The ancient yogis understood that we are much more than this beautiful physical vessel. With its aches and pains and time-molded wrinkles, the physical body is something our culture very much encourages us to identify with, and yet it something we are all going to eventually lose.
Connecting to something timeless
The practice of yoga encourages us to free ourselves from the burden of over-identifying with the physical body. Moreover, yoga asks us to consider that we are not only solely the physical body, we are also not only the thoughts and emotions we experience on a daily basis, but a composite of the finite and the infinite, woven into the fabric of many layers of being. The yogis called these layers koshas. (For an overview of your koshas, read this.)
One of these layers is called the prana body. It’s the part of you that is innately intelligent. Prana is the force responsible for the energetic processes that precede physical processes. Let me give you an example: Every night, without you thinking or planning, you go to sleep, and something keeps your blood steadily pumping, your pH levels stable, and the breath flowing in and out. There are literally millions of chemical processes taking place all the time in your being, and all of them occur without you trying. The force responsible for this miracle is prana, an operating intelligence, like an electrical impulse (or a divine messenger!) that keeps things flowing smoothly.
The prana body is woven into the physical and mental bodies. That means, the food that you eat affects your prana. The thoughts that you think affect your prana. And your energy, in turn, affects how you feel. You are one big mandala of multiple subtle bodies, each layer informing the others. The yogis fell in love with the prana body because they figured out that it was pretty darn tough to stop or change thoughts, but our energy could be quickly altered through visualization, focused asana, and breath work.
The ancient yogis knew that prana is the great dissolver. It dissolves old pain and heartbreak. It breaks up darkness in the body. It can heal old intrinsic memories stored inside of us, releasing their unconscious control over us. In essence, connecting this great dissolver frees up our insides, removes the veil over our own light. And we feel more awake and more emotionally liberated.
Get in your prana body
The first step in connecting to the prana body is to know how to find it. It’s easy to feel your physical body, especially if it’s aching or ailing you. Similarly, everyone knows what the “thinking body” feels like, especially if we feel emotionally overwhelmed or intellectually stimulated. It’s not always as easy to feel the prana body, at least initially.
To get into the prana body, let’s go back to a few of our ancient sages and texts for some guru-clues on how to access it. The Yoga Spandakarika says that prana shakti manifests in our awareness like a spanda, a pulse, vibration or tremor. If you close your eyes and sense subtle pulse, or see internal color or light, it is a good clue that you are beginning to access your prana body. Pretty simple, yet profoundly powerful.
Prana follows focus
If you don’t see subtle light or feel pulse, don’t worry. Wherever you take your focus, prana goes. Eventually, you will sense the subtle presence of prana pulsing you alive by simply quieting the mind and focusing on a specific area of your body for a few minutes.
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This post originally appeared on the Yoga Journal Blog on April 4, 2013.