In Hindu tradition, prana is the life sustaining force which pervades all living organisms and the universe. It can be likened to the concept of qi in Traditional Chinese Medicine. Focusing prana is an important part of mystical Hindu traditions and Hindu religious practice, and pranic energy is also considered in Ayurvedic treatment. This life force flows through the body along a series of channels known as nadis, and it ebbs and flows along with general health.
Prana is a Sanskrit word which is difficult to translate directly, since it encompasses a variety of ideas and concepts. Essentially, it would be taken to mean “energy” or “life force,” but these definitions do not quite do justice to the word. Prana is also associated with breath, although air itself is not prana; rather, breathing can be used to focus and control prana as part of a spiritual practice.
There are three primary nadis; ida, pingala, and sushuma. Various conditions can be diagnosed as problems along the flow of an individual nadi, and various techniques may be used to free the flow of energy. In Ayurveda, a traditional form of Indian medicine, patients may be massaged, treated with various herbs, or taught meditation and yoga to focus and clarify their flow of prana. Dietary measures may be used to correct imbalances as well, as specific foods do certain things to the body. Ayurveda also includes a long tradition of surgery, as texts and artwork clearly indicate.
In the practice of yoga and other religious traditions in Hinduism, prana is an important feature. A big part of yogic traditions includes focusing and strengthening the prana through physical and spiritual exercises. For example, yogis may use a breathing technique called pranayama to control their prana, in the hopes of reaching pranotthana, a sustained period of powerful, uplifting energy. Various yoga asanas or postures are also designed to promote the flow of prana.
Although prana cannot be measured by objective Western means, it does seem to exist. Studies of various cultures which believe in a life force like prana have shown that the medical and spiritual practices related to this life force do seem to have physical effects. Ayurvedic treatment, for example, can help a patient to feel better with the use of massage and meditation. People who are interested in learning more about ayurvedic treatment can sometimes find qualified practitioners in their area; a visit can certainly be interesting.