Healing Through the Cultivation of Prana

Healing through the cultivation of Prana

Prana can be defined as an underlying energy that is within us and around us. An energy or vitality or aliveness that we can have access to all times. In our lives we either allow that energy to flow through us, to be felt and seen and integrated or we can resist against it. Resistance to this energy or sensation can result in many levels of dysfunction. We can begin to numb our bodies so we no longer have access to that level of sensation. We can spend that energy with our thoughts, our emotions, the way we eat, with physical activity. We can guard against that energy and sensation through muscular tension and tightness in our body.

In Tantra hatha yoga, one of the ideas or intentions is to help us access and be with that energy and to cultivate the capacity to be with greater aliveness. We can use asana to awaken our bodies, to feel our bodies and notice the ways we react to that energy. We can use pranayama to awaken vitality, to change vitality and through an integrative, meditative process begin to change our relationship to sensation. In this approach, much of our suffering and pain stems from how we are in relationship to these energies as they arise in our practice. We would want to work with pain and suffering from this underlying idea of how we sit with sensation and grow our capacity to be with layers of sensation with awareness.

In the understandings of the nervous system that are starting to arise in the field of pain science and physical therapy, the terms are changing to look at nervous system sensitization, and neuroplasticity. How do we help ourselves and others change the response to sensation? The medical model is beginning to see the importance of this approach of working with pain by working with awareness and changing the way people are sitting with sensation, pain and suffering.

A useful model from Tantra hatha yoga is the model of apana and prana. Energy either rises and is a form of free energy that we allow to flow through us and lets us have access to more vitality in our lives- or this energy gets tied down into apana. We can regulate and meet our energy needs through food, people, thoughts, and emotions. Our ego has a certain vitality through which it sees the world, through which it understands its place and how to respond in the world. As we work to change this vitality the ego will fight back. Apana will allow us to spend this energy through anger, sadness, depression, anxiety, tension in muscles, numbness in our body, even food helps us regulate our energy so that we can maintain the amount of energy or aliveness that we are comfortable with.

The techniques of Tantra Hatha Yoga ask us to sit with energy as we disturb it through a meditative practice of asana and pranayama and to allow the energy to become part of us, to live more fully alive. This greater vitality has the opportunity to flow into helping us live more meaningful, aware and compassionate lives.

To understand the application- imagine sitting in a posture- like bridge, or like a forward fold and adding breath techniques. Then sitting in that energy and noticing what happens without judgment or interruption of that flow. Allowing anger, sadness, grief to arise and instead of allowing it to become one of these emotions or tension, instead of closing down to the energy, we breathe into it to see deeper into the energy. Instead of just feeling our hamstrings stretch or our glut muscles engage and the reaction of the mind, emotions and thoughts, we see the energy underneath and let it flow through us unencumbered.

In order to do this we must have a balance of cultivating the container, or witness to see, while surrendering and being open to whatever arises. The balance of strength, discipline and open-ness allows us to receive these gifts of the practice.

-Marlysa Sullivan

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