Updated: Jun 17
English language hardly has any vocabulary for Subtler and Causal Dimensions/planes of existence. Hence, we face this challenge while Translating. Prana is Subtle, Breath is Gross/Physical.
First of all, let's understand why so many Sanskrit/Hindi spiritual "terms" cannot be translated into the English language? Why do we have Sanskrit Non-Translatable Terms?
The Answer to the above questions is that - English language hardly has any vocabulary for Subtler and Causal Dimensions/planes of existence. Hence, we face this challenge while Translating.
Approximate/rough division of the Gross, Subtle and Causal can be as below and it changes when you are looking from different perspectives and for different purposes:
GROSS – This includes Physical Body, Mind, Thoughts, Emotions
SUBTLE – This includes Prana, Pranamaya Kosha, Vigyanmaya Kosha, Anandamaya Kosha and many more
CAUSAL – Atman, Brahman, Adi Shakti or Shakti, Shiva and their many forms
Also “Words” are for Physical/Gross dimension and they can be translated. Means a word can have a meaning. But Subtle & Causal dimensions requires Interpretation and have “Terms”. Terms can be interpreted, explained but cannot have direct/one-to-one translation. The “definition” of the English word “Subtle” itself is where the “difficulty, inability” of the English language starts from.
PRANA IS NOT BREATH, PRANAYAMA IS NOT BREATHING EXERCISE
Prana and Pranayama are Sanskrit Non-Translatable Terms.
Prana is Subtle, while Breath is Gross/Physical. Prana flows in Pranamaya Kosha, while Breath flows in Physical Body.
This doesn’t mean that Prana and Breath have no connection, they do have a connection like our different body systems are interrelated, interconnected with each other, but Prana and Breath are not one and the same thing.
We breathe because we have Prana. We move, we sit, walk, talk, eat and are alive because we have Prana. Prana is the Cosmic Pulsation (Hindi/Sanskrit – Spandan) which is reflected in our Pranamaya Kosha (2nd layer/sheath of our existence, also referred to as Energy Body). The Pulsation/Spandan of Prana in our Pranamaya Kosha makes our Annamaya Kosha (Physical Body) breathe. In Pranamaya Kosha Prana flows in Pingala Nadi which supplies Prana to different body parts and brain.
Now because the physical body does breathing due to Prana Spandan in Pranamaya Kosha, hence they are closely related to each other. Prana Spandan also makes our Manomaya Kosha “take in a thought” and “throw out a thought”. Now, just like people are not breathing properly and their breathing rate is disturbed in the same way people may hang onto a thought or may be stressed, anxious and hence thought rate may be disturbed too. So, through the Prana, Breath and Thoughts are connected. In other words, through Pranamaya Kosha, the Annamaya Kosha and Manomaya Kosha are connected and can have an exchange, persistent thoughts and emotions from Manomaya Kosha can flow all the way to Physical Body and the Asanas and Breathing impacts can flow from Physical Body to Manomaya Kosha.
When Breathing is shallow, too many thoughts boggle the person and one becomes stressed. In other words, too, many thoughts will result into shallow breathing, but there is no point in looking at it in this way because you cannot minimize the thoughts, you do not have any direct control over your Manomaya Kosha unless you are a Sadhak/Yogi. Hence the useful way to look at it is that through proper breathing you can minimize mental/emotional disturbance. In other words, if breathing is disturbed, mind/emotions will be disturbed and Pranic Shakti (Rough translation – Power of Prana) will be lower and that will speed up the ageing process and/or the physical body may become diseased.
So, breathing exercises are done to have a calm, peaceful mind and that helps us increase the Pranic Shakti in Pranamaya Kosha. In other words, Prana becomes pure as it doesn’t have a stronghold by Aham/Ego.
Prana is an essential Life Force, and is the cause for us to be alive in body and use our different Koshas and body systems, including breathing. Breathing doesn’t create Prana, it can purify and balance it. Prana in itself is Subtle, but is the causal factor for Breath, Breath is not the causal factor for Prana. Because Breath is in gross body and it can’t be the cause for anything in the Subtle Body. In other words, we Breathe because we have Prana and not vice-versa.
Just like Prana and Breath are not one and the same, similarly, Breathing Exercises and Pranayama are not one and the same. Sports coach often suggest their students to breathe differently at different times, but that is not Pranayama, it will impact the Prana though, but that is not Pranayama.
Pranayama is a process, method of –
Purifying the Prana (Removing the hold of Vasanas, Ego/Aham, Chitta-Vritti) which increases the Pranic Shakti, the intensity of Prana
Moving the Prana to different Chakras and Nadis in the Pranamaya Kosha for healing and other purposes
Moving different types of Prana Vayu (Pancha Prana – 5 Prana Vayu) for healing and other purposes
Alignment (Balance, Purification) of all Koshas
Most importantly, Pranayama is the Process/Method to move Consciousness/Awareness to different Koshas, Chakras and systems for the purpose of spiritual evolution, because Prana is the vehicle for Consciousness
Pranayama requires –
Physical Body to Breath, specific Breathing Techniques
Physical Body to be in specific Asana and/or Mudra and/or Kriya
Pranayama results into –
Better Well-being (Physical, Mental/Emotional)Sharpened Intellect (Purity of Buddhi)
Better Awareness - Because Prana is the Vehicle for Awareness/Consciousness, hence through Pranayama Consciousness/Awareness is moved to different Koshas, Chakras and systems
Awakened/Enlightened State of a Being
Now if you see here “Breathing Exercise” alone cannot produce such high-end results. Pranayama is not just breathing, it is a “Complex Process” which involves many methods, systems.
Hence Prana is not Breath and Pranayama is not Breathing Exercises. Prana is Subtle, Pranayama involves Subtle System and Gross System both, but the achievement of goals is in the Subtle dimension of your existence. Quieting the mind, calm, peacefulness all these are achieved in Manomaya Kosha which is a Subtle body. In other words, it brings Transformation of the Subtle and helps us move towards Causal, to just “be”.
There are more people in the world interested in Physical Well-Being, then there are some interested in Mental/Emotional Well-Being. Hence Pranayama is being reduced to just Breathing Exercise and being sold as a Therapy for Well-Being. There are very few who are interested in Transformation, Transcendence and to those Pranayama is very important in its true meaning and context and Prana is the vehicle for Consciousness.
Now, you may wonder why many Gurus, Spiritual Teachers, even Indian Spiritual Teachers just use the word "breath & breathing exercise" and do not stick to the Term Prana or Pranayama?
There could be several reasons:
They themselves have not understood the "Subtlety" of Yoga Principles. They have not understood, accepted the Subtle aspects, Transcendental aspects of Prana & Pranayama.
They deal with masses who are after physical/gross aspect of life.
They themselves have not Transcended the physical/gross limitation through Prana/Pranayama or any other method/means.
They may not have realized that English and many other languages do not have vocabulary for Subtle and Causal planes of Existence.
It may be just convenient to keep on using the wrongly translated word, without realizing the fact that in the English language this term means something gross/physical, hence many Westerners may get confused.
An understanding that says "it's hard for the Westerners or other language speakers to remember, understand, pronounce the Sanskrit/Hindi words". But how can you justify "wrong translation"? Would it be OK, acceptable if I start calling "Eye Blinking as Breathing"? Because both of them happens rhythmically when normal, non-rhythmically due to external/internal factors.
It's difficult to stop, think and make correction and cause a paradigm shift.
On the name of convenience we have accepted many things which are incorrect fundamentally. Hence we must stop, think and make correction as we go before it's too late.
The most important thing to understand here that, it is not about which language is being used, it's not the fight between two languages, and it's not about the "words" either, it's about "the meaning, the concept" which cannot be conveyed through wrong translation to those who do not have direct experience, embodied wisdom of Prana and/or Pranayama yet, those who have not experienced the Transcendental yet. Those who are Yogi, Sadhak it doesn't matter for them, because they have grasped the real meaning, the concept of it, the Prana itself and their Awareness has increased. The correct meaning and translation of the words like "Bike & Biking" matter to those who are reading them and trying to understand, not to those who are Bikers and have experienced Biking. So for those people who are new and are being introduced to themselves through the path of Yoga, the correct meaning, translation of these words matter a lot. Hence we should stick to the word "Prana and Pranayama" until & unless English language authorities, dictionaries come up with other equivalent Terms.
You need to be clear about your own goals, as to whether you want to learn Breathing Exercise for physical/mental/emotional well-being or you want to learn and practice Pranayama. There is nothing wrong about looking for better well-being. But only if you understand Pranayama, you will be able to touch the Subtle existence of Prana within you and you will experience Transformation/Transcendence, only then you are a Spiritual Seeker, Sadhak, a Yogi.
At times many people just look for overall well-being but then transformation within helps them explore the Subtle dimensions of life and they move towards Pranayama and/or Kriya Yoga.