The pranic body revisited


Artwork by Alex Grey


B.K.S. Iyengar was a genius. At the time he reinvigorated Yoga as a legitimate system, he eschewed talk of chakras, nadis, vayus, and other aspects of esoteric Yoga anatomy. Iyengar saved Yoga from becoming an antiquated esoteric practice by putting it into contemporary terms using the physical body as a starting point.

That is not to say that his system stopped using terms referring to esoteric anatomy, it is just not used for students who cannot comprehend them. What Iyengar did was to instruct movements of the physical body to facilitate movement in the esoteric body. For example, instead of calling it a “jalandhara bandha” to the raw beginner, Iyengar instructors teach the student to move the sternum toward the chin to get the “action” of Jalandara Bandha. Instead of basing instructions from the different vayus, instructors teach movement from tangible body parts to create an effect in those areas.

jalandara bandha

I learned a very important lesson recently: because of the gross movements in asana, the subtle body is also receiving the benefit. Let me try to explain from my limited perspective.

First we turn to artwork to see the subtle body. I am a big fan of Alex Grey’s artwork. In his artwork, he successfully fuses the physical anatomy with the esoteric anatomy described in yogic texts. In his Sacred Mirrors series, the viewer quickly understands that there is a physical body and a subtle, energetic body.

sacred mirrors

Artwork by Alex Grey


Recently in my practice I have been reflecting on the Earth Element as I am looking for more stability in my life. While in my poses, I recite the sound form “LAM” which corresponds to the Muladhara Chakra which corresponds to the Earth Element. When I breathe out the sound form, I notice a distinct awareness in the areas of the pose that make up the base.  Furthermore, I have noticed after my practices lately, I feel more “grounded.”

muladhara chakra

Muladhara Chakra


Is this hocus pocus? Some may think so. But practicing Yoga for me lately has been more of a laboratory, where I am integrating concepts from my readings into my practice. My experiences are perhaps too subtle to describe in this blog post. Although I am not in an authoritative position to describe my experiences accurately, I do notice a difference in my Asana practice when I do the sound forms versus not doing them.

I don’t always practice with the sound forms. Most times I just do the bread and butter practice to address my physical issues that come from driving in Honolulu traffic all day. Sometimes I just go to classes to learn more about Asana (which I have much much more to learn). I may even be overstepping my bounds by practicing with esoteric concepts. But after 16 years of practice, I am always seeking methods to move toward evolution. The practice of Yoga is so deep, I have not even scratched the surface.


7 thoughts on “The pranic body revisited

  1. k8macdo

    Michael, have you read Dr.David Frawley’s Mantra Yoga and Primal Sound: Secrets of Seed (Bija) Mantras? It’s excellent. This ancient science certainly sheds light on the mystery of sound. I have also experimented with a recitation of the different seed mantras. I don’t think that it is “hocus pocus”, but I do think that the practitioner’s intention and focus are absolutely key. In other words, if I randomly sang “lam” with no focus on the mula chakra, then I rather doubt that it would have much of a grounding effect. I think that these seed sounds have the potential to help us to focus our energies in a powerful way.


  2. Scott@SkepticMeditations

    I agree B.K.S. Iyengar was a genius and an innovative teacher of yoga. As evidenced by his large body of students, legacy, and influence on Yoga as practiced in the West. I’m not super-familiar with his particular teachings, as I was taught and practiced yoga tradition of Paramahansa Yogananda–who met Iyengar in the 1930s in India at the Mysore Palace. Yogananda’s younger brother, Bhishnu, was the yoga guru of Bikram Chowdury of Hot Yoga fame or infamy. The connection is interesting. I don’t claim to know a lot about Iyengar or Bikram (though I studied and practiced Bikram Yoga, under private instructor, for a year while I lived at Yogananda’s Self-Realization Fellowship Hidden Valley ashram center in San Diego County).

    Would you please shed some light on your statement: “That is not to say that his [Iyengar’s] system stopped using terms referring to esoteric anatomy, it is just not used for students who cannot comprehend them”.

    1) Which, if any, students are taught Iyengar’s terms for esoteric anatomy?
    2) What terms does he use? How do they compare with terms used by other schools?
    3) What criteria does an Iyengar Yoga instructor (or did Iyengar) use to determine that the student is “ready” to learn the terms or able to comprehend the system of the subtle body? What are his stated requirements for comprehension?



    1. yogibattle Post author

      Thanks Scott! I was half wondering when you were going to jump into this post. Any student has access to this information on esoteric anatomy (chakras, nadis, etc) as Iyengar maintained that Yoga belongs to everyone and is not proprietary. In Light On Pranayama he talks at length about chakras and this is required reading for teachers. His further books discuss the different sheaths of the body (kosas). As far as the terms he uses, that would take another score blog posts, so I will refer you to the books like Light On Yoga, Light On Pranayama and the IYNAUS 2015 Certification Manual for starters. They can be found here:

      I cannot speak of other schools’ terminology.

      In terms of raw beginner students who walk through the door of a studio and want to learn Yoga, Iyengar instructors would not use these esoteric anatomy terms partly due to the fact that one who has no experience in Yoga would find them confusing, and partly due to the fact that Iyengar and his system start from the outward, tangible (bahiranga) to the inward (antaranga, then antaratma) practice. For example instructions for a beginner would sound like, “externally rotate your arms to widen your sternum” instead of “enlarge your prana vayu.” However, one may hear the latter instructions in an intermediate pranayama class for students who have been practicing for a few years and reading the aforementioned texts.

      For Iyengar teachers, we have required reading and terminology that corresponds to each level of certification. Many of us “read ahead” of the syllabus, but for each level we are responsible to deeply understand the terminology and practice with it accordingly.

      To sum up, there is no “secret handshake” to know when a student is ready to learn about chakras vs. physical anatomy. Every class is different. If I feel the student can comprehend new terminology, I will introduce it only at the level which I am certified and only if I have understood and practiced it deeply myself. In this post, I am speaking in terms of my personal practice based on the aforementioned readings and not what I am being taught in any class.

      I hope this clarifies things a bit.

      Thanks for your comments Scott. They always make me think 🙂


      1. Scott@SkepticMeditations

        Michael: i will check out the Iyengar resources you mentioned. If I understand you correctly, you say Iyengar teaches an “outside-in” approach. In other words, yoga practitioners focus attention on physical body and eventually internalize their focus to the yogic or subtle body. I’d be interested in understanding the Iyengar process for comprehension, the actual “knowing” from outside first to the internal body. Does Iyengar encourage internal perceptions of the subtle body?

        My yoga meditation teacher, Paramahansa Yogananda, had an inside-out approach. The Master first prescribed to his students to meditate, to attain the internal perception of various yogic states, and then encouraged the yoga practitioner to “carry” or embody those meditative states while performing one’s outer activities. In this way, the yoga devotee could be said to make all his actions yoga, meditation–an offering to the Inner Source. Not sure if this makes sense to you. And if it helps point out any differences or similarities between Iyengar and Yogananda methodologies. I make no value judgements between the yoga methods. I’m curious for understanding the method and how its practiced “internally”–such as comprehension (or attempts to comprehend) of the subtle body you mentioned in your post.



      2. yogibattle Post author

        Very interesting observation about the “direction” of the practice from an internal vs. external perspective. Iyengar taught to move from Annamayakosa to the Anandamayakosa (physical self to the devine body). His book Light on Life expounds on this concept.

        For my own practice, I am just trying to uncover all of my unawarenesses in my body. In finding them I realize that there are much deeper unawarenesses. That’s as internal as I am capable of practicing now. The sound form practice is an experimental approach to see if I can get deeper.

        Thanks Scott!


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