Yoga Physiology (article courtesy of my friend 
and yoga teacher Amanda Brown)

Brief Information on Yoga Physiology, Prana and The Aura

From my own, limited, view, the central premise of yoga understanding of human physiology concerns the intake of prana with the breath, as well as the prana contained in physical food and liquids.

Kent defines prana as the "motivitating force of living matter", it is also referred to as the Life Force, "Chi", in China or "Ki" in Japan. 

In simple terms yoga tradition maintains that the human body consists not only of the physical structure but also the electrical emanations from the whole being, with varying degrees of density, known collectively as the aura, in a ratio of 2/3 physical and 1/3 electrical.  The densest radiation of the aura consists of the etheric, which is contained inside the astral body, and extends just a few inches out from the skin, and the finest radiation forms the outer level of the aura, called the causal body.  (In some religious disciplines this is also referred to as the nerve body and/or the akashic record.) The full extension of the aura is usually judged to be approximately 3 ft. but is variable according to process, general health and spiritual enlightenment.

Within the astral body, probably at the etheric level, are the "subtle revolving vortices of energy" (Sturgess) known as the chakras. These are the transformers "which receive, assimilate and distribute prana" (Sturgess) to the physical body through their connections with the endocrine and nervous systems.  Sturgess describes prana as flowing first to the higher brain centres then filtering down through the six main chakras which are closely connected to the 3 central nadis, which form part of the so called "subtle" nervous system permeating the physical body and the aura.  (These central nadis, running the length of the spine and the skull probably correspond with the "Governing Vessel", and the ascending dorsal section of the "Great Central Channel (meridian)", from the Chinese Acupuncture tradition. (Gach)).

Whilst prana itself is a pure cosmic 'fuel', it is affected by the environment it appears into and as it moves through the chakras it connects with each individual's particular characteristics.  The interplay of thoughts, attitudes, feelings, behaviour patterns, habits and actions, as well as the social and environmental stresses the individual is subject to, will all have an effect (or warp factor) on the quality and quantity of prana actually absorbed. So unremitting stress, "artificial values stemming from acquisitiveness and self interest" (Iyengar), alienation from spiritual purpose and the many and varied strains of an unnatural way of 21st century life, will all help to diminish the value of the prana received.  The human vehicle then ends up running on low octane or polluted energy causing malfunction and 'dis ease', with resultant physical manifestations in vulnerable areas.

Yoga is sometimes referred to as the science of religion with the view that the human body is a vehicle for the spirit and soul (perhaps best viewed as the passenger and chauffeur!)  It offers a number of tools with which to tune and rebalance the 'vehicle', so that it is able to attract the appropriate level and quantity of prana, and fulfill the human function.  Asana and pranayama techniques "cleanse the body of tensions, toxins and impurities and release energy blocks, which impede the harmonious flow of energy in the body." (Sturgess)   Meditation techniques have several benefits.  For example, not only do they allow a deeper connection to the inner life, which can lead to greater understanding of the actual causes of a person's 'dis ease', they also allow an increase in the connection to, and sharing of, the higher levels of the life force, which are themselves healing and enlightening to the body, mind, soul and spirit.  

Yoga, it is believed,, has been evolving and practised for at least 3 thousand years, and inevitably many schools and disciplines have emerged differing in detail but with the central themes remaining intact.  These understandings have arrived during states of deep meditation and resultant 'in tuition'.  This has come about through connection to what Tara Patel describes as the "vast mind realm" and which in yoga literature is referred to as the "watershed of knowledge" within the ultimate state of meditation, samadhi.    In psychological terminology this might be described as the higher end of the bar of Jung's collective unconscious, or the superconscious.  In some ancient writings this can be referred to as the "astral light" of which there are said to be 7 levels, from high to low.

It is perhaps difficult for western minds schooled in the scientific disciplines of bio medicine to accept this yoga view of human physiology.  However, as evidence emerges demonstrating the existence of the energy field surrounding the physical structure and the links between states of mind, breath and body, together with the increasingly apparent health benefits of asana, pranayama and dhyana techniques, perhaps a meeting place of the views can be found?  After all it could be said that the rod of healing has two ends and that bio medicine approaches from the Prakrti (Supreme Matter) perspective whilst yoga (and perhaps other alternative or complementary remedies) approach from the Purusa (Supreme Spirit) view.  Without doubt, the physical and electrical worlds mingle and affect each other; in the words of Mehta "the interaction of prakrti and purusa results in creation."    

In terms of the healing use of yoga, it would certainly seem to come within the scope of Antonovsky's ideas of providing salutogenic solutions, ie finding ways for people find meaning for their life, and to cope with and help manage, (or even perhaps identify the causes of and possibly combat) their own particular manifestation of 'dis ease' with our way of life in the 21st century.


Gach,  M R & Marco C: Acu Yoga, the acupressure stress management book, Japan Publications Inc.  USA 1981

Iyengar B K S:  Illustrated Light on Yoga,  Thorsons edition 1995

Kent, Howard:  Yoga for Health Foundation Teacher Training Information 1998, Yoga for the Disabled, Sunrise Publications 1985, Breathe Better Feel Better, People's Medical Society USA 1997

Mehta, Silva, Mira & Shyam:  Yoga the Iyengar Way

Open University, K203 Working for Health:  Block 1: "Antonosvsky": P 37 to 39

Stephen Sturgess:  The Yoga Book, Element Books 1997

Yogi Ramacharaka:   1904 Correspondence class course,  14 lessons in Yogi Philosophy, published  by Camelot Press, London, undated.


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