All of us can remember pouring over our biology texts trying to draw and memorise so many physiological functions like respiratory system, digestive system, excretory system etc. Anyone reading a well illustrated biology book would assume these are findings of the modern man – who had access to scientific procedures like dissection and microscopic observation. However a slight brush with our vedic texts are enough to unveil the deep insights that our forefathers had on all these aspects without having access to modern labs or their likes.
In our ancient texts one can find references to five pranas (pancha pranas) which were considered to control the physiological functions of the body. The five “pranas”and their respective functions are as below:
a) Prana: controls breathing, both inhalation and exhalation
b) Apana: controls excretion of wastes from the body
c) Vyana: controls the circulation of blood and hence nourishment of the body
d) Udana: controls reverse actions, both voluntary and involuntary. Includes sneezing, shedding tears, etc.,. It is also responsible for thoughts related to higher thinking and exit of the subtle body at the point of death
e) Samana: controls aspects related to digestion and assimilation of food and liquids required by the body
The term “prana” is used to refer to all the “pancha pranas” collectively as well as for the first category alone. And it is from here the term “pranayama” originates. The word “pranayama” can be seen to have two meanings. First as (prana + ayam) meaning to extend or draw out the life force and the more commonly understood (prana + yama) which means controlling the breath or life-force.
Many of what we are hailing as scientific discoveries today were already available as knowledge in our vedic scriptures. And this makes studying them truly humbling!