built up through our yoga practice, we have a stable foundation upon which to build them.

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Several asanas and inversions, such as Sirsasana (headstand) and Ardha Chandrasana (Half Moon Pose), are believed to enhance creativity and promote a healthy, productive brain, as they reverse the blood flow, relieve anxiety and present us physically with new perspectives. This activity can be beneficial in shaking up the often static office scenario we have become accustomed to in today’s working world, and allowing a new outlook to be explored in relation to pending issues. In this way, productivity and creativity in business can be approached differently, posing potential for further exploration and unique endeavours. In Cambodia last year I met a successful corporate business owner just after she had completed a yoga teacher training, and her initial response to my queries of whether she was going to leave that world behind completely was one of refreshing balance and reality – she told me she’d continue to manage her business and workforce, whilst teaching part-time, using her yoga practice to compliment her successful business and office routine. With its leader more balanced, centered, and productive, the entire business thrived and received inspiration and support stemming from this one woman’s own strength. It really does start that deep.

Justin Micheal Williams, musician, yoga instructor, and co-founder of The Business of Yoga has outlined how Sirsasana often helps him escape from creative ruts or blocks, allowing him to see things from a new perspective and return to his current task or creative endeavour with renewed energy and enthusiasm. Justin is just one of the millions of other artists and creative entrepreneurs who use yoga as a means of maintaining this temper-mental and unreliable creative energy, though many may not quite understand just how or why it has this effect. Sadie Nardini is another established yoga teacher, wellness coach and musician who has successfully recognised this energy and harnessed it to help achieve her creative goals. Having suffered severe illnesses in her youth, Sadie has described how she had a unique insight into the damaging effects of suffering from a severe lack of any kind of energy entirely. In her recovery and discovery of yoga, this energy returned with a new vitality. In learning to harness it, she has since established herself as a successful yoga teacher, wellness coach, and recently written, recorded and released a solo album, ‘Salt & Bone”.

As a creative individual myself, I have found since beginning and maintaining a regular yoga practice that my writing, musical, and other creative endeavours have succeeded altogether more thoroughly than they ever have before. And it’s not just the creative; all aspects of my life requiring an attention span lasting longer than a cup of coffee have improved. I have a newfound awareness and appreciation for my energy, and have learnt how to successfully delegate it to things, thoughts, activities and practices that will positively benefit me and my talents. Combined with a healthy, yogic diet and a particular emphasis on ensuring I get enough sleep every night, my energy and productivity has never been stronger. Mental, physical, spiritual…I now fully understand how intricately it is all intertwined!
In taming my own ‘monkey mind’ through my yoga practice, I have learned valuable crowd control. The ‘crowd’ in this sense being my thoughts; the anxieties that trample over one another on a daily basis if left unmonitored and uncared for. Although I’m not (yet!) a business owner, founder of a groundbreaking new company, or even secure in a well-paid office job, learning to delegate my energy to completely and fully realise creative endeavours has provided me with a similar sensation of fulfillment and satisfaction as I imagine those who have succeeded in other fields achieve. Creativity, productivity, and persistence are key to realising any business venture and maintenance, and they just happen to be some of the countless benefits a regular yoga practice can help you achieve.

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31 Obvious Things We All Know Are Important To Remain Balanced But Generally Tend To Ignore

Let’s face it: we all know the things that are good for us.

In some deep-rooted corner of our stomach or diaphragm, or wherever you feel your instinctive urges, we know that staying up that extra hour binge-watching Netflix is going to result in googly eyes until lunchtime tomorrow.
But still we do it, because it’s easy to give in to the urges and not think about the future in those terms—wanting to prolong the feeling of contentment as long as possible, and at whatever cost.
But balance is something that only you can find for yourself. Health service and medical advice aside, you are ultimately the only one who can know your own body and mind, feel your own emotions, hear your own thoughts, and heed what works and doesn’t for yourself.
Listening to your body’s needs and being able to heed them accordingly are two very separate things, however, and too often we let things slip purely out of laziness or for simplicity’s sake.

Sometimes it takes a subhuman strength of will to haul my mind out of the gutter of magical, idealistic thinking, and into the simple reality of what is. Because reality is simple. Here and now, right here, right now, with no thoughts preoccupied with the future or with the past, I have a sense of peace and serenity that stems only from my situation in this present moment, and only this present moment.
There are certain things and environmental factors which I’ve noticed help me to achieve this sense of self and make it more accessible in times of distress.

So, in order to further promote this balance and help myself return here when it becomes necessary again (because even the most balanced person stumbles every now and then), I’ve compiled a list of things that help me personally to maintain balance in the midst of mental, emotional, or environmental chaos.

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1. Rise early. You may not catch any worms, but you’ll certainly get a headstart to the day and a chance to spend some time with yourself and thoughts in order to properly be able to figure them out before the day begins.

2. Eat well. (An oldie, but a goodie.)

3. Drink water—this speaks for itself.

4. Get enough sleep.

5. Listen to your body.

6. Wear sunscreen.

7. Spend time with yourself.

8. Spend time in nature.

9. Breathe.

10. Read books while travelling.

11. Read books in bed.

12. Just read books.

13. Travel often. Movement is key to living—“If we were meant to stay in one place, we’d have roots instead of feet.”

14. Lock your door and dance around (bonus points if it’s in the dark).

15. Sit in a bar or restaurant alone, and enjoy your own company.

16. Drink coffee.

17. Write things down.

18. Write yourself well.

19. Stretch daily.

20. Yoga poses soothe. You know this.

21. Exercise to feel your heart beat in your chest—to feel and stay alive.

22. Indulge in chocolate.

23. Make playlists of songs that make you feel.

24. Do things that make your eyes light up when you talk about them.

25. Spend time with people with whom you can laugh and feel alive, yet who will also remain steadfast and supportive in times of need.

26. Feel your emotions. They’re there for a reason.

27. Take care of your body. You are the only one with the power to do so.

28. Wear what you’re comfortable in. Nobody (yourself included) needs or wants to see you pull up your tights again.

29. Cleanse and moisturize daily—physical freshness can help to have & fall back on in the case of an unexpected mental shift during the day.

30. Give your full attention to someone if they’re taking the time to speak to you—even if you’ve no idea or opinion on what they’re saying.

31. Wherever you are, be all there. Mindfulness and being present in the moment is one of the most straightforward ways to be at ease with yourself and situation, yet ironically is generally the last thought to occur to us in times of stress.

‘Wilder Mind’

‘Wilder Mind’ – Mumford & Sons, 2015

The cherry blossoms are in season. It’s that confused kind of not-too-warm, not-too-cold time of year when going out of the house requires an assortment of potential necessary items of clothing, as the weather is as subject to change as my mind when I think about how I feel that Mumford and Sons have neglected to include the banjo in their newest compilation of songs, the highly anticipated ‘Wilder Mind’.

 In the beginning, I automatically adopted the generalistic hipster belief that any Mumford and Sons album not featuring a banjo somewhere amongst it’s folky depths should not have any right to call itself a Mumford album, and expect to have the same appeal to people.
It’s an easy side to take. It is different.
But man is it good.
I have tried to be unbiased in my judgement, which proved near impossible as my love for the London quartet is still so strongly rooted in good memories and positivity that I was forced to mentally detach myself from them in every way before listening to the album in full – a move ultimately made easier by the slight alteration in sound made by the exclusion of Mr. Banjo (*tear*).

The colloqiualization of the opening track ‘Tompkin Square Park’ invites us away from our present situations to briefly meet in this obscure location, and from the opening electric guitar riff sets the pre-affirmed tone of ‘different’ – undoubtedly giving hardcore critics exactly what they wanted within seconds of their listening. However as the track progresses, the reliability of frontman Marcus Mumford’s acute ability to capture complex emotions within a few short words is thankfully reassured with the line ‘No flame burns forever, you and I both know this all too well”, leaving a relatable echo of regret and a sense once again of the question of the Laura Marling love-affair as inspiration being left unanswered.

Believe’ and ‘The Wolf’ consistently follow, having been the first two tracks released from the album and subsequently the subject of much Mumford-discussion over the past weeks. Crashing drums and guitars further cement the progression of the bands’ sound to a more rock-fueled and bassline orientated expression of the same old beautiful melodies, Marcus’ distinguishable vocals ensuring it does not in fact stray too far from the Mumford and Sons we’ve grown to love so much.

The more I listen, the more increasingly difficult I find it to describe my feelings for the title-track ‘Wilder Mind’. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve actually pressed ‘repeat’, trying to pinpoint exactly what it is that makes it so damn incredibly special. There is a combination of truth, positivity, and natural beauty to the intense lyrics which suggest a deeply-rooted origin in mental health and the tribulations of having an uncontrollable ‘wild mind’, as it is in this sense, so aptly put. ‘You can be, every little thing, you want nobody to know”. …To me, it perfectly captures the potential and power of our own minds and the will to steer our lives wherever we wish. We are so easily influenced by external sources and beings that we so often forget and lose ourselves to the fact that we are all the masters of our own destiny, for want of a less cheesy expression. ‘You can call it love, if you want’ – it shows me that life and relationships and the world are literally what we each make of them, and that we ultimately are in full control of our own lives. It’s an empowering, emotional, and deeply-reaching four minutes of pure bliss to listen to, and I’m genuinely already excited to experience it live someday soon. I could probably do an entire post/review dedicated to this one song, but for now let’s move on.

 The album continues with its’ discussion of love and relationships with a somewhat dark-undertone, the likes of ‘Just Smoke’ and ‘Snake Eyes’ declaring young love to be a fleeting and unreliable source of happiness, yet with a more mature and knowledgable approach to the ever-present possibility of hurt – ‘it’s in the eyes, I can tell you will always be danger”. While this may seem negative, I feel it also reflects a sense of personal growth and strength as the realisation of one’s own worth and independent awareness is deemed separate and stronger than any relationship could ever be – an evolution of sorts from the earlier sorrowful ballads of ‘Sigh No More’.

Worth a mention aswell in the sense of personal growth and independent acceptance is the more upbeat ‘Ditmas’, the leading line of which ‘This is all I ever was” again giving a sense of positive contentment with one’s current existence, embodying the practice of mindfulness in a single line.

I could honestly discuss the ins and outs of each and every track on this masterpiece of an album, imagining hearing them live on a Summer’s day at an outdoor gig and being completely contented with life at that moment. ‘Hot Gates’ being the most recent release, the ebb and flow of the swelling bass echoing that of the earlier ‘Lover of the Light’ from ‘Babel’, I can perfectly imagine the dimmed lights and uplifting harmonies of the choir as it’s performed, a chilled atmosphere and sense of peace eminating from the extended bass lines and lyrics, once again suggesting a personal growth and final movement away from past hurt and troubles. The ‘Hot Gates’ that lead on to somewhere more positive and an acceptance of circumstance ‘There is no way out, of your only life, so run on, run on…’ really leave us with a sense of peace and positive progression as the album finally comes to a close, a sincere, honest, and flawlessly-worded message of contempt to any haters who doubted the bands’ change of sound, while also guaranteeing the validity and certainty of positive things to come.

While I never thought I’d manage to glean over 1,000 words writing an album review (and if you’ve actually kept reading this far, I thank you kindly for your patience!), I have to admit I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the analysation and excuse to intently listen to these songs again and again.

The falling petals of the cherry blossoms even celebrated the beauty of ‘Wilder Mind’ like confetti around me as I listened again on a walk home, and I realised that this album is in fact a flawless compilation of songs that will stay with and comfort me for a long time to come.