Seers had once discovered that the universe is not a chaos, but a cosmos, and it is made of akasha, the cosmic matter, and prana, the cosmic energy. Akasha is integrated to the universe by the power of prana. Everything that has a form and existence is evolved out of akasha.
Accordingly, the human body is also composed of akasha, which is the infinite, omnipresent material of this universe. So too is prana Both are too subtle and are not readily perceptible. Gravitation, electricity, magnetism, and all forms of motion and energy are expressions of prana, which is manifest as the actions of the body, the nerve current, as the thought force. In other words: “The sum total of all forces in the universe, mental or physical, when resolved back to their original state, is called prana”.
Breathing is the gross manifestation of prana. Just as we are immersed in air, so too are we immersed in prana. When we breathe we take in both air and prana, which has modifications, according to its five different functions. These are called prana, apana, samana, udana and vyana.
Prana is responsible for our respiration, apana for excretion, samana for digestion, udana for sleep, and vyana for circulation of the blood. The seat of prana is the heart; of apana the organs of evacuation; of samana the area of the naval; of udana the throat; while vyana is all pervading and moves throughout the body, guarding the individual against disease and maintaining equilibrium.
Man is the supreme being because of his exceptional power of volition. Although a blessing, volition is a bane nevertheless, for the various troubles it causes to him. Giving a free rein to it, he invites problems which make his life miserable unnecessarily. He suffers as he wills at random, exercising no restraint over his whims. In the process, his mind almost inevitably goes out of its balance.
Swami Vivekananda rightly compares such a mind to “maddened monkey”. Ordinarily, it is like a monkey that first drinks the wine, then gets bitten by a scorpion, and, finally, to its extreme agony, gets possessed by a demon.
Swamiji said: “The human mind is like that monkey, increasingly active by its own nature; then it becomes drunk with the wine of desire, thus increasing its turbulence. After desire takes possession comes the sting of the scorpion of jealousy at the success of others, and last of all the demon of pride enters the mind, making it think of itself of all importance”. The impact of such a mind on society is also detrimental.
This being the case more or less with each one of us, a profound remedy is imperative. Therefore, Swamiji considers it seriously and offers lessons on Yoga so widely. He is clear ~ unless we know how to control our mind in the first place, we will not know what peace is.
But, what is Yoga? It is, simply, cleansing the mind. It entails reducing the pile of dross in our mind. It helps form our character, However, purging the mind of all the dross we ignorantly accumulate is an arduous task. It demands unassailable practice, patience and perseverance. For, expunging the deep seated impressions within our mind is not possible overnight.
Our mind works on two levels ~ first the conscious, and then, beneath it, the unconscious. There is a still higher plane upon which it can work. Our sense of ego functions only on the conscious plane. It remains absent in the other two planes.
When our mind rises above the conscious plane it becomes superconscious. And in the consummate form of our super consciousness we change from a fool to a sage. That will, of course, happen to us only if we practise Yoga, following its rules rigorously under a teacher who is already a yogi himself.
The conscious workings of our mind are limited. Human reason moves within a little circle. Beyond this circle lies all that is dear to humanity. Short of a sincere endeavour to realise them makes our life purposeless.
“All our ethical theories, all our moral attitudes, all that is good and great in human nature, have been moulded upon answers that have come beyond the circle”. In every psycho-somatic movement there is a form of prana ~ the vital force in every being. Thought is the finest and highest action of prana. The purpose of Yoga is to manipulate it.
Pranayama is the principal aspect of Yoga. It is a compound expression consisting of prana and ayama. Prana indicates the cosmic energy and ayama the restraint. The prana which influences our body and mind, is nearest to us. If we can control it, we will gain perfection.
Pranayama really means controlling the motion of the lungs which is associated with the breath. Prana is producing the breath. It is moving the lungs, and the movement is drawing in the air. Pranayama is not breathing, but controlling that muscle power which moves the lungs. In the practice of Pranayama, we have a certain control over prana.
Through breathing our life-force, prana is in constant touch with the Cosmic Life Force, regarding which we aren’t conscious. With the discoveries of these and many more important facts about our existence and relationship with the Macrocosm or the ultimate Reality, we learn that pranayama is one of the proven ways of calming the restless mind and invoking the right mood for concentration.
Controlling prana by a scientific method, we could efficaciously control prana. Control of prana leads to control of the mind, because without prana the mind ceases to vibrate and comes to a standstill. The process by which prana is controlled is known as pranayama.
Behind the recent popular activities for practising Yoga is the desire for perfecting the body. But there cannot be any peace without perfecting the mind. The mind is also matter in its extremely high state of vibration. An accomplished yogi knows how to take his mind by pranayam to the highest state of vibration and attain Samadhi which annihilates all worldly miseries.
The aim of Yoga is this highest good of human life. We must ensure that it doesn’t slide down from its sublime level and gets confined to genuflections. This is ridiculous. There is no end to the secrets of Yoga; the more we practise it correctly the more it unfolds its secrets to us.
The writer is with the Ramakrishna Mission Ashram, Narendrapur.