Prana moves, we breath, and so it goes…

We are in this Together
We are not alone. We all breathe. Each of us absorbs life in an individual way. How often do we pay close attention to what is happening inside? For the most part breathing is automatic, guided by who we are, what we are doing, and how we feel about it. It keeps us alive. Not only alive, but our breathing holds secrets to our inner sense of self. Our breathing patterns interface with our nervous systems, our minds, and bodies. What we breathe becomes us. We take life’s breath into ourselves through every cell in our bodies and every cell responds.

With each breath we are seamlessly relating with the entire planet. As we inhale, we receive elements, nurturance, and inner touch from the environment in which we live. We receive the gift of life. We offer our gifts back into the world as we exhale. The life-giving breath we take in transforms and supports us. We feel it. We release it back out, and then we do it again. We do it over and over, for the entire time we exist in a body.

Intimacy and Desire
Breathing is a profoundly intimate act. Desire drives every breath we take. From our first breath to our last, we want and we need it. We literally cannot live without it. We share the intensity of this desire with all life on the planet. We are constantly in direct communication internally and externally with everyone and every thing that is also breathing. Every nook and cranny, every cell knows breath and is in a continuous dance with the inner and outer environments. What and how we breathe becomes us. 

Usually simply thought of as life-force and considered to be synonymous with “breath”, prana is life. Everything that is alive is suffused with and supported by prana. It is vitality, radiance and movement.

Breathing is so much more than simply taking air in and out of our lungs. Even thinking about breath that way is limiting to the capacity for prana—true breath—to spread. 

Prana animates the entire world. It moves through the body, riding on the air we breathe, penetrating every cell, enlivening us on inhale, and releasing and relaxing us on exhale.  Our prana is our personal gift of life.

Prana gives rise to the breath. It is the subtle breath. It underlies all aspects of what we call breathing. Our breathing processes provide the vehicle for prana to spread through every aspect of our embodied form. Our deepest breath is the movement of prana within our cells. It is the subtle aspect of energetic-awake-liveliness that we feel within.

Prana regulates all internal functions and maintains inner balance the best it can within varying circumstances. When we are healthy and happy prana wafts and weaves through the whole body in easeful support of everything we do. When we are stressed—which is often—we automatically harden and resist. In our resistance we restrict prana’s flow. We harden to protect ourselves. Or we collapse and give up

We must go deeper. There are tools for managing these internal processes. We do have some control over the breath. We can take skillful means and a soft inner touch to modulate and regulate our breathing and therefore—how we perceive, think, feel, and act in the world

Breathing and Pranayama
The trick, of course as always, is finding the most skillful way to both soothe and enliven the nervous system/body and mind. We want to feel safe inside so we can appropriately relax. And we want to feel clear, alert and comfortable at the same time.

Yoga’s breathing practices—pranayama—offer critical tools for creating the balanced ease and comfort we are looking for. Skillful pranayama forms the foundation for developing true clarity in body and mind. Refining our breathing processes forms the sound foundation for serious yogic inquiry. Pranayama is not an isolated technique.

As always, nothing exists without relationship and context. Nothing acts alone. Pranayama becomes effective when practiced within yoga’s full context laid out in the eight limbs of Patanjali’s yoga sutra.

Breath is delicate. We need to commit to sharpening and refining our perceptions to to alter our breath. We need to take a soft touch and remain responsive to what is actually presenting as we use the breath to journey inward. Think of your breathing as a fine excavating tool. Sometimes a large drill may be necessary, but it must be used with care. Harshness in the practice will not be helpful. It can be counterproductive and inhibit the excavation process.

However, even the techniques that one may think of as “harsh” can be done from a soft touch. A soft inner touch is necessary for pranayama to reveal the inner layers of self. The inner depths, the layers of core and radiance are NOT harsh. To enter the inner world we need tools that can match the inner tone of our being—spaciousness and radiance is always there.

Any of the basic techniques can help, when done skillfully. And they can all compromise the nervous system when not done skillfully.

The Kosas — Subtle Anatomy — Layers of Self

The most important aspect of our practice is a willingness to see what is without resistance. This is the yogic principle of Santosha – acceptance and contentment with what is, without inferring non-action. We don’t have to like it. Neither do we have to not like it. We simply need to make a commitment to witnessing anything that arises within us without judgement. This is a very powerful technique. When we cease resisting noticing anything about ourselves, the very issues that our resistance is attempting to keep out of our awareness simply dissolve. They dissolve because we witness them without resistance. So simple. They dissolve because the field of awareness from which we are witnessing them is simply more powerful.

The most powerful force in the universe is the evolutionary movement toward Unity. We see what we are able to accommodate based on the level of comfort that is increasingly present as we travel into the deepest levels of awareness – of which we are made. The movement is always toward more inner comfort. Eventually we begin to trust this movement fully. We trust it because we experience the increasing satisfaction and sense of being at home that contacting these deep levels offers, not because it is a philosophical idea that we like.

The system of the kosas is the perfect template for yoga study. You start where you are – as you are – and inquire deeply. The deepest layers of you are profoundly comfortable in nature. When we can get out of our own way, these deeply comfortable layers of inner awareness and bliss will draw us in. Experience of this deep comfort fascilitates the release of stress and obstruction in the nervous system. Obstacles to clarity melt away and we begin to approach the recognition of our very nature: sat-chit-ananda / awareness-consiousness-bliss


In asana practice, in movement and in stillness, we always begin from what we call whole-body-mind-support-templates. These are matrices of integration that include the whole body-mind-awareness system. They are interrelating and interpenetrating layers of support. It is important in our asana practice not to continue the fragmentary ways of self perception that we habitually use in life. By taking this approach, whole-body-mind-supports, we are already moving toward a more holistic self experience.

The Yogic system of whole-body-mind-integration is pointed to in Tantric philosophy. It is the system of the kosas. Kosas are spiralic and interwoven sheaths of awareness and manifestation – from the most subtle to the most obvious – that woven together, complete the whole cloth of our individual personhood. The kosas also relate to the elements, from the most subtle to the densest: space, air, fire, water, and earth. Each of these elements is part of the stuff that awareness mixes with to form individual qualities, traits, and characteristics. Awareness and all elements are contained within every cell. Therefore each element serves as another whole-body-mind-supporting template.

Subtle Senses
Please keep in mind: We use our senses to experience this. Senses are a very important aspect of this elegant perceiving system that we are.  Each of our senses has the outer more obvious representation of itself and an inner subtle sense. We touch with our hands. We also touch internally cell to cell, tissue to tissue. Our inner touch can be further refined to feel the varying qualities of inner sensation. Remember, everything is more pleasurable the deeper we go. The senses are attracted to the inner body-mind and the subtle and yet powerful sensations of comfort, peace, and home.

Awareness — Pure and Simple—Atmamaya and Chittamaya Kosas
The first, the most subtle, or the deepest whole-body-mind-support-template is Awareness. Awareness is experienced in the body as well as the mind. It is a completely unified field and is the first template of individuality as well.  Awareness perceives itself, without thought, simply as pure perception. This seems difficult to understand because “understanding” involves an object of perception and a perceiver. At the level of pure being there need be no object in order for perception to be happening. Perceiving is always happening whether there is an object or not. The field itself, perceives itself. Please remember this is not a philosophical principle to understand. This is experience experiencing. It is not something that you need to make happen. It is happening. All you and your personal self identifying structures need to do is to witness yourself from the perspective of the vastness. Remember? It’s just like turning a switch. When the light is off you cannot see where you are. When the light is switched on you can see yourself in the perspective of the room. The room was there all along. You just couldn’t see it. Nothing has actually changed except for your ability to perceive.

Bliss — Anandamaya Kosa — Space — Hearing
This is the interface point where the Vastness is beginning to move into form. As Universal Awareness moves into the individual body-mind system, its first and most subtle expression is bliss. The coming together of Vastness and individuality is experienced as waves of bliss. This bliss is not the same as happiness that is dependent upon circumstance. In fact, happiness would not be a good way to describe the yogic experience of bliss. Yogic bliss is a deeply settled inner recognition of Unity manifesting into form. It is a sense of wholeness and inseparability from all of life that gives rise to love and compassion. Most simply put, from the individual perspective, this is profound and complete comfort on every level.

No matter what the situation or the circumstances of an individual life may be, this level is always present. It is called Ananda.  Its existence is not dependent upon feeling good. It isn’t lessened or increased by sorrow or pain. It is just always there. It also doesn’t deny sorrow or pain. If we inquire deeply enough, even in times of suffering, we will see that ananda is present. At the cellular level, the cell recognizes itself to be awake and alive and immediately recognizes the entire family of cells to be the same. The element here is space. It is experienced in the body-mind as a spacious expansion of comfort and relaxation, the feeling of being at home in universal awareness and within ones own skin. This experience of bliss is entirely natural and normal. You have very likely experienced this many times and at some level of your awareness you recognize it already. The only reason you perhaps haven’t noticed it is that you are usually preoccupied with something else. It is just right there! Right underneath and supportive of whatever else is going on. Best witnessed in savasana, perhaps, ananda is associated with the sense of hearing. It is at this level within, that we hear the primordial sound of Pure Awareness moving into form. Again, we hear this. The yogis call this sound Nada. The Nada is expressing from the interface point where Pure Awareness is moving into form. Ananda is a whole-body-mind-support-template. Every cell witnesses this.

Discrimination, Wisdom, and Love —Vijanamaya Kosa— Air — Touch
As Awareness continues its movement into form, the highest level of mind becomes apparent. Again, realize this is not something happening within the brain. Wisdom and discrimination are equally everywhere. They fully penetrate the entire body-mind system that is now taking form. This is the quality of Knowingness. Knowingness is not a thought, it is an immediate recognition. The element is air. Air is expandable and compressible.  It is dense compared to space and yet it has a quality of lightness and mobility. The compressibility and rebound of air brings in the sense of touch. The inner touch, cell to cell, tissue to tissue, a bonding to self and family within the body. This is the level at which love begins to be felt in the cells: community within and community with others, lover, family, friends, and the larger community of the environment and the world. This is a unifying support template for the whole-body-mind also as it is felt everywhere simultaneously.

Try This:
Seated, soften your hand and then rest it on your thigh in full contact. Touch. Is your hand touching your thigh, or is your thigh touching your hand? What does this touch feel like? Where does the sensation begin and end? How far does it spread? Touch somewhere else with your soft hand.
Find a comfortable position where your belly can touch your thighs. Move your belly toward your thighs and your thighs toward your belly. Feel the touch. Might there be love in this?

Sensing, Metabolism, Thinking, and Transformation —Manomaya Kosa— Fire — Sight
Fire is the power of personal transformation. It is our Tapas, our burning desire toward personal evolution. Within our bodies, the fire element includes the processes that use heat and combustion: energy synthesis, digestion, all aspects of metabolism, and many neuroendocrine functions as well. This is also the thinking mind. Thinking and nervous system functions have a dry, light, quick, and hot, quality of fire. We sense this bright light quality of metabolism in the cells. The Greek root of metabolism means “to change”. Metabolism transforms particles within the body to make useable nutrients and to break down complex substances into waste products that can be excreted.  At the level of consciousness we have the same opportunity: to break down complex substances into useable particles and/or waste products that can be excreted. Our inner metabolism, how we are able to digest and assimilate life as it is, propels our personal transformation.  The sense that relates to fire is sight. There is a quality of clear definition and differentiation in our sight. We see the lines, and shapes, and depth. In our bodies this relates to the sensing of our nervous system. Sensing is dry, light, and quick. We see within.

Try this:
Feel the brightness and the clarity of your perception of the light. Feel your inner heat. Even if you feel cold, you have inner heat. Where is it? Can you feel it in the cells? What are your cells “doing”? There is a brightness to it. See it within.

Stand in Tadasana. Feel the element of fire, perhaps in your belly. How does fire move? Reach up to begin a sun salutation from the tapas, the fire.

Feeling, Emotion, and Life Force—Pranamaya Kosa — Water — Taste
Feeling is a fluid experience and takes place within the water element. Since our structural body may be as much as 70% water, there is a lot to feel here. We have blood, lymph, organs, skin, fat, and many other bodily fluids. Each has their own expression with particular qualities and traits of consciousness and form. There is a lot of emotion at the water level. We feel rushing, surging, seeping, pulsing, and wavelike movements that express the many textured levels of feeling.

When we were very young and just developing in utero our body structures were developing first through the prana flowing through fluids. The direction of the pranic movement is underneath all of our physical structures. This is both a memory and an ongoing flow that supports the continuation of health throughout our lives. When these flows are interrupted or blocked due to rigid thinking and hardened movement patterns health is compromised. We are less comfortable in body and mind.

Tapping into the underlying movement of prana within our fluid bodies we once again allow it to flow undisturbed. An unimpeded flow of life force is a great boon to our health and clarity of mind. Full and free pranic movement limits our susceptibility to disease and helps us to develop to our full potential. The natural result is a more fulfilling life that feels useful and valuable to others.

Our organs are primarily fluid in their makeup. Each one expresses specific qualities of intelligence and awareness. Together they form a symphony of support and function. Water is mobile and flows downward with gravity. Water molecules attract one another. They hold together; they bond. Can you taste within? Can you savor every moment and experience of the inner world? Feel now the quality of whole body experience that results from imagining the taste of something delightful. Don’t you feel that everywhere?

Try This:
Stand in Tadasana. Feel the flow of your blood from your heart, to the peripheral body and its seeping back again to the heart. Feel the fluid sensation in your legs and your arms. Begin to let your body move as if the inner fluid flow was directing the movement. Water moves in many spiralic ways through your body tissues. Experiment. Close your eyes and follow the fluid flow within. Allow your bodies outer movement to express the varying inner flows. Savor the movement.

Solidity —Anamaya Kosa— Earth — Smell
Earth is stable. Earth moves slowly. Earth without water is dry, particulate matter. It is our mineral body – our densest form. The particulate forms the scaffolding upon which all other elements can attach. It is the mineral content of the bone.  It is the particulate and structural that is distributed throughout the body, within the cells, within the blood, and everywhere else. Our earth. Smell is the first sense to develop. As tiny babies we use it to find our mothers breast and the milk. Earth within is about being here, survival, existence in the most basic way. It is deeply, quiet, heavy, and present. It is clear and simple. We continue to feel the earth within as the basic structural materials.

Try this:
Stand in tadasana. Feel the weight transfer through your bones and into the earth. Feel the steadiness, the stillness of taking all of your awareness into exploring the qualities of your mineral body.


“How we move is who we are.” Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen
Movement is a quality of life. One celled organisms move. Everything that is alive moves. Life itself expresses from Source through movement. We are in constant movement within. We perceive inner movement with our inner senses. Different qualities of movement spark different perceptions. Different perceptions express in different qualities of movement. Perception, movement, and senses are intimately woven together. They’re woven in the cloth of Awareness.

Movement at each of these levels, these sheaths of awareness, has a different quality. We contain all these elements, they are moving in relationship to one another, they are perceiving themselves, and we are perceiving them. By going to the consciousness of each layer, we bring up, we enliven, its qualities in every cell. The whole body becomes unified in the sensation of an individual sheath and its expressive element. This expresses uniquely in each person based on the personal body-mind system. When this is fully recognized by the individual it can become an ecstatic celebration of life. We have witnessed this in dance perhaps, and in the extraordinary coordination and abilities of elite athletes.

Try This:
What do you perceive through your senses? As yoga practitioners we have refined our senses somewhat already. We have “sensitized” ourselves. Feel outward with each sense, into the environment. Then turn it inward. The inner touch, scent, taste, sound, and sight. Do the inner perceptions of the moment inspire any movement? Can you further integrate the outer senses with the inner? What do you notice?

After you have explored each of these elements individually let’s put it all together and notice the seamless transitions from one to the other.

Try This as a Sequence:
Earth: We can recognize earth as heavy, clear and simple. Moving from earth is slow. If you raise your arms in tadasana from the earth element there will be a dryness to it. As the arms go upward the weight is falling directly downward into gravity. Particulate, sifting through its liquid environment.

Water: Now try the same thing from the sensation of the fluid body. You may feel the surge of the water earthward and the fountain like effect of the upward reaching arms. Do you notice in both of these examples how the whole body seems to pick up the qualities of the awareness from which you are initiating the movement. Try going further with the sun salutation or some standing postures. The differences in the tone is remarkable.

Try fire: Again stand in tadasana. Let the fire begin to burn in our belly. How does this alter your awareness? Begin to move. What is the quality of movement here?

Air: Is there almost a sigh of relief in coming into the air element. Feel the arms float upward from the expansion of the air within the chest and the heart. Air is both expansive and compressible. What is the consciousness that arises with air? It is light now. There is a delicacy to the movement of air. It doesn’t surge. It doesn’t burn and it’s certainly not heavy like earth. There is a gentleness to air. Feel the air. Sense it. Move from it. Love is embedded here. Can you feel that?

Space: By moving from air to space we have an idea of how light and expansive space is. We can see and feel air. Space is where the air is. Feel the subtle expansion in the slight pause at the end of a soft exhale. There is a pulse outward there. Space is found in the effortless suspension of the breath. In tadasana again: How far do you move from space? Perhaps this is move an inner expansion than an outward movement. As you catch the inner expansion, how does your body move? What is the consciousness that is expressing here?

Penetrating Awareness: Something even lighter than space? Not perceptible through the outwardly directed senses, but Known by the inner senses.

When we prescribe a particular method of movement into, and within, our yoga postures we limit the individual expression of each person and their inherent qualities and traits. If we direct our yoga students to enter a particular posture in the same way every time we actually constrain the full expression of the form. Different yoga systems tend to have an affinity for different elements and levels of awareness. By knowing the framework of the kosas, the consciousness, and the elements of each kosa, we have a larger container from which to assist our students to feel the awareness within each form.

Mulabandha — Prana, Embryology & Core

At this point most of us are willing to accept that our physical structure develops and grows from some combination of intelligence, energy, and matter. Matter is the stuff of which we are made. Energy is its process of movement. Intelligence guides its growth. Nowhere is this more evident than in the embryological time.

An awe-inspiring amount of creativity and intelligence expresses in our embryological development. Each phase of development is fascinating and reveals core truths that we live with for the rest of our lives; templates of organization and connection, that may no longer be evident to the eye, but form support structures and relationships that remain with us throughout our life. Often in yoga practice we find that some of the earliest templates of organization from embryology relate very clearly to yogic principles of support and awareness. This is particularly clear when we are observing the flow of prana. Our embryology offers important clues for practice and validates some of the more advanced practices in yoga and the more esoteric descriptions of the inner world that accompany those practices.

The pranic-flows form the templates – the energetic scaffolding – upon which our structure grows. When we look to our embryology with an eye toward Tantric philosophy, we find that prana and apana were present from our earliest beginnings and that it appears/feels that they created the polarity of life force between them upon which our core – our spine and subtle spine – developed.

According to the tantric picture, apana and prana are attracting and repelling one another right from the very beginning. Their opposing energies create a dynamic force between them. It is along this axis of pranic repulsion and attraction that the primitive streak and the notochord initially develop. This is our first central channel – our first structural core.


Embryonic Disc—

In early gestation, from about nine to fourteen days after fertilization, we are nothing more than an embryonic disc. We already have a top and a bottom and a front and a back to our disc. We haven’t yet developed a visibly discernable central axis. According to the Tantric picture of development, apana vayu is already situated at the tail end of the disc and prana vayu is already situated above. The attraction and repulsion – the polarity – of prana and apana are part of the developmental process that defines our structural center for the first time.

We believe that there is awareness at this early place of development. Of course there is. Awareness is at the core of everything and when anything begins to manifest it is already awake and self-aware. It is not a differentiated sense of awareness at this point. At this very early time, awareness is still entirely one of Unity. The disc itself is undifferentiated Awareness, full of all potential and the Creative Intelligence that will create our form and will continue to do so for the rest of our lives. At this early time our experience does not include an experience of individual qualities and traits. It is not personal. It is a Universal experience of life, by life itself.

Can this be experienced directly? I feel that it can. Opening to the possibility of recognizing our undifferentiated, awake, alive, and self-aware beginnings can be profoundly transformational in terms of how we perceive ourselves now. In Embodyoga®, as in Body-Mind-Centering®, we believe that this can be experienced directly, by dropping in through the layers of our current experience to witness their deepest supports. This can be an amazingly comfortable and soothing sensation in body-mind when we remember and re-experience the profoundly centering and stabilizing support of Unity that is underneath so much complication and differentiation. It was and is our immediate and real perception. We can tune into its existence if we so desire and inquire. As Bonnie has said, “We embody ourselves in four dimensions because we include the dimension of time as a current event.”

The Primitive Streak—The embryonic disc begins to profoundly transform into a multilayered and complex structure with the arising of the primitive streak from its root end. From the center of the bottom of the disc, the primitive streak begins to grow. The source of the primitive streak is where the eventual perineal body will be.  As it rises upward – perhaps being pulled by the prana above – it establishes the first bilateral symmetry in our growing anatomy. In terms of yoga, it is important to remember that primitive streak’s origination point is at what will eventually be our perineal body – the home of apana vayu and the root of mulabandha.

The primitive streak rises up only to what will be about the level of the second and third sacral vertebrae. This is the area we refer to as the pit of the belly in Embodyoga®. It is right in the center of the pelvic belly region. The primitive streak pauses at this point. Its stopping point is another structure called the primitive node or knot. The primitive node is exactly where we experience the point of the pelvic belly to be in our adult form. The rising of the primitive streak to the primitive node is the same pranic movement, even the underlying template, for mulabandha in the adult yogi’s body. It is the root of our experience of core.

The Notochord—The cells of the primitive node begin to secrete signals that correspond with further development of the central structure. Out of the primitive node grows the notochord. The notochord develops and rises upward through the center. The notochord is composed of axial mesoderm that gives the embryo solidity and creates a full symmetrical axis for the first time. It is a dense cord of mesoderm, the germ root of all connective tissue in the body. It thickens and jells into a flexible rod like structure with the consistency of a peeled grape. It sends out signals that induce the development of neuroectoderm stimulating the beginnings of our nervous system.

The notochord extends toward the cranial end of the embryo, through the entire length of what will be the future vertebral column, and reaches as far as the anterior end of the midbrain There it ends in a hook-like extremity in the region of the future dorsum sellæ of the sphenoid bone. Bonnie has said that the notochord continues up to the stalk of the pituitary. As you remember, the pituitary is seated in the sella turcica of the sphenoid bone.

As the notochord grows upward from the primitive node, the primitive streak pulls back down, again returning to what will later become the site of the perineal body. The rising notochord completes the differentiation into bilateral symmetry, with itself as the central channel. Our growing body organizes around the notochord. As center, it defines us both bilaterally and front to back. We are beginning to grow a gut tube in the front, and a nervous system at the back.

As we grow through gestation the notochord mostly dissolves. Remnants of it remain in our adult bodies within the nucleus pulposus of the intervertebral discs, as well as in some key spinal ligaments. In our yoga practice it is important to realize that these deep layers of support – that we think of as being way back in time – are actually present now, and are offering ongoing and real support throughout our lifetime. The willingness to accept past, present, and future as one current event is an important tool for honing awareness. The invitation is right here in your personal laboratory for discovery – your body-mind-awareness system. Its fullness is present. The depth of the reality of what is waiting to be perceived right here and now is often not noticed, because noticing requires strong curiosity and the development of inner sensitivity. This is just the kind of inquiry that yoga offers into the body-mind.

The notochord, which has developed between the opposing forces of prana and apana, forms our first embodiment of a central, vertical axis. Energetically, it remains as our youngest and most subtle physical expression of core. Its energy remains and is still felt in the memory and current situation of body-mind.

Notochord and Sushumna Nadi
The adult experience of notochord is available to the yogi as a tube of dense light through the center body from the perineal body to the stalk of the pituitary. In Embodyoga® we refer to this current experience of the radiance of notochord as the embodiment of sushumna nadi.

Keep in mind that sushumna nadi is a subtle nervous system structure, the pathway of kundalini, that it resides within the spinal cord, and it is an empty channel. However, what we experience in our embodied form is more multi layered. In embodiment, we can feel sushumna as the deepest core, subtle structure, of the body. The memory/ current experience of the notochord takes us very deeply into ourselves. It is quite close to the time of our initial personal creation.  Way back then, the notochord was arising from the magnetic pull of the head and tail ends of our embryonic disc-self.

The experience of the notochord is one of awareness and structural integrity. It is light, glistening, and is our center in this very early and only partially formed state. We are at the edge of awareness manifesting into individual form. The radiance of the notochord expressing into form is a tangible reality to be experienced. It is through its radiance that we experience our physical, emotional, and spiritual integrity. We are in direct experiential contact, and consciously participating with Source.  At this level we are in active relationship with spiritual core as it is just arising into form. Again, this is now. It is not something that happened to you long ago and is no longer true. It is present now and just waiting to be revealed so that you can gain from its support. Sushumna is the deepest experience of core for human awareness and the notochord is its corollary anatomical structure. This as an unshakable reality, when it is not just philosophy, but is front and center of our immediate perceptions. In sickness or in health, happiness or sadness, we know who we are.

Yoga and the Bandhas

In our adult form we contain the same pranic supports and patterns of movement that have supported our health and vitality from the very beginning. The energetic flows that were present and developing from our earliest moments continue to sustain and support us until death. When we learn yoga we learn first to feel prana and then to practice ways for containing and directing the flow of life force in ways that help to maintain health and refine our awareness.

Bandhas contain and direct life force. They are both physical actions and movements of intention and breath. The delicate application of the bandhas follows the shape and form of the very early templates of movement of life force from our earliest development. They harken back to our nearly undifferentiated selves when the early energetic flows of prana were choreographing their inner dance and sculpting our form.  The prana and apana vayus created the polarity of a core through their magnetic communication with one another.

The use of pranayama and bandhas in yoga is to enhance, cultivate, and contain the flow of life force. Engagement of the bandhas requires a level of sensitivity to the natural movement of prana in the body so that clear and discerning intelligence can learn to experience, contain, and direct the life force for maximum efficiency and ease in body and mind. At the level of prana there should be no force. Prana is delicate and subtle. The use of excessive force in the endeavor to accomplish the bandhas is agitating and disruptive to prana flow. Sensitivity is required for effective and beneficial practice of the bandhas.

The bandhas are physical actions that we can feel in our current structural self, but obviously that is not all they are. You cannot contain and direct life force through purely physical means. You need to bring awareness to the deepest layers of action in order to make the bandhas effective. They are about cultivating and directing prana, so they need to be done from the level of prana. The templates of pranic movement are underneath and supportive of everything in yoga practice. Rather than thinking about them from the perspective of something to do, it might be more useful to explore them from the perspective of finding them; looking for them with curiosity and fascination. This method works very well. It can be extremely helpful to understand the embryological foundations of the bandhas so that you know where to look.


To feel the actions and effects of the bandhas, one needs to be able to feel prana flow. We have to start somewhere. For mulabandha we start by exploring the sensations of the pelvic floor. We balance muscular tone, learn to use the pelvic floor as support for our bones, muscles, and organs. We become aware of its landmarks, including the perineal and the coccygeal bodies. We learn its language and we enter a dialogue of sensation, feeling, and consciousness. We find the perineal body, sensorially and energetically. This all helps us to tune into more subtle sensations, which inevitably leads – if we don’t give up – to feeling prana. This is how we learn to “do” the bandhas. As we do so, we also refine our awareness of what the bandhas are and learn more about prana.

In mulabandha we are retracing the pathway of the primitive streak as it rises upward from the perineal body to the pelvic belly. In stimulating the perineal body we draw it upward along the exact path of the primitive streak. The lifting of the mulabandha is like a fine silken thread from the perineum right into the pit of the belly point. The pit of the belly is the place of the former primitive node, the place from which the notochord arose. This remains a powerful place in your adult body and it is the culminating point of mulabandha.

It feels as if the pelvic belly point (the primitive node) is actually drawing the apana of the perineal body up and into itself…even that the pelvic belly point may be initiating the mulabandha. Mulabandha causes prana to collect in the pelvic belly point. This pelvic bely point, the place of the primitive node and the site from which the notochord grew upward and the primitive streak pulled back down, becomes much more sensitive and aware. We begin to recognize the power of the life force here and it builds there. This becomes a power center in the body. It becomes a profoundly integrating hub for integration and movement as we explore it more deeply in practice.

With effective application of mulabandha the pelvic belly and the perineal body are acting together to draw life force into the body. The life force that is pulled in with the inhaling breath collects in the pelvic belly as the perineal body is drawn lightly and persistently upward. In the pelvic belly, the prana settles and condenses strongly into what was, and remains, the region of the primitive node.

Mulabandha itself ends at the pelvic belly, but it is not a static end-point. From the perineum to the pit of the belly there is constant communication – a rising and drawing back down of the primitive streak, keeping life force tethered into the root of the body.

When we embody mulabandha – practice it fully, on all of our levels of awareness and structure – we experience our beginnings, all the way to the movement of life force in the embryological time. Our inquiry takes us to that experience and we witness it happening. At our very early beginnings we find a profound sense of Unity. Differentiation in body-mind had barely gotten started. When we travel back to these levels within ourselves we touch in directly to the Unity of Awareness that was present then, and we see that it is still present.

An enlivened perineal body and an effective mulabandha seals the life force at the root and draws all aspects of self into the fullness of our personal form. It is the source of all effective action in the world. When we are not tethered into the perineal body, when the perineal body is not fully awake and functional, we do not have our maximum power and personal gravitas. Our personal density at the root, grounds all of our actions into life. It gives gravity and weight to our thoughts and actions. It is an unshakable drawing into life and existence in this body-mind-system. Without it, action is less than maximally effective. With it, action is grounded, strong, and clear. Mulabandha secures our dharma. It can only be experienced when we are fully committed to being alive. It is the primary support for all that we do in the field of action.

The Prana Vayus

Prana and the Vayus

Prana is life force. It is the creative and intelligent spark of life that animates everything. It flows through channels in our subtle body and infuses our body-mind system completely. When our prana is flowing evenly and undisturbed, we are healthy; prana is balanced and calm. It is ready to respond to the needs of body-mind. It can express as light and quick, undulating, rising, heavy or expansive, inward drawing, or dispersive. All of the inner actions that animate us and keep us alive are movements of prana.

Prana spreads through us via the intricate system of the nadis (channels that contain and direct flow). These channels of flow are sometimes felt or described as rivers of light or vitality. The nadis are the pathways themselves, the banks of the river, and the prana, like liquid light, flows along and within the banks.

The vayus are the winds, or the directional forces, that propel the prana. Together the vayus support and motivate the various movements of life force that motivate different bodily functions. In other words, the vayus coordinate their movements and balance the flow of prana.

When prana flows evenly and healthfully in our body-mind we feel well. When it is obstructed, erratic, overly stimulated, or dull we feel less well. When it flows in a balanced way, prana seeps through the entire body-mind and penetrates like an even mist of vitality. We feel settled and calm. The combination of yoga asana and pranayama does a great deal to balance the flow of prana. The balancing of prana is one of the main reasons that people generally feel better after attending a yoga class.

There are said to be forty-nine vayus, ten of which are of major importance. Of the ten, five are considered to be of primary importance. Each of the five vayus has its own qualities and movement. And although, each is centered in a particular region of the body, they are also all present in every cell. Prana is the umbrella term that includes all of its discretely defined directional flows – so; the prana vayus are all movements of prana. However, it is important to understand that one of the vayus is also called prana, and the prana vayu is not to be confused with the unified prana that includes all life force.

Since there are many different descriptions of the vayus, and some are confusingly dissimilar, it seems fair to say that each serious yoga practitioner should explore the fascinating world of pranic movement for him or herself. In the descriptions below I have included material that I have read (and is easy to find in yoga texts) with my personal experiences. My hope is that this may prompt you to explore for yourself.

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3 • Contained Body Principle


Contained Body Principle | Principle of Whole-Body Integration

“A yogi is a person whose prana is maintained inside the body.” – Krishnamacharya

Prana is life-force. Its vibration and movements are deep support for everything that we do as human beings. Our prana is precious and should be respected and preserved. As a self-study, hatha yoga is the study of prana. It is prana that supports our every breath, thought, feeling, and action. As yogis we should be serious about the maintenance of prana inside our bodies. Without good prana there is no life force with which to inquire deeply or to be effective in the world. Continue reading