views updated May 29 2018


PRāA . The Sanskrit term prāa (from the conjunction of pra and ana, "breathing forth") can signify (1) the Absolute (brahman ) as the transcendental source of all life, (2) life in general, (3) the life force or "breath" of life in particular, (4) respiration, (5) air (in secular contexts only), and (6) the life organs (i.e., the five cognitive senses, the five conative senses, and the sense-related mind, or manas ).

The third connotation is of special interest to the historian of religion, because it conveys a vibrant psychophysical reality (visible to the yogin) similar to the Greek pneuma and the Melanesian mana. In this sense, prāa is a creative force, defined in the Yogavāsiha (3.13.31 et passim) as the "vibratory energy" (spandaśakti ) that is responsible for all manifestation. Most metaphysical schools of Indiaone of the exceptions being Hīnayāna Buddhismsubscribe to this notion, although the details of interpretations differ.

In archaic Vedic thought, prāa is considered to be the "breath" of the macranthropos, the cosmic Purua (e.g., gveda 10.90.13; Atharvaveda 11.4.15), and the breath or life force of the human body is regarded as a form of that all-pervading prāa. Later writers make a terminological distinction between the life force that interpenetrates the entire universe as a sort of subtle energycalled mukhyaprāa or "principal breath"and the life force that sustains and animates the individual body-minds. Prāa in this latter sense has from earliest times been classified into five individualized breaths. These speculations, dating back to the Atharvaveda (see esp. chap. 15), betray a culture of intense introspection and acute sensitivity to bodily processes.

The five individualized breaths, sometimes known collectively as vāyu ("wind"), are the following:

  1. prāa, the ascending breath issuing from the navel or the heart and including both inhalation and exhalation;
  2. apāna, the breath associated with the lower half of the trunk;
  3. vyāna, the diffuse breath circulating in all the limbs;
  4. udāna, the "up-breath" held responsible for belching, speech, and the spontaneous focusing of attention in the esoteric "centers" (cakra s) of the brain, as realized in or associated with higher states of consciousness;
  5. samāna, the breath localized in the abdominal region, where it is chiefly associated with the digestive process.

The soteriological literature of the post-Śakara period often adds to this classical pentad a further set of five secondary breaths (upaprāa ), about whose locations and functions, however, there is no unanimity. These are the following:

  1. nāga ("serpent"), generally held responsible for belching and vomiting;
  2. kūrma ("tortoise"), associated with the opening and closing of the eyelids;
  3. kkara ("kr -maker"), thought to cause hunger, hiccups, or blinking;
  4. devadatta ("God-given"), associated with the processes of sleep, especially yawning;
  5. dhanajaya ("conquest of wealth"), responsible for the decomposition of the corpse; also sometimes said to be connected with the production of phlegm.

These ten types of breaths are generally conceived of as circulating in a complex lattice of bioenergetic pathways called nāī s ("ducts"). They are widely thought to constitute an experiential field or bodily "sheath," the prāāmaya-kośa (Taittirīya Upaniad 2). In the Chāndogya Upaniad (2.13.6), the five principal breaths are styled "the gatekeepers to the heavenly world," which hints at an esoteric understanding of the close relationship between breathing and consciousness. This connection was later explored in the various soteriological schools, notably in hahayoga.

Sometimes prāa and apāna simply represent inhalation and exhalation, but in yogic contexts both terms are used in the technical sense noted above. Particularly in hahayoga, both breaths play an important role in the technique of breath control (prāāyāma ) as a means of curbing, through sensory inhibition, the rise and fall of attention.

See Also

Breath and Breathing; Cakras; Hahayoga; Yoga.


Brown, George William. "Prāa and Apāna." Journal of the American Oriental Society 39 (1919): 104112.

Ewing, Arthur H. "The Hindu Conception of the Functions of Breath." Journal of the American Oriental Society 22 (1901): 249308.

Wikander, Stig. Vāyu: Texte und Untersuchungen zur indo-ira-nischen Religionsgeschichte. Uppsala, 1941.

New Sources

Connolly, Peter. Vitalistic Thought in India: A Study of the "Prāa" Concept in Vedic Literature and Its Development in the Vedānta, Sākhya and Pañcarātra Traditions. Delhi, 1992.

Georg Feuerstein (1987)

Revised Bibliography


views updated Jun 11 2018


Qi is the Chinese name for the vital energy that undergirds the universe, analogous to the Indian prana. Its literal translation is "gas" and hence is similar to the Hebrew concept of spirit which is associated with breath. In China, qi is usually thought of as yaunqi, the original vital energy. Qi is the energy that flows through the body and is the subject of treatment in acupuncture and acupressure. Blockage of the flow of qi is the source of disease and the free natural flow of qi is the underpinning basis of health. The flow of qi, it is believed, can be stimulated by the practice of a series of exercises called qigong. Teaching about qi reaches into ancient China and much of the traditional Chinese understanding of the universe is based upon a belief in its existence. It is integral to Chinese medicine, including the understanding of the power of herbs, and basic to a vital sexual life.

Common throughout China were a wide range of practices designed to raise qi and hence invigorate the body and serve as a system of preventive medicine. These wide-ranging techniques are generally grouped under the name qigong, and include practices known elsewhere as meditation and exercise. Some form of qigong was integrated into Chinese religious practices, especially Buddhism and Taoism.

Working with qi was greatly affected by the Chinese Revolution in the mid-twentieth century, and especially during the brief period known as the Cultural Revolution. Religious institutions and practices were heavily suppressed and the secret books that held the teachings on qi were either destroyed or placed in government archives. Following the Cultural Revolution, Deng Xiao Peng went about rebuilding China's past, but in the light of the Communist present. Most importantly, he promoted traditional Chinese medicinal practice and the revival of qigong. In the meantime, people knowledgeable of qi migrated to the West and began to talk openly about traditional Chinese practices, thus creating a demand from the West for more information. The flow of material on qi began with President Nixon's trip to China in 1972 and the American govern-ment's support for a new scientific look at acupuncture. Acu-puncture has subsequently become a popular alternative medical practice, though its use by Western physicians remains limited.

In China in the 1980s and 1990s, extensive experimentation has proceeded aimed at gathering scientific data on the existence and beneficent effects of qi. These experiments parallel Western attempts to measure the effects of spiritual/psychic healing. Using the EEG and related instruments, Chinese scientists believe that they have documented the existence of qi and in a wide range of experiments have documented the power of qi in the treatment of different diseases. It has, for example, appeared helpful in curing cancer in experiments involving the progress of carcinoma cells and leukemia in mice. These experiments are now being offered to Western scientists for duplication and verification.

Meanwhile, the promotion of qigong among the population has proved a two-edged sword for the Chinese. In the late 1990s, it was discovered that qigong had become the basis of the creation of new unofficial religious groups built around the mental and spiritual effects of the experience of qi. The most successful, a Buddhist movement named Falun Gong, now has followers in the millions and has become very popular in many countries with Chinese expatriate communities. In 1998, the Chinese government began an effort to suppress the movement in China.


He, Hong-Zhen, et al. "A 'Stress Meter' Asessment of the Degree of Relaxation in Qigong vs. Non-Qigong Meditation." Frontier Perspectives 8, no.1 (Spring 1999): 37-42.

Lee, Richard E. Scientific Investigations in Chinese Qigong. San Clemente, Calif.: China Healthways Institute, 1999.

Peisheng, Wang, and Chen Guanhua. Relax and Calming Qi-gong. Hong Kong: Peace Book Co., 1986.


views updated May 11 2018

Ch'i (Chin., ‘air, breath, strength’). The vital energy (in Chinese religion, medicine and philosophy) which pervades and enables all things. ‘Nourishing the life spirit’ (yang ch'i) by a variety of exercises, including diet, breath control, and sexual control, became pervasive. It is thus closely associated with yüan-ch'i and nei-ch'i. It is gathered in the human body in the ‘ocean of breath’ (ch'i-hai) just below the navel, where it must be carefully fostered, especially through breathing practices, above all hsing-ch'i, which allows the breath/energy to permeate the whole body, by imagining the breath as a visible line or lines moving through the body; or t'ai-hsi which reverts one's breathing to that of an embryo or foetus in the womb, and which, by transferring ordinary breathing (outer ch'i or wai-ch'i) to dependent but directed breathing, is powerful in leading to cures and immortality (see ALCHEMY). Medically, ch'i was developed into the exercises of ch'i-kung, also known as outer exercises (wai-kung). See also FUCH'I; LIEN-CH'I; T'IAO-CH'I; YEN CH'I.


views updated May 09 2018

chi1 / / • n. the twenty-second letter of the Greek alphabet (Χ, χ), transliterated in the traditional Latin style as ‘ch’ (as in Christ) or in the modern style as ‘kh’ (as in Khaniá and in the etymologies of this dictionary). ∎  (Chi) [followed by Latin genitive] Astron. the twenty-second star in a constellation: Chi Ophiuchi.chi2 / chē/ (also qi or ki) • n. variant spelling of qi.


views updated May 23 2018


A Chinese term for life energy or spirit (Japanese ki ), comparable with the Hindu yoga term prana. Although deriving from the breath, ch'i, like prana, is transformed by the metabolism into subtle vitality that follows certain channels in the body, and it is related to the state of health of an individual. In the recently revived ancient Chinese systems of acupuncture and acupressure, these subtle energy flows are modified by inserting needles or by specific pressures at certain body points, resulting in improved health or the alleviation of physical disorders.

In the Asian system of martial arts, ch'i is directed by will-power to specific points of the body, resulting in apparently paranormal feats of strength and control.

(See also breathing )


Palos, Stephan. The Chinese Art of Healing. New York: Herde-rand Herder, 1971.

Tohei, Koichi. The Book of Ki: Coordinating Mind and Body in Daily Life. San Francisco: Japan Publications, 1978.


views updated May 18 2018


According to Hindu yoga teachings, a subtle vitality contained in the air, modified by the human body to govern essential functions. In hatha yoga training, this vitality is enhanced by special yoga exercises known as pranayama. A combination of hatha yoga exercises and pranayama techniques created a latent force called kundalini in the body. Reportedly Kundalini usually supplies energy for sexual activity, but when fully aroused can be conducted up the human spine to a center in the head, resulting in higher consciousness or transcendental states.

Many writers have noted the similarity of teachings on prana and other teachings concerning subtle energies such as od or orgone.


Kuvalayananda, Swami. Pranayama. Bombay, India: Popular Prakashan, 1966.

Prasad, Rama. The Science of Breath and the Philosophy of the Tattvas. 3rd ed., rev. London: Theosophical Publishing Society,1897.


views updated May 11 2018

Prāṇa (Skt., ‘breath’). In Hinduism, the vital force which differentiates the living from the dead. By the breath from his mouth, Prajāpati created the gods. The essential characteristic of breath as life-bestowing, was eventually identified with Brahman present as ātman. See PRĀṆĀYĀMA.


views updated May 14 2018

QI quartz-iodine (in QI lamp)