Q: I have a question concerning prana. Do we have an unlimited amount of prana that flows at a certain base level and we have to increase that capacity? Or do we have a set amount of prana from birth and if we use it up prematurely then we die?
A: We have a limited amount of prana. If we abuse it, misuse it, and overspend it, we definitely run out of prana much faster. That’s why it is said that the span of our life is measured by breath. But even though the amount of prana we have is finite, prana shakti (vital energy) itself is not finite. The vast pool of shakti is unlimited, but what is granted to us individually is finite. Even what’s allotted to us is often underutilized or misutilized. With the practices of yoga and pranayama, however, we can learn to make proper use of the prana we’ve been given. This is the first point to remember.
Second, by using the pranic force that is already naturally at our disposal, we can further awaken the kundalini shakti (potential energy) that has long been dormant. What comes out of that awakening becomes part of this pranic pool. That is how we expand our pranic field. If we do not exercise our human privilege, then our pranic pool will remain the same. And as we go through the motions of life, in the natural course of time, our pranic “savings account”—what we have at our disposal—will deplete. It is up to each individual. If you do not make good use of your prana, then you neither gain nor lose anything as far as your normal life’s existence is concerned. By the same token, it means you really did not do a good job being a human. That could have been done by any creature—a camel, a donkey, a sloth, a turkey—because such creatures are guided by nature.
Animals are driven by nature. Their experience of fear, anxiety, anger, or the need to hibernate is instinctual. Organisms whose life is totally governed and guided by nature are called bhoga yoni. That is, they were born to undergo only a limited range of experiences. They cannot alter their karma or expand their pranic field. Plants and animals fall under this category. Bhoga yoni organisms are simply exhausting the amount of karma that can be exhausted while living as that particular species. On the other hand, we can expand our own human capacity to an amazing extent. We can exhaust karmas and karmic consequences by applying proper methods—this makes us karma yonis. We have the ability to perform actions under our own will, and thus to change our destiny so that we are not a product of our karmas. That kind of privilege is called human capacity.
Animals, as I mentioned, are much more limited. It’s impossible to teach creatures how to do alternate nostril breathing. If they could somehow learn, their intelligence level would go up immediately. Instead of teaching a chimpanzee how to drink soda and smoke cigarettes, perhaps we should figure out a method of teaching it to stretch its spine a little bit, sit up as straight as possible, and close one nostril and then another while breathing through the open one. Even so, a monkey is limited. Its spine is fused at the bottom, so it can’t sit up as straight as we can. And because it carries its body in a horizontal rather than an upright position, its diaphragmatic muscles and connective tissues are limited.
A chimpanzee can run and stand on one leg and stretch. But can a monkey do asana? Well, its body stretches but there is no breath-coordinated movement. However, the beauty of breathing is that if you were able to teach a monkey to breathe properly, then it could learn to do many amazing things; it could even start learning from its past so it would not repeat the same patterns. In this way, it would grow far beyond what you would think of as its normal monkey capacity. That is the beauty of breathing. And that is called learning to utilize and maximize the full extent of your prana shakti.
This privilege is given by nature to humans. We are born breathing diaphragmatically; however, the vast majority of us unlearn this natural way of breathing due to stress and poor habits. So we have to relearn what used to come naturally to us—the kind of breathing that energizes us, that infuses our limbs and organs with the maximum amount of prana shakti. The point is that unlike any other creature, human beings have this unique privilege—the ability to utilize and expand our current level of prana shakti, and add more.
So how do we do it? By awakening the kundalini and by channeling the shakti that emerges from it. This combined energy becomes the pool of our pranic force. We do this through the systematic practice of asana, pranayama, relaxation, and meditation, coupled with healthy living and a positive mind-set. Thus, we become a better and stronger person—a more radiant, loving, kind, and energetic person. In the same proportion, the intelligence of our body and mind also increases. We become free from the countless diseases and disorders that have held us in their grip. In all our pursuits, we become happier, more productive, more creative, and more content. We begin to bask in the light of this radiance. This is what comes from using our prana shakti to the fullest extent. When we capitalize on the full range of our human gifts, we realize our full human potential.
Source: Sri Vidya: The Embodiment of Tantra Q&A (Khajuraho, 2015)