From Hindupedia, the Hindu Encyclopedia
By Swami Harshananda
Prāṇa literally means ‘that by which one lives’.
One of the most widely used words, ‘prāṇa’ has several senses. They can be delineated as follows:
- Some of the Upaniṣads like the Kausitaki use the word for Brahman.
- Vedāntic works use the word to denote Hiraṇyagarbha, an aspect of Brahman, involved in the process of creation through his icchāśakti or cosmic will-power.
- Coming to an individual living being, prāṇa is the life-force or vital air, because of which only the being lives.
- In its primary sense, it is sometimes called mukhyaprāṇa also.
- In the Upaniṣads, the word is also used to indicate the indriyas or sense- organs.
Prāṇa Functions of Body
Prāṇa functions inside the body in five different forms. Hence it is also called as ‘pañcaprāṇas’. The five prāṇas are:
- Prāṇa - Prāṇa is centered in the nose and is responsible for respiration.
- Apāna - Apāna works downwards and is responsible for the working of the excretory organs and the organs of generation.
- Vyāna - Vyāna pervades the whole body and supplies the energy necessary for hard work like running or lifting a weight.
- Udāna - Udāna is situated in the throat with its movement poised upwards. It helps the jīva to leave the body at the time of death.
- Samāna - Samāna, the last of the pañcaprāṇas, is situated in the central region of the body and is responsible for digestion or assimilation of food.
Classification of Upaprāṇa
Each of these five prāṇas has a subsidiary called upaprāṇa. The five upaprāṇas are:
- Nāga of udāna - It is responsible for eructation.
- Kurma of vyāna - It is responsible for winking.
- Kṛkala of samāna - It is responsible for sneezing.
- Devadatta of apāna - It is responsible for yawning.
- Dhanañjaya of samāna - It is responsible for sustaining the body.
- The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore