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Let Your Light Shine – The Power of Prana in Fostering Health and Healing
A core concept in the yoga tradition has always been the idea of working with Prana (life force energy) to foster greater healing and well-being. While we in the Western world tend to think of yoga in terms of the physical expression in asana, yoga also works more deeply on the level of the Prana, whether we are consciously aware of it or not.
The more we learn to embrace and consciously work with Prana through specific methodologies in our practice, the more we gain the ability to heal, revitalize, or empower ourselves.
Why Work with Prana in Yoga?
Prana is the force responsible for the energetic processes that precede physical processes. Every moment of your life, there are literally millions of chemical processes taking place to regulate body functioning, 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.
We can tap the power of Prana when we begin to work with what the yogic tradition calls our “Prana body.” Our Prana body is one of the many layers of our being, and it 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 ancient yogis discovered that while we can’t stop or change thoughts, we can change our energy body through visualization, focused asana, and breath work. And, in this lies the true power of yoga: As we shift our energy, our thoughts and emotions change as well.
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 to this great dissolver has great power to free us from old patterns and remove the veil over our light. When yoga leaves us feeling more awake and more emotionally liberated, it is the healing power of Prana in action.
Prana Exercise #1: Connect to your Prana body
The first step in connecting to the Prana body is to know how to sense 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, however, at least initially.
To get into the Prana body, let’s go back to a few of our ancient sages and texts for some clues on how to connect with the Prana body. The Yoga Spandakarika says that Prana Shakti manifests in our awareness like a spanda, a vibration or pulsation. If you close your eyes and sense a subtle pulse, or see internal color or light, it is a good clue that you are beginning to sense your Prana body. It is simple, yet at the same time, profoundly powerful.
If you don’t see subtle light or feel the pulsating presence of sensation, 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.
Prana Exercise #2: Kindle a Fire in your Belly
The navel was always a central focal point for working with Prana, due to its transformational and balancing capacities. Tantra understands that bringing more focused, loving attention to this area can ignite the positive qualities associated with a belly that is alive.
In fact, the yogis spent considerable time and effort in strengthening this flame, using a variety of different techniques. Chances are that if you have taken a yoga class, you have worked to stoke the fire of the core.
Here are some simple techniques that enliven Prana in the belly, many of which you may recognize from yoga classes you have taken:
1. Every time you consciously breathe out and feel the navel draw back on the spine, you stoke the navel flame.
2. When you draw the navel lock upward for Uddiyana Bandha, this flame is sparked.
3. When you do a strong breath practice such as Kapalabhati or Bhastrika, the light of the belly is brightened.
4. There are also subtle ways to kindle Prana in the belly, such as the simple awareness of the way your belly drops down on your spine effortlessly as you melt into a deep restorative backbend or in Savasana.
Why so much focus on the belly? Well, when you have strong Prana in your core, you can burn through anything life throws your way. When your Prana flows intelligently at the navel center, you get better at digesting things, whether it be the salad you ate for lunch, the incredibly long report you need to read for work, or the less-than-desirable aspects of your personality that lead you away from freedom and joy.
Tantriks likened this part of our energetic anatomy to a fire because a belly that is alive warms us. It makes us feel safe and “at home” in our body. The belly, when full of presence, strengthens our sense of individual purpose in the world. A belly that is awakened says, “I am safe. I am here. I have a mission.” A belly that is asleep says, “What’s my unique purpose? Am I important? Am I balanced?”
The navel is also the seat of digestion and assimilation. If the navel (and sacrum in general) is weak, we may experience instability in our low back, sluggish digestion, or instability in our mind and emotions.
Forrest Yoga and ParaYoga, in my experience, are two yoga styles that pay particular homage to the belly fire, both on a physical and psychic level. Try taking one of these classes for a core-building and purifying experience.
You can also just practice bringing more loving focus to this area during your yoga practice, and during your daily life. With more kind presence at this area, you can begin to unearth your hidden capacities to be stable and solid in the face of a turbulent life.
Check out Katie's upcoming course on YogaUOnline: The Cultivation of Prana Shakti: Unfolding into a Life of Purpose and Meaning.
We are excited to have Katie Silcox join our prestigious list of YogaUOnline Practice Channel Teachers! Go here to see a list of her practices.
Katie Silcox is the New York Times best-selling author of the book, Healthy, Happy, Sexy - Ayurveda Wisdom for Modern Women. She is also a nationally-recognized yoga teacher, Ayurvedic practitioner, writer for Yoga Journal, and a senior teacher within the Sri-Vidya ParaYoga lineage under Yogarupa Rod Stryker. Katie was named one of San Francisco's Best Yoga Teachers by Common Ground Magazine in 2009, and one of "70 Yogis Changing the World" in Origin Magazine in 2014. Her signature teaching style blends classical yoga, vinyasa-based asana and life-changing Tantric/Ayurvedic philosophy. www.katiesilcox.com