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The science of respiration and the doctrine of the bodily winds in ancient India.

Ancient Indians paid particular attention to respiration and the function of wind in the body by making the breathing process a focus of religious concern and practice. In the minds of the early Indians, respiration was the principal indicator of life; and what humans breathed was the motivating force of both the cosmos and human existence. This cosmic wind was mankind's vital breath (prana), the principal manifestation of a person's immortal soul.

The word prana is a derivative noun, originally meaning "the breath in front," or the inhaled air. When prana is combined with its opposite, apana, "the breath away," i.e., exhaled air, the process of respiration is indicated. Observation of the vital function of these complementary aspects of respiration, combined with intuitions about the function of wind after it entered the body, eventually led Indians to conceptualize and codify the bodily winds and their operations in the human organism. Prana assumed the character of vital breath, inhaled air in the process of respiration, and was the principal wind in the upper part of the body, on which all other breaths depended. Apana was the exhaled air, and the essential wind in the lower part of the body.

Ancient Indians identified organs resembling lungs (pupphusa, kloman) as part of human and animal anatomy, but they never understood their function in respiration. They conceived the lungs to be the locus of phlegm, and usually the heart to be the seat of vital breath. Respiration was simply the intake and expulsion of vital air from the body. Once in the body, it was carried throughout the organism by a series of vessels and stimulated the vital functions of the various bodily organs and parts. Each bodily function or locus of bodily functions had a wind or breath that acted as its motivator, giving rise to innumerable vital breaths, which eventually became codified into five basic bodily winds: prana, apana, vyana, udana and samana.

In addition to scrutinizing afresh certain Vedic sources on respiration, this study surveys classical ayurvedic treatises and yogic texts in order to trace more precisely the evolution of ancient Indian ideas about respiration and the bodily winds.(1) The analysis that follows indicates that a central theory uniting respiration and the bodily winds appeared in the Vedic literature. Thereafter the two components split and developed in two distinct directions: medical circles focused on the physiology of bodily winds, and practitioners of Yoga advanced doctrines of respiration and techniques of arresting the breathing process. Gradually Yoga began to assimilate and adopt theories about the bodily winds developed by physicians. The result was a harmonious blending of medicine and Yoga.

Asceticism is the common thread running through and stitching together the science of respiration and the doctrine of the bodily winds. Focusing on the ultimate principle and its manifestation in the human body, ascetics strove to understand completely the operation of atmospheric wind when it entered the human body, then systematically codified and gradually recorded in Indian technical and scriptural literature a comprehensive theory of bodily wind and respiration.


In the Rgveda, prana has a threefold association. It is associated with life; it is the representation of atmospheric wind (vata, vayu) in mankind;(2) and it is connected with the process of respiration. Indicating the beginnings of a physiological understanding of the body, the Vedic theory of prana's relationship to respiration is our principal concern.

Rgveda 10.189.1-2 illustrates by way of analogy that respiration was rhythmic, involving an inbreath and an outbreath:

The spotted steer approached [and] rested on Mother [Earth] in the east; and going ahead to his Father Heaven,

He wanders between shining ones, breathing out after his inbreath. The bull peered out unto heaven.(3)

The obscure allusion in these verses is to a celestial body, conceived of as both a spotted steer and a bull, which travels across the heavens, pausing before the Earth and moving between other bright objects in the sky in a seemingly regular fashion. The poet likely had in mind the (full) moon in one night-long course across the sky. Its normal appearance and disappearance on the cosmic scale resembled the regular process of a human's inhalation and exhalation (asya pranad apanati [apanatah]). This is the earliest indication that breathing involved a twofold process of taking in and expelling air.

The Atharvaveda contains numerous references to vital breath and respiration, continuing the theory of breath begun in the Rgveda and further developing the notion of respiration indicated in the late Rgvedic passage. Prana in the Atharvaveda is associated with life and the promotion of longevity. Often it is listed with other aspects of life, such as seeing, hearing, strength, and progeny. The lack of prana signaled death and the loss of life,(4) and charms were recited to kill enemies by removing their breath.(5)

The importance of prana as life's promoter and sustainer is indicated by AV 11.4(6), an entire hymn devoted to life-breath. Here prana controls the universe and is lord of all things in the cosmos, both those that breathe and those that do not. It protects humans, as a father safeguards his son, and rules over and destroys enemies.(6)

The association between human breath and atmospheric wind (vata, vayu), indicated in the famous "Purusa" hymn of the Rgveda (10.90.13), is developed in the Atharvaveda. Wind is breath's principal link to the cosmos,(7) for breath comes from wind(8) and wind purifies breath.(9) But also the sun, the cosmic fire, is the source of breath and, because of its self-motivating and life-producing characteristics, it is equated with breath.(10) Both earthly and atmospheric fires (agni) have breath and breathe,(11) water (ap) gives breath,(12) and time (kala) is said to contain breath and mind (manas).(13) The last might refer to the seasonal winds.

From the joining together of the various cosmic aspects of breath come the life-producing and sustaining rainstorms of the monsoons that manifest breath as roaring wind, thunder, lightning and watering rains.(14) Rain causes the earth to yield her life in the form of plants, which in turn sustain humans and other living beings. Earth therefore is said to give breath and longevity (ayus);(15) and breath promotes the growth of all types of plants,(16) which themselves breathe.(17) Specifically the food plants rice and barley are products of apana and prana, respectively,(18) and rice-gruel (odana) gives breath and possesses life-giving qualities.(19) Wind, like plants, was also a remedy against life-threatening disease.(20) In the minds of the Vedic Indians, breath was equated with, contained in, and associated with all elements which produced and maintained life. In short, breath was life's universal witness.

The hymns of the Atharvaveda point to a fundamental connection between life and the process of breathing. The twofold mechanism of inhalation and exhalation was clearly recognized and defined by prana and apana, often occurring in compound form as pranapana. They are like two draft-oxen in the pen,(22) and walking together, they are allies for maintaining a sound bodily condition and long life.(23) Although scientifically incorrect, a more sophisticated physiological understanding of respiration occurs at AV 11.4(6).14:

A human being breathes out (apanati) and breathes in (pranati) when inside the womb (garble). When you, O Prana urge him on he is born again.(24)

As respiration was the primary life-force, it was natural for the Vedic Indians to imagine that it was present in the active fetus ready for birth and that the issuance of the fetus from the womb resulted from the functioning of the life-breath. Although modern medicine disproves the assertions in this ancient text, one can clearly understand its basis. Moreover, this conceptual connection between bodily wind and the fetus could have resulted from the observation of the breathing patterns of women in labor. Ancient medical doctrines are replete with similar "logical," albeit scientifically inexact, explanations which contribute to ancient Indian medical intuition.

Respiration, Bodily Winds, and the Role of Ascetics

In classical Indian medicine, there are ordinarily five bodily winds or breaths operating in the body to regulate and stimulate various internal functions: 1. prana, the "front breath," located in the mouth, ensures respiration and swallowing; 2. udana, the "upward moving breath," produces speech; 3. samana, the "concentrated breath," promotes digestion; 4. apana, the "downward moving breath," ensures excretion and childbirth; and 5. vyana, the "diffused breath," circulates in the limbs and motivates their movement.(25)

The same five terms occur as bodily winds in the Atharvaveda. They are found in pairs, like pranapana, and in groups of threes and fours; never does the group of five occur together as one unit, indicating that their classical formulation was not yet standardized. These Atharvavedic passages contain what Filliozat claims to be the germs of the ayurvedic physiological doctrine of bodily winds.(26) Further examination of the evidence suggests that it is unlikely that the Vedic understanding of these words corresponded precisely to that expounded in the ayurvedic treatises. The sequence of their pairings are as follows: prana and vyana;(27) prana, apana, vyana;(28) prana, apana, vyana, samana, as bodily parts;(29) and prana, apana, vyana, udana, as bodily parts.(30) It is likely that these words were originally conceived of in terms of manifestations and variations of respiration with some intuitions about their functions inside the body. From the acute awareness of the breathing process, prana was "inhalation," manifested as air carrying out the functions associated with the mouth, and apana was "exhalation," manifested as air associated with all functions of expulsion. They were the norms in comparison with which the following variations were understood by observation combined with intuition: vyana, "different breath" (that breath situated between inhalation and exhalation, or the retained air, which circulates in the body and promotes internal functions), samana, "complete breath" (that breath remaining after the twofold process of respiration, i.e., inhalation and exhalation, perceived to bring about digestion), and udana, "up breath" (that inhaled breath which returns to the mouth as eructation).

Elsewhere, several different types of bodily winds (prana), corresponding to every conceivable bodily function, are enumerated. There are the winds that approach, depart, stand, sit, breathe in, breathe out, turn away, and turn toward.(31) Sometimes the number of winds is seven, called the seven seers (rsi), corresponding to seven openings of the sense faculties of the head: two eyes, two ears, two nostrils and the mouth.(32) Other times there are a thousand winds, said to be contained in the "unsubdued" (astrta) amulet,(33) or, even more vaguely, an indefinite number of winds.(34)

It is clear that particular attention was paid to the occurrence of human respiration, which was scrupulously observed. This was followed by assumptions about the functions of wind when it entered the body. The results of this empirical and intuitive process are recorded in the hymns of the Atharvaveda, which do not offer a definite systematization of the physiology of respiration, but lay the groundwork for a doctrine of bodily winds that theoreticians of the medical tradition would codify several centuries later.

The detailed understanding of respiration expressed in the various hymns of the Atharvaveda also has close ties to ancient Indian ascetics who utilized techniques of breath control and rhythmic breathing in their meditative discipline to obtain quiet states and control of both mind and body. The archaic knowledge of respiratory stages likely derived from these ascetics who practiced breath control as a form of Yoga.

Evidence in the Atharvaveda indicates that the ascetic discipline was emerging by a process of "ritual interiorization," whereby aspects of external rituals were internalized by means of meditation.(35) Central to this process was a basic theory of mankind's principal life support system, respiration, which had links to the divine by means of the cosmic wind and was responsible for life and longevity. An Atharvavedic verse states that breath (prana) is born of the soul (atman), the single immortal part of a human.(36) Speech in its personified form (vac) provides breath,(37) so that the reciter of incantations possesses the power to lengthen his breath,(38) an initial step in breath control, which in turn strengthens the incantations (brahman). Likewise, he, on whom rests the greatest thing, heats his head with truth (satya), surveys everything here with incantations (brahman), and breathes crosswise (tiryan pranati) with breath, i.e., retains his breath.(39) The reference in this obscure verse is to a ritualist, skilled in the recitation of incantations, whose head burns because of the self-generated heat of asceticism (tapas), which involves a form of breath control. The ascetic process of ritual internalization continued with the ritualist symbolically making his hand the sacrificial spoon and his breath the sacrificial stake to which the victim was attached.(40) Truth (satya) and faith (sraddha) became the sacrificial goat's breath.(41)

The vratyas, ascetics par excellence of the Atharvaveda, seemingly lived by breath alone and were known for their ability to make their breaths long, a form of pranayama or yogic breath control.(42) Part of their ascetic discipline involving respiration demonstrates an elaborate process of ritual internalization. For the vratya, each of the three winds, prana, apana and vyana, consists of seven types delineated by correspondences typical of the ritual process. The three winds obviously refer to inhalation, exhalation and retention of air, constituting the threefold technique of breath control, discussed in the later treatises of Yoga. The seven pranas are named with the following correspondences: 1. head (urdhva) is fire (agni), 2. flowing forth (praudha) is the sun (aditya), 3. flowing to (abhyudha) is the moon (candramas), 4. all pervading (vibhu) is the purifier (pavamana), 5. uterus (yoni) is the waters (ap), 6. the beloved one (priya) is the domestic beasts (pasu), and 7. the limitless one (aparimita) is the creatures (praja).(43) This enumeration of the various pranas indicates some location of the breaths and the physiological functions they stimulate. The seven apanas possess specific ritual correspondences: 1. the worship on the night of the full moon (paurnamasi), 2. the worship on the eighth night after the full moon (astaka), 3. the worship on the night of no moon (amavasya), 4. faith (sraddha), 5. consecration (diksa), 6. sacrifice (yajna), and 7. fees given to the officiating priest (daksina).(44) The seven vyanas have macrocosmic correspondences: 1. the earth (bhumi), 2. the atmosphere (antariksa), 3. the sky (dyu), 4. the lunar mansions (naksatra), 5. the seasons (rtu), 6. the combined seasons (artava), and 7. the year (samvatsara). The hymn concludes by stating that these are the vratya's offerings.(45)

Internalization of ritual by means of ascetic practices focusing on breath control and techniques of respiration led to a catalog of breaths according to existing ritual categories and terminology. In the midst of this classification there are hints that attempts were being made to associate certain types of breath with bodily functions, further anticipating the later medical authors' treatment of the subject. The development of a doctrine of bodily winds and respiration was localized among the ascetics whose principal concern was a discipline leading to long life and immortality through meditation and ecstatic techniques, among which controlling and arresting respiration played a key role.

Vedic poets conceived of a fundamental correspondence between atmospheric wind and breath. The beginnings of a codification of bodily winds occurred as techniques of respiratory control became an important ascetic discipline. These yogic techniques utilized preexisting categories to internalize Vedic ritual. In the literature of the later Vedic period, asceticism remained the principal vehicle for developments in ancient Indian theories of respiration and the bodily winds. And these ideas gradually became more refined and standardized.


The notion of respiration and bodily winds in the exegetical samhitas, the brahmanas and the philosophical and mystical upanisads indicates a continuation of the conceptions advanced in the earlier Veda, but also demonstrates a further elaboration of breath in ritual and ascetic contexts, resulting in a codification of respiration and the bodily winds, with indications of their anatomical locations and physiological functions.

The ritual samhitas and brahmanas provided the context for connecting the bodily winds to the sacrifice and ritual process. In addition to being the principal indicators of life, prana and apana, as in the earlier treatises, are equated with various divinities including the Sun,(46) the Asvins,(47) Agni,(48) Sarasvati (Goddess of Speech),(49) Indra,(50) and Mitra and Varuna.(51) More importantly, the bodily winds are enumerated in mantras accompanying different parts of the sacrificial ritual, for the sacrifice is said to succeed by prana.(52) Formulaic utterances involving two (prana, apana), three (prana, udana/ apana, vyana), four (prana, apana, vyana, udana), and five (prana, apana, vyana, udana, samana) winds are commonly employed. The twofold formula often forms a pair, as in inhalation and exhalation, as noticed in their connection with the dual deities Mitra and Varuna.(53) Typically the threefold formula is accompanied with sense faculties such as eye, ear, speech and mind, and occurs in the context of the horse sacrifice and the enumeration of the parts of the horse's body.(54) The formula of the five bodily winds ritually symbolized the five sets of ten bricks, known as breath-supporters (pranabhrt), making up the middle layer of the fire altar, situated to the east. Using mantras involving each of the winds, the ritualist constructed the fire altar. The middle layer of bricks corresponded to the atmosphere (the middle region in which the cosmic wind resides and from which the rain falls). This layer included the naturally perforated brick which the steed of the sacrifice was made to sniff and thereby receive his life-breath (prana). Mankind's bodily winds or breaths (pranas) were nine in number, while the tenth was the navel (nabhi). The ritualist placed the breaths in the front, i.e., in the mouth. Therefore the breaths are in front.(55)

The nine bodily winds referred to in this ritual procedure are the seven pranas of the head (two each of the eyes, nose, and ears, and one of the mouth) and two winds of the lower body (avanci).(56) Identification of the seven pranas of the head with the previously mentioned seven seers is also found.(57) Elsewhere, and increasingly more frequently in the upanisads, prana simply occurs in the plural, without specification as to constitution.(58) The plural may refer to any combination of the five bodily winds, the six organs of sense, the nine or ten winds, or others.(59)

In terms of physiology, the indefinite number of breaths indicates the very beginnings of a codification of knowledge concerning the bodily winds which were associated with all the bodily functions in various locations. The later standardized formula of five winds was already present, occurring in the context of other anatomical parts of the sacrificial horse. The connection of various winds with the senses and sense faculties and the winds situated in the head point to their generalized locations and their physiological functions with respect to other sense faculties. In particular, atmospheric wind (vata) was gratified by the sacrificed steed's prana, the two nostrils by his apana, all pranas by his roar. Here a hint at the later medical formulation of the bodily winds can be observed. Prana is, like the atmospheric wind, a breath outside the body waiting to be inhaled, and apana is the bodily wind exhaled through the nostrils. All the pranas at one point or another come from within the body, and when expelled (through mouth or anus), produce various sounds resembling roars.

The ritual role played by breath in the recitation of mantras, many of which included the names of the various bodily winds, reflects the ongoing process of ritual internalization by means of ascetic practices involving breath control and rhythmic breathing. The enumeration of bodily winds reveals serious attempts to penetrate beyond the twofold process of inhalation (prana) and exhalation (apana), and to arrive at a comprehensive theory of wind's functions in the production and maintenance of life. The closely related philosophical and mystical literature of the upanisads shows a complete internalization of the sacrifice and a dominant focus on asceticism that utilized breathing techniques to attain an understanding of, and union with, the universal spirit, brahman, conceived to be the soul, atman, in living beings.

In the principal upanisads, breath control and rhythmic respiration began to receive increasingly more attention, precipitating a codification of bodily winds similar to that found in the classical medical treatises. An examination of prana and bodily winds in this important corpus discloses the crucial role asceticism played in the evolution of an ancient Indian doctrine of bodily winds and respiration. Persistent meditation on the nature and function of breath eventually led to a bifurcation of opinions concerning bodily wind. The medical branch focused on the physiology of bodily winds, and the yogic branch emphasized techniques of breath control.

The old notion that prana represented the atmospheric wind (vata) in humans and functioned as the animator and prolonger of all life was the starting point for the mystics' theory of respiration and the role wind played in the body. In their spiritual quest through meditation for the universal principle behind all existence, these ascetics realized that breath was the closest physical manifestation of the ultimate, unchanging, creative force in man, his atman, or soul, the embodiment of the brahman, or universal spirit. Prana is the seat of the brahman and arises from the atman.(60)

Through a systematic internalization of the sacrifice by meditation on various aspects of the ritual through the use of mantras in conjunction with regulation of the bodily winds, the ascetics came ever closer to the realization of the ultimate principle so closely associated with breath. The upanisadic treatises detail every aspect of how this was accomplished, utilizing the information recorded in the ritual texts of the later Veda and creating mantras based on sacred syllables, such as om, and verses from the early Veda, on which to focus their thought and with which to control their respiration.(61) Important in this process was the fundamental connection between atmospheric wind, prana, and rain (water), as the three bases of life. Added to this was the further association with food, mouth, speech, and the mind, for food and water, like breath (prana) taken through the mouth, sustain life, provide speech, which was so important in the recitation of the sacred sound, and altogether activated and stimulated the mind.(62) In fasting, an important technique of the ascetic discipline, the practitioner would drink only water, itself imbued with prana, and thereby take in life by the mouth.(63) One passage explains that before eating, the ascetic must wash his breath with water (i.e., rinse out his mouth), offer oblations with greetings to each of the five bodily winds (prana, apana, vyana, udana and samana), eat the remainder of the offering, wash out his mouth again, and meditate on the atman with the following mantra:

His breath and fire, the highest soul, has entered into the five bodily winds. May he, when pleased himself, please the all-enjoyer.(64)

The object of the meditation process was to gain control of the mind and the sense functions, conceived to be the pranas.(65) These pranas were prana, speech, sight, sound, and mind, or a combination of the five, of which the atman consisted. The most important was prana because all others contained prana, the life-breath.(66) Therefore one should practice rhythmic breathing and thereby attain divine prana and the heavenly realm.(67) Elsewhere the pranas are understood, as in the earlier texts, to be the seven seers or sense openings of the head, with an eighth, voice, added.(68) The principal seat of the prana is said to be the heart.(69)

Continued contemplation of the bodily winds gradually gave rise to a standardized list of five pranas, their anatomical locations, and their physiological functions; and, as aspects of the ongoing process of internalizing the Vedic sacrifice, they were often equated with aspects of ritual, most notably the Agnihotra, or fire sacrifice, in which the aforementioned bricks became the objects of the connections.(70)

In the Prasna Upanisad, prana, born of the atman and part of the body by the action of the mind, controls the five bodily winds individually:

1. Apana is located in the organs of excretion and generation. 2. Prana is located in the eyes, ears, mouth, and nose. 3. Samana is located in the middle and equalizes (in distribution) whatever has been offered as food. From it arise the seven pranas of the head (i.e., the seven seers). 4. vyana moves in the channels of the body, all of which originate in the heart, the seat of atman. 5. Udana, rising up from the central channel (susumna), leads in consequence of good work to the good world, in consequence of evil work to the evil world, and in consequence of both to the world of humans.(71)

In the Maitri Upanisad, definitions of these five, based on their physiological functions, are offered:

1. Prana is the wind that passes upward. 2. Apana is the wind that passes downward. 3. Vyana is the wind that supports prana and apana. 4. Samana is the wind that conducts into apana the coarse element of food and distributes in each limb the most subtle element of food. It is a higher form of vyana. 5. Udana is the wind that is between vyana and samana. It belches forth and swallows down what is drunk and eaten.(72)

Elsewhere, the five bodily winds are equated with the five vital functions through the Agnihotra sacrifice: prana corresponds to sight, vyana to hearing, apana to speech, samana to mind, and udana to wind (breath).(73) Another enumeration gives slightly different correspondences with the vital functions and includes the principal anatomical parts: prana corresponds to sight and skin, vyana to hearing and flesh, apana to mind and muscle, udana to speech and bone, samana to touch and marrow.(74)

There can be little doubt that the ascetics of the upanisadic age, through their long meditations on breath and its importance to the life process of a human being, conceived of a wind-physiology codified according to the five fundamental bodily winds. The efforts of these mystics would serve as the basis for a more elaborate scheme of the physiology developed by the medical theoreticians, who were also inspired by ascetic insights.

In addition to providing the basis of later medical theories, the ascetics' conceptualization of bodily winds elaborated in the upanisads also led to developments in meditation techniques, and in particular to systematic Yoga, whose evolution seems to have run parallel to that of medicine. The earliest reference to the subsequent formulation of Yoga is found in the Maitri Upanisad, where six of the later eight limbs of Yoga are enumerated. Pranayama, "the restraint of the breath" or breath control, is included among these six. By arresting both breath and mind through controlled respiration, the objects of the senses are restrained and a continued voidness of conception ensues, leading ultimately to the fourth superconscious condition (turya, turiya) in which one's soul (atman) is free to dwell with the universal spirit (brahman). Restricting voice, mind and breath by pressing the tongue against the palate enabled the mystic to see brahman through meditation. The central channel or vessel (susumna) (sometimes conceived to be the central nerve of the spinal column), leading upward, conveyed prana, and pierced the palate. The ascetic also ascended (i.e., levitated) by joining together his prana, the mystical syllable om, and his mind, for he drew in the sense functions (pranas) by means of om and breath control. Yoga was attained by joining prana, om, and the manifold world, resulting in the oneness of prana, mind, and senses and in the relinquishing of all conditions of existence.(75)

Prana and respiration continued to play a key role in the development of Yoga and its techniques of ecstasy in the later orthodox upanisads and textbooks on Yoga. But a medical physiology based on prana and the bodily winds split from the upanisadic tradition and developed into a separate discipline with its own specialized treatises. This was probably due to the intimate partnership between medicine and the heterodox ascetic traditions such as Buddhism, whose followers utilized ascetic techniques referred to in the upanisads and contributed to the early codification of medical doctrines.(76) A brief survey of the bodily winds in Ayurveda and Yoga discloses how the basic doctrines formulated in the Vedic treatises were refined by specialists in each of the traditions, and affords an opportunity to discuss the possible connections between medicine and Yoga.


Central to the teachings in the Caraka- and Susruta Samhitas is an etiology based on three humors or dosas, wind (vata, vayu), bile (pitta), and phlegm (kapha, slesman), which, much as in Hippocratic and Galenic medicine, acted as vitiators by disrupting the normal functioning of the body. Given the long connection between the atmospheric and human winds and the preoccupation with breath in the early texts, it is natural that wind would have had a significant place in the theories of the Indian medical tradition. Closely related to wind is prana whose explanations in the classical medical treatises follow those of the upanisadic mystics, but also assume a technically specific sense lacking in the Veda.

As in previous literature, prana was first and foremost the principal indicator and animator of life.(77) The physician (bhisaj) was called "the one who champions prana and destroys disease."(78) Unwholesome food damaged prana, while wholesome food promoted it.(79) In particular, milk, soups, meat juices and certain elixirs increased and maintained it.(80) Expressive of obvious religious and ascetic sentiments, the most excellent promoter of prana was nonviolence (ahimsa).(81)

The number of prana's seats varies in the two principal medical texts, indicating that the compilers indiscriminately included different explanations about prana in their respective collections. Caraka enumerates the ten seats of prana as the head, throat, heart, navel, anus, bladder, vital fluid, semen, blood, and flesh (the first six are also known as the vital organs [marman]).(82) Elsewhere he locates them in the two temples, in three vital organs (heart, bladder, and head), in the throat, in blood, in semen, in vital fluid, and in the anus.(83) Susruta claims that vital fluid is the highest seat of prana.(84)

Both compilers also speak of two channels which transport prana throughout the body: the prana-conveying vessels (pranavahasrotas) which originate in the heart, and the large vessels (mahasrotas) which, along with prana, convey the nutritive fluids (rasa). Injury to them due to emaciation, suppression of the natural urges, roughness, physical exercise, hunger, and other harsh factors, causes one to cry out with curses, double over, experience shallow or frequent loud and painful respiration, become bewildered, dizzy, tremble, or die.(85) When the channels are obstructed by wind and phlegm, the most frequent abnormalities are hiccup (hikka), dyspnoea (svasa) and asthma (tamakasvasa).(86)

Untypical of medical, but indicative of upanisadic discussions, are references to prana's connection to atman. Inhalation and exhalation (pranapana), movement of the mind, shifting of one sense faculty to another, and memory are included as signs of the highest self (paramatman) in a living being; but in the process of transmigration, the self (atman) is responsible for its birth in different wombs, and in the process of life, the pranas regulate living beings (pranin).87 These few references point to infiltrations from brahmanic ideologies originating perhaps in the mystical upanisads.

The yogic technique of breath control (pranayama) finds two references in Susruta. It is recommended as an effective cure for hiccup (hikka);(88) and a foreign object is said to be easily detected in the body during the practice of pranayama.(89)

The fundamental connection between atmospheric wind and breath and transmissions from the ascetic upanisadic philosophers led to the incorporation of the doctrine of the five bodily winds into the classical system of Indian medicine. Their names were standardized, but only through the observations and informed speculations of medical specialists did ideas about their locations, functions, and morbidities become crystallized. The physiology of the five bodily winds reached its full formulation in classical Indian medicine.

Caraka speaks of three kinds of bodily wind: unexcited, excited and normal wind. Unexcited wind has five forms: prana, udana, samana, vyana and apana. As a group they indicate upward and downward movement, lead and control the mind (manas), employ all the sense organs in their activity, carry all sense objects, enhance union in the body, promote speech, touch and sound, emit excreta, and maintain longevity (ayus).(90) Both medical compilers detail in a similar way the locations and activities of the five winds, which coordinate and maintain the bodily structures and functions, summarized as follows:

1. Prana, located in the head, chest, throat, tongue, mouth and nose, functions in spitting, sneezing, belching, respiration, and digestion and, according to Susruta, causes swallowing and supports life. When excited, it produces hiccup and difficult breathing. 2. Udana, located in the navel, chest, and throat, functions in speech, effort, energy, strength, and complexion. According to Susruta, it goes up, is the best of the winds, initiates speech and songs, and, when excited, causes disruption in structures located above the clavicle. 3. Samana, located in the channels conveying sweat, humors, and watery fluids, sits beside the digestive fire, and strengthens digestion. According to Susruta, it circulates in the stomach and colon, and, when connected with the digestive fire, cooks (i.e., digests) food and separates its end products. When excited, it causes abdominal swelling, indigestion, and diarrhea. 4. Vyana, moving rapidly, pervades the entire body and performs the functions of movement, extension, contraction, and blinking. According to Susruta, it diffuses throughout the body, constantly transports nutritive juices (rasa), and aids in sweating and the flow of blood. It has five movements (i.e., expansion, contraction, upward, downward, and oblique) and, when excited, brings about diseases all over the body. 5. Apana, located in the testicles, bladder, penis, navel, thighs, groin, and anus, functions to release semen, urine, feces, menses, and the fetus. When excited in the colon, it obstructs the lower passages and causes a reverse movement of wind (udavarta) and other gastric disorders. According to Susruta, it is located in the lower bowels and transports downward and expels at the right time feces, urine, semen, the fetus, and menstrual fluid. When excited, it produces severe diseases situated in the bladder and anus.(91)

Caraka, abbreviating the comments found in Susruta, states that when the bodily winds are in equilibrium and situated in their proper seats, they function normally and sustain the body free of disease; but, when they are unbalanced and move along wrong paths, they affect the body with disorders pertaining to their functions and locations, and quickly remove life-breath (prana).(92) Summarizing the teachings about the winds, he states that udana should go up, apana, down, samana, in the middle, and vyana, in all directions. In comparison, prana deserves the greatest protection because its normal position is essential for life. Moreover, an effort should be made to restore and maintain the normal positions and functions of all the winds.(93)

The medical compendia also detail the various disorders arising when one wind dominates another and when each wind is eclipsed by bile and phlegm.(94) Caraka states that all afflictions involving the winds become incurable after one year, and specifies that a condition in which prana and udana are covered by bile and phlegm is particularly serious because life depends on prana and strength relies on udana.(95) Susruta instructs us that the corruption of semen and urinary disorders result when vyana and apana are excited, and that death ensues when all winds are simultaneously excited.(96)

The differences found in the medical compilers' respective discussions of the winds reveal a plurality of sources for information on doctrines pertaining to the five basic bodily winds. In general, Susruta reflects a more standardized formulation of prana and the prana-doctrine than does Caraka. This indicates that Caraka's compilation incorporated both medical and non-medical data pertaining to wind and prana, while Susruta systematically limited his information to specialized medical teachings.(97)

Continuing the development of previous doctrines of wind and breath, the classical medical tradition, as preserved in the Caraka- and Susruta Samhitas, formulated a specifically medical approach to the bodily winds, almost completely devoid of lingering and intruding notions pertaining to respiration, rhythmic breathing, and breath control. It codified the physiology of prana and the five winds, and the diseases arising from abnormalities in their proper functioning. In quite a different direction, a doctrine of the bodily winds developed around ascetic techniques and the importance of breath in the attainment of higher states of consciousness. These doctrines find their codification in the texts of Yoga. As both the medical and yogic traditions derived their fundamental understanding of breath and the bodily winds essentially from the ascetic upanisadic thinkers, certain similarities are encountered. The extent of their common approach will be discussed after briefly examining the role of prana in Yoga.


The orthodox brahmanic system of Yoga owes its textual traditions and praxis to the doctrines and practices expounded in the upanisads, and therefore carries on the system of bodily winds indicative of that genre of Vedic literature. Most of what pertains to prana occurs in discussions of pranayama, one of the eight limbs of classical Yoga, in a group of late upanisads known as the Yoga upanisads. These esoteric treatises were obviously composed by practicing yogins who based their knowledge on personal involvement with techniques and on intuitions handed down through the centuries. Along with this special group of upanisads, a separate textual tradition specifically devoted to Yoga and its eight limbs began to emerge probably around the second or third century B.C.E. The earliest extant treatise on Yoga is Patanjali's Yogasutra which, being from the second century B.C.E., predates the Yoga upanisads, but most assuredly derives from upanisadic ascetic traditions.

The cryptic statements of the Yogasutra outline the eight parts of an ascetic discipline leading to the perfection of Yoga, defined as "the cessation of the fluctuations of the mind,"(98) and to emancipation from the endless cycle of birth, death and rebirth. According to the Yogasutra, the mind is calmed by exhaling and restraining prana by the technique of pranayama (control of the breath) which is normally practiced after the postures (asana) are perfected.(99) Pranayama involves a threefold operation: external (vahya) or the expulsion of breath, internal (abhyantara) or the drawing in of breath, and suppression (stambha) or suspension of breathing, which becomes long and subtle when observed according to time (calculation of short time units), space (the breath's scope and distance, i.e., from the tip of the nose or navel to the mouth), and number (the counting of breaths).(100) There is also a fourth pranayama which transcends both external and internal operations, and is more subtle than the third pranayama. It involves the perfection of pranayama when suppression of breathing is done all at once, resulting in the arresting of the modifications of the mind.(101) Pranayama thins the veil over the manifestations of spiritual knowledge by separating the ego from the body and the organs of sense and prepares the mind for fixation on a particular point in space (dharana), the next step in the eightfold system leading to emancipating enstasis (samadhi).(102)

The Yogasutra contains only two references to the five bodily winds. At 3.39. Patanjali states that the conquering of udana results in the evasion of any chance of immersion in water or mud or entanglement in thorns, and assures exit from the body at death or any other time. Vyasa's later commentary on this verse enumerates the five breaths and their standardized locations. At 3.40, the author claims that the conquering of samana results in bodily radiance in which an aura is created around the yogin's body. The brevity of his style required Patanjali to emphasize only these two winds, reIying on the teacher (guru) to explain the importance of the remaining three bodily winds to his student.

Unlike the laconic Yogasutra, the Yoga upanisads provide detailed information concerning the technique of pranayama, during which discussions of the various bodily winds routinely occur. Examination of these texts indicates both a reliance on the doctrine of bodily winds contained in the earlier principal upanisads and a richer elaboration of the doctrines based on centuries of experience and reflection.

The early upanisadic emphasis on the internalization of sacrifice by means of meditation involving the five winds is transmitted to the later treatises and becomes formalized in the Pranagnihotra Upanisad (1-2) which advocates the making of offerings to each of the five bodily winds with various hand gestures (mudra), silently to five ritual fires corresponding to the five winds, and finally to the digestive fires. The result is a sacrifice offered in the body.

With the evolution of a system of Yoga divided into various steps, already indicated in the Maitri Upanisad, teachings pertaining to respiration and the five bodily winds were codified under the doctrine of breath control (pranayama), arguably the oldest recorded ascetic technique of the Yoga system. The following summary of pranayama and the various bodily winds derives from the teachings of several of the Yoga upanisads which expound the system of Hathayoga. The upanisads utilized include Yogatattva (vss. 24, 35-111), Dhyanabindu (1921, 39-40, 51-61a, 95-100), Sandilya (1.1, 4, 6, 7, 1315), Amrtanada (6-38), Varaha (5), and Yogakundali (1). Pranayama is the union of prana and apana, that is, the process of respiration. It is well established as one of the eight limbs or parts of Yoga and, as in the older Yogasutra, is divided into three stages with regular names and divine associations: inhalation (puraka) is Brahma, retention of breath (kumbhaka) is Visnu, and exhalation (recaka) is Rudra (Siva). Retention of breath has a further two forms: retention involving the union of inhalation and exhalation (sahita) and retention without inhalation and exhalation (kevala). The former involves the holding of the breath after inhalation; the latter, after exhalation. The first, being easier than the second, should be practiced until perfected. Mastering of kevala results in the attainment of all things in the three worlds (underworld, earth, and heaven) and in a healthy condition of mind and body.

According to Hathayoga, pranayama purifies the vessels of the body (nadi), indicating a quasi-medical application. There are 72,000 vessels in the body, of which ten (some say fourteen) are most important: ida, pingala, susumna, gandhari, hastijahva, pusa, yasasvini, alambusa, kuhu, sankhini (sarasvati, varuni, visvodhari and payasini make fourteen). Ida, pingala and susumna always convey prana and have as their deities respectively the moon, the sun, and fire. Ida is the major vessel located on the left of susumna, the central channel of the spine, and pingala is the major nerve on its right. There are ten bodily winds which move through all the vessels and maintain life. Life under the influence of prana and apana goes up and down; and prana draws itself from apana, and apana from prana, like a bird (drawing itself and yet not free) from the string (to which it is attached).

To the five principal bodily winds are added five sub-winds with a discussion of their locations, functions, seed (bija) mantras, color, and elemental associations. Their explanations reflect meditative concerns, yet combine physiological information indicative of that found in classical Ayurveda:

1. Prana is located in the heart and moves in the nostrils, throat, navel, the two great toes, and lower and upper parts of kundalini (which, coiled like a snake, lies at the base of the spine). It functions in inhalation, exhalation and cough, has the seed mantra ya, the color of a blood-red gem, or resembles a blue cloud. 2. Apana is located in the anus and moves in the anus, genitals, thighs, knees, stomach, semen, loins, calves, navel, and seat of the anal fire. It functions in the excretion of feces and urine, has the mantra ra, the color between white and red, or resembles the sun, and is equated to fire. 3. vyana is located in all parts of the body and moves in the ears, eyes, loins, ankles, nose, throat, and buttocks. It functions in giving and taking, has the mantra la, the color of a ray of light, or resembles the geulia flower (bandhuka), and is equated to earth. 4. Udana is located in the throat or in all the joints and in the hands and the feet. It functions to keep the body erect, has the mantra va, the color pale white, or resembles the color of a conch shell, and is equated to atmospheric wind. 5. Samana is located in the navel or permeates the entire body and moves in the 72,000 vessels. It functions in nourishing the body, or, along with fire, distributes food and drink throughout the body. It has the mantra ha, the color between pure milk and crystal or resembles the color of crystal, and is equated to ether.

Prana and apana carry out digestion; prana and samana transport the nutritive fluids (rasa) to all the vessels and move in the body in the form of breath. The bodily winds evacuate excrements through the nine bodily openings connected with atmospheric wind.

The five sub-winds are as follows:

1. Naga nourishes the body and controls eructation and vomiting. 2. Kurma moves the eyelids. 3. Krkara causes hunger and thirst (or sneezing). 4. Devadatta causes idleness and controls yawning. 5. Dhananjana causes phlegm, pervades the entire body, and does not leave even a dead body.(103)

These five sub-winds go towards the outer parts of the body, such as the skin and bones, and reside in the gross anatomical parts.

Yoga maintains the enumeration of the five basic winds, but also adds to it five sub-winds. Discussions of the five standard winds sometimes vary, indicating that more than one explanation was understood for several of the different winds. Moreover, the yogic theory of these five winds points to influences from the medical tradition, while the five sub-winds are unique to Yoga.

The process of purifying and maintaining the flow of the bodily winds through the vessels by means of pranayama receives detailed explanations in the Yoga upanisads. Assuming the lotus position (padmasana), the yogin should practice pranayama in a suitably remote and sheltered place. He begins by inhaling through the left nostril while keeping the right nostril closed with the right thumb, filling the abdomen and holding the breath as long as possible while meditating on om as located in the middle of the body and surrounded by circling flames. He then exhales slowly through the right nostril while keeping the left nostril closed. Reversing the nostrils used, the same process is employed for a total of twenty repetitions. The inhaled air should travel through the three principal vessels (ida, pingala and susumna) and be absorbed in the middle of the eyebrows which is the root of the nose, the seat of immortality and the great abode of the universal spirit (brahman). The technique is to be carried out four times a day, at sunrise, at noon, at sunset, and at midnight, and after three months those vessels are purified. The number of respirations in one day was calculated to be 22,736, which by modern standards is approximately accurate.

Continued practice of pranayama leads to the acquisition of the accomplishments (siddhi), a step on the way toward emancipation, and the perfect union of prana and apana, mind and intellect, and ultimately the individual soul and the supreme, universal spirit. With advancement of the technique, the length of time needed to practice pranayama decreases by three-fourths, so that it only need be done in the day and at evening for three hours. It brings about the withdrawal of the senses from their objects and the passage of prana up the central channel (susumna) to the highest point at the top of the head and the attainment of samadhi or the emancipation from the round of rebirths.

Prana is also a focus of discussion in the Yogavasistharamayana (or simply, Yogavasistha), a highly poetical work of philosophy dating from the seventh or eighth century C.E. Reminiscent of the Buddhist Vijnanavada or the "Mind-only" school, it sets forth a doctrine explaining everything as the product of the human's thought process. According to this treatise, prana is described as an entity that vibrates, and the fluctuation of the mind (citta) is a form of prana energy. All the functions of prana and the support of the body are due to the movement of the mind. Cessation of the mind's movement is achieved by control of prana and the five bodily winds through pranayama and dhyana (meditation). Root desires (vasana) set in motion the vibration of prana. Vibratory activity in the upper part of the body is called prana, while the same activity in the lower part of the body is called apana.

According to the Yogavasistha, the body has on its two sides the two nadis, ida, and pingala, and a machine or magical diagram (yantra) of bone and flesh in the shape of three double lotuses with pipes attached to them running up and down, whose petals close upon each other. When the body is slowly filled with air by inhalation, the petals begin to move, increasing the air which passes upwards and downwards through different places. Depending on where the air passes, it is given the name of one of the five pranas. All pranic forces originate and issue from the threefold machinery of the lotus of the heart. They go out, repulse, draw, and circulate. The cardiac prana moves the eyes, senses of touch, breathing through the nose, digestion, and speech.(104)

In Samkhya, prana is an evolute of prakrti, having activity as its power, and the five bodily winds are the common functioning of buddhi (intellect), ahamkara (ego), and manas (mind). They operate in unison to maintain the body. The later commentaries express the view that prana is sometimes known as the respiration which, however, activates prana and causes it to vibrate. Thus, as in the Yogavasistha, prana is the entity that moves rather than the motion it produces. In Vaisesika, as in Ayurveda, vayu or atmospheric air performs various physiological functions depending on its location in the body.(105)

The Yogavasistha advances the theories about prana established in Yoga by describing its central activity as vibration and connecting it with the movement of the mind. Samkhya follows closely this line of thought, while Vaisesika adopts medical reasoning and ascribes to atmospheric wind and breath an essential physiological function.

The long tradition of the doctrine of bodily winds established by practicing ascetics attains its full theoretical development in the schools of Yoga. In these traditions, which can be traced ultimately to the upanisads, explanations of the bodily winds and their control seek an intuitive understanding of human physiology which blends over the course of time both medical and yogic conceptions. This is particularly evident in discussions involving the different bodily winds, the vessels through which they flow, and the means by which they are purified and maintained. The underlying principle running throughout the Yoga-based systems is that the mind can be restrained and eventually conquered by purifying and controlling the body.


In conclusion, we shall consider the possible relationship between ayurvedic and yogic conceptions of the bodily winds. The historical evolution of the ancient Indian doctrine of the bodily winds is one of those rare topics in which a relatively unbroken development can be traced from earliest times to the centuries around the beginning of the common era. Wind, breath, and respiration were of concern to the religious thinkers primarily because they indicated life. The connection between breath and atmospheric wind was the ideal metaphor for the universal spirit (brahman) and the individual soul (atman). Techniques for prolonging life by controlling the bodily functions are probably as old as the Veda, but it was only in the philosophical and mystical upanisads that they became fully articulated. These treatises, which resulted from the thoughts and practices of ascetics in search of immortality and emancipation from the bonds of worldly existence, for the first time advanced a science of respiration focusing on life-breath (prana). They presented in rudimentary form a physiology of wind in the body and referred to techniques to acquire control of it.

This specialized knowledge evolved among the ascetics, whose mendicant life style and radical beliefs made them outsiders in a conservative environment of brahmanic social and religious mores. In time these wandering mendicants separated themselves into two groups of ascetics delineated roughly by their beliefs vis-a-vis the dominant brahmanic attitudes of social stratification and religious ritual and practice. The orthodox ascetics supported the brahmins, while the heterodox ascetics rejected them. The former became associated with Hinduism and Yoga, the latter with Buddhism, Jainism, Ajivikism, and early medical doctrines. Both the yogic and medical practitioners maintained a science of the bodily winds which derived from the observations and intuitions of earlier ascetics of the upanisadic tradition. The bifurcation of the science probably corresponds to the split into the two ascetic traditions. The medical theoreticians emphasized the physiology of bodily wind; yogic mystics focused on techniques of breath control while advancing a physiology in relationship to respiration. Similarities and differences occur in both systems, and a brief comparison of the two will more clearly elucidate them.

Both medicine and Yoga adopted the five standard bodily winds formalized in the upanisads. Although minor variations occur, general agreement is found with respect to the explanations of their individual locations and functions. Yoga, however, adds five subwinds not found in the medical treatises. Moreover, medicine addresses the different abnormalities caused by the winds alone, combined, and along with the humors of bile and phlegm. Yoga makes only slight reference to diseases resulting from the bodily winds, and emphasizes the mystical associations of the breaths and the quasi-medical respiratory techniques for purifying them and maintaining their proper circulation in the vessels of the body. The classical medical texts contain no reference to breathing techniques in relationship to the five bodily winds.

Both traditions notice that wind flows through certain vessels in the body. The medical compendia mention two channels which convey prana. One originates in the heart, the other in various large ducts that transport nutritive juices. The texts on Yoga speak of numerous vessels which convey all the bodily winds. Ten or fourteen of them are most important, and three of these, ida, pingala and susumna, generally associated with the major vessels of the spine, convey prana. Moreover, later Yoga-inspired perceptions led to an idea that prana vibrates and is associated with the movement of the mind. Since Yoga, like Ayurveda, locates prana in the heart, both systems probably derived this information ultimately from a common source. Again pranayama or control of respiration is peculiar to Yoga.

The ideologies of these two ancient Indian systems agree on fundamental concepts, but differ on particulars. Each derived the same basic information from a common ascetic tradition and developed that according to its own special concerns. The earliest works on Yoga and medicine indicate that neither system borrowed extensively from the other, but later technical and popular treatises, propounding a distinctive yogic ideology, illustrate a harmonous blending of medicine and Yoga.

In classical Ayurveda, reference to Yoga in its traditional formulation occurs in a discussion of bodily sensations (vedana) at the end of first chapter in Caraka's book of anatomy (Sarirasthana). Embracing rather late orthodox brahmanic ideology, the passages in Caraka's compilation state that the cessation of all feelings is accomplished through Yoga and emancipation (moksa) and that Yoga leads to emancipation. According to the Yoga system, happiness and misery come from contact between the self (atman), the sense organs, the mind (manas), and the objects of the senses; but when the mind is still and situated in the self, happiness and misery cease because they do not arise, and supernatural powers (vasitva) come forth in the body. The eight supernatural powers or siddhis of classical Yoga are enumerated. The most important of the siddhis is the recollection of the true state of things (tattvasmrtibala), which, according to the yogins, the samkhyas, and the emancipated, is the only means to final release from the round of rebirths.(106) The systems of Samkhya and Yoga occur together in another reference in the Caraka Samhita,(107) and the first two "limbs" of the classical eightfold Yoga, yama (restraint) and niyama (observance), are among the things one must perform when using any one of the twenty-four varieties of the elixir soma, in Susruta's compilation.(108) These references to orthodox brahmanic ideology and to the systematic Hindu philosophies of Samkhya and Yoga occur rarely in the classical treatises of Caraka and Susruta and reflect what is elsewhere explained as an orthodox Hindu veneer superimposed on a largely heterodox body of medical lore.(109)

The blending of Yoga and Ayurveda in a single treatise occurs quite late and is not representative of the medical tradition as a whole. The anonymous Ayurvedasutra with the commentary of Yoganandanatha, dating from the 16th century C.E., contains sixteen chapters which attempt to connect Ayurveda with Patanjali's Yoga system. Both the text and the commentary attribute all diseases to indigestion (ajirna), brought about by the accumulation of undigested food (ama) in the intestines, yet the location of particular diseases in limbs or bodily parts is determined by the faint sounds connected to the limb or part and emitted by the patient. Treatment involves concentration (samadhi) and pranayama, and, in the case of diseases located in the limbs, bloodletting is recommended. Occasionally, oil massage and enemas are prescribed as remedial and preventive measures. Much attention is paid to dietetics, and foodstuffs are divided into three classes corresponding to the three gunas, sattva, rajas, and tamas.(110)

Despite its title, the Ayurvedasutra is a product of Yoga rather than of Ayurveda. It contains only the most rudimentary technical terms of the medical tradition (i.e., the three doSas), and devotes most of its attention to specific aspects and doctrines of yogic praxis and their virtues in warding off and curing disease, and maintaining health.

Ayurveda and Yoga combine forces for the establishment of higher spiritual states in Anandarayamakhi's seventeenth-century popular dramatic allegory Jivananda. Evil destructive forces of disease, headed by consumption (yaksman) and jaundice (pandu), are aligned in a battle against the life-monad (jiva). Jiva employs the forces of ayurvedic medicine to overcome the armies of disease and releases itself to pursue the perfect wisdom of Yoga by which it acquires the true knowledge of the essence of the soul and of the divine, and emancipation from all worldly sufferings and cares. At the end, Siva imparts the central teaching of the treatise: "Only in so far as the city of the organism is maintained and firmly defended [through ayurveda], can Yoga unfold its magic power to the fullest degree conducive to the plenitude of transcendental bliss."(111)

Although begun perhaps in the formulations of the prana-doctrine reflected in earlier yogic treatises, the ultimate merging of Yoga and Ayurveda occurred quite late in the evolution of both of these Indian systems, and was accomplished by the proponents of Yoga. Teachers and practitioners of Ayurveda maintained the relative integrity of their discipline by avoiding involvement with Yoga and other Hindu religious systems. This same trend is witnessed at present, especially in the West, where Maharsi Mahesh Yogi's yogic discipline of Transcendental Meditation ("TM") actively embraces a modified form of ayurvedic medicine, while, in India, traditional Ayurveda maintains its classical approach to healing and preventative medicine.

Throughout its long history, the Indian science of respiration and the doctrine of the bodily winds developed under the influence of the ascetic traditions. In the beginning, they evolved as a unified doctrine among the mystics of the Veda. They then split, seemingly with the separation of the ascetics, into a heterodox medical and an orthodox yogic system, both deriving their fundamental ideas about breath and bodily winds from a common source, and the two evolved individually for several centuries. Gradually, a unification began to occur, probably with the assimilation of medicine into the system of Hindu orthodoxy around the fourth or fifth century of the common era, and Yoga began to integrate medical ideas into its discipline and training. Today one finds that Yoga routinely employs the teachings and methods of Ayurveda in its spiritual exercises, while Ayurveda remains relatively free of yogic doctrines, principles, and techniques.


AB Aitareya Brahmana
AU Aitareya Upanisad
AV Atharvaveda
BAU Brhadaranyaka Upanisad
Ca Caroka Samhita
Ci Cikitsasthana
CU Chandogya Upanisad
KapS Kapisthala Katha Samhita
KathaU Katha or Kathaka Upanisad
KausU Kausitaki Brahmana Upanisad
KenaU Kena Upanisad
KS Kathaka Samhita
MaitriU Maitri or Maitrayani Upanisad
MS Maitrayani Samhita
MundU Mundaka Upanisad
Ni Nidanasthana
PrasnaU Prasna Upanisad
RV Rgveda
Sa Sarirasthana
SB Satapatha Brahmana
Si Siddhisthana
Su Susruta Samhita
Su Sutrasthana
SV Samaveda
TB Taittiriya Brahmana
TS Taittiriya Samhita
TU Taittiriya Upanisad
Utt Uttaratantra
Vi Vimanasthana
VS Vajasaneyi Samhita
YS Yogasutra

(1) Scholars have given much attention to the notions of prana and the bodily winds. Some of the most important works include: Arthur H. Ewing, "The Hindu Conception of the Function of Breath: A Study in Early Hindu Psycho-physics" (Ph.D. diss., Johns Hopkins University, 1901; also published in the Journal of the American Oriental Society 32 [1901]: 249-308); Paul Deussen, The Philosophy of the Upanishads (1906; rpt. New York: Dover, 1966); George William Brown, The Human Body in the Upanishads (Jubbulpore, India: The Christian Mission Press, 1921; originally his Ph.D. dissertation under Maurice Bloomfield, Johns Hopkins University, 1910), 201-30; A. A. Macdonell and A. B. Keith, Vedic Index of Names and Subjects, two vols. (1912; rpt. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1967), 1:25, 86; 2:47 48; Surendranath Dasgupta, A History of Indian Philosophy ( 1922; rpt. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1975), vols. I and 2; Henry R. Zimmer, Hindu Medicine, ed. Ludwig Edelstein (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins Press, 1948), 61-75, 109-32, 142-62; Jean Filliozat, La Doctrine classique de la medecine indienne (Paris: Imprimerie nationale, 1949), 51-66 (English, 61-79), 141-52 (English, ]73-85), 161-84 (English, 196-218); Sergiu Al-George and Arion Rosu, "Indriya et le sacrifice des prana," Mitteilungen des Instituts fur Orientforschung, 5 (1957): 346-97; Mircea Eliade, Yoga: Immortality and Freedom (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1969); Franklin Edgerton, The Beginning of Indian Philosophy (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Univ. Press, 1965), 21, 25-26, passim; Eric Frauwallner, History of Indian Philosophy, two vols., tr. V.M. Bedekar (Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1973); and H. W. Bodewitz, "Prana, Apana and other Prana-s in Vedic Literature," The Adyar Library Bulletin (1986): 326-48 [Golden Jubilee Volume]. A lively discussion has ensued regarding the meaning of prana and apana, the two principal terms indicating respiration. In addition to the above-mentioned works, the following articles demonstrate that the final chapter on their meaning has yet to be written: Willem Caland, "Zur Exegese und Kritik der rituallen Sutras," ZDMG 55 (1901): 261-65; 56 (1902): 556-60; George W. Brown, "Prana and Apana," JAOS 39 (1919): 104-12; Paul E. Dumont, "The Meaning of prana and apana in the TaittiriyaBrahmana, " JAOS 77 (1957): 46-47, with his "Rejoinder," in 78 (1958): 54-56; Franklin Edgerton's response to Dumont, "Prana and Apana," JAOS 78 (1958): 51-54, with his "Surrejoinder," in the same issue, pp. 56-57. (2) In the Rgveda, prana's dominant role was to indicate and motivate life, for if breath was present, there was life, if it was absent, life departed (see especially RV 1.48.10, 66.1, 101.5; 3.53.21; 10.121.3). The cosmic wind that blows in the atmosphere motivates and regulates the normal course of things or the cosmic order (rta) in the same way that breath in living beings motivates life. Thus, wind (vayu) is the breath (prana) of the cosmic person (Purusa) (RV 10.90.13), and the dead person's spirit (atman) goes to the wind (vata) (RV 10.16.3). In humans, speech results from mankind's wind, so that the cosmic voice (vac) is said to blow forth like wind and cover all the worlds (RV 10.125.8). The association between prana, life's indicator and motivator, and atmospheric wind (vata) led to the establishment of the health-giving and healing virtues of wind. Wind blows medicines (bhesaja) to the people and prolongs their lives. It bestows strength to live and contains the elixir of immortality (amrta) (RV 10.186). The medicinal significance of wind, as Filliozat points out, is very ancient, occurring also in the Avesta of the ancient Iranians (Jean Filliozat, La Doctrine classique de la medecine indienne, 62 [English, 71]). (3) These verses with minor variations also occur at SV 2.726-27; VS 3.6-7; TS; KS 7.13; MS 1.6.1; and AV 6.31.1-2, which has apanatah and svah. This translation follows that of Whitney and Lanman who claim that the first verse is a description of a heavenly body in ascent, perhaps the moon, which seems to rest for a moment upon the earth (William D. Whitney, tr., Charles R. Lanman, ed., Atharvaveda-samhita, pt. 1 [1905; rpt. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1971], 303). Karl Geldner, however, understands the spotted steer and bull to refer to the sun, and the shining one perhaps to the dawn, and incorrectly reverses the breathing process. He renders the two verses as follows:

Dieser bunte Stier ist hergeschritten und hat sich vor Mutter (Erde) und Vater (Himmel) gesetzt auf seinem Wege zur Sonne.

Die leuchtende (Usas?) geht zwischen (Himmel und Erde), von seinem Aushauch (Leben) einatmend. Der Buffel hat nach dem Himmel Ausblick gehalten. (Karl Geldner, tr., Der Rig-Veda, pt. 3 [Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Univ. Press, 1951], 403.) (4) AV 2.15.1-6, 16.1, 34.5; 3.11.5-6, 29.8; 4.15.10, 30.4; 5.4.7, 8.4, 30.13-14; 6.53.2, 135.2-3; 7.26.2, 31(32).1; 8.2.4; 9.1.2,4, 2.5,16; 10.2.29-30, 5.25-36, 8.2,6,11; 11.2.10, 3.5456, 7(9).23; 12.1.3-4, 5.9; 13.4.11,19; 16.7.13; 19.46.3, 58.12, 60.1, 63.1, 71.1. (5) AV6.135.2-3; 10.5.25-35. (6) AV 11.4(6).1, 10, 23; see also AV 11.4(6).12; 11.5.22; 15.14.11; and 19.63 1, where prana is called the Lord of Creatures (Prajapati). (7) AV 6.10.8;6.10.2; 10.7.34; 11.4(6).15; 19.43.2,44.5. (8) AV8.2.3. (9) AV 6.62.1. (10) AV 1.3.4, 11, 19; 11.4(6).12,21-22[see in particular Maurice Bloomfield, tr., Hymns of the Atharva-Veda (1897; rpt. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1964), 624-25]; 13.3.3-5; 19.27.7. (11) AV 3.15.7; 5.30.14; 6.53.2; 8.2.13; 19.27.5-7. (12) AV 3.13.3. (13) AV 19.53.7. (14) AV 4.15.10; 11.2.3 (here prana is Rudra, the god associated with thunderstorms); 11.4(6).2-6, 11 (here, prana is takman, fever connected with the onslaught of the monsoons), 16-17. See also K. G. Zysk, Religious Healing in the Veda (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, 1985), 34-44. (15) AV 12.1.22. (16) AV 11.4(6)-16-177AV (17) 1.32.1. (18) AV 11.4(6).13. (19) AV 4.35.5 (20) AV 11.4(6).9. (21) AV 2.28.3-4; 3.11.5-6; 5.10.8; 6.104.1; 7.53(55).2-6; 8.1.1, 3, 15, 2.11; 11.9(11).11; 16.4.3, 5, 7 (where the two forms of breath are associated with the dual gods Mitra and Varuna); 16.8; 18.2.46; 19.45.6-10, 51.1. (22) AV 3.11.5-6. When yoked to the plow, the two draft-oxen were important beasts of burden used in the process of life-sustaining food production. (23) AV 7.53(55).2. (24) The fourteenth-century commentator, Sayana, understands prana here to be characterized by food (anna). Cf. Jean Filliozat, La Doctrine classique, 147 (English, 179), who points out that a similar connection between wind and delivery is found in classical ayurvedic medicine. (25) Filliozat, La Doctrine classique, 22-23 (English, 28). Filliozat bases his definitions on SuNi 1.11ff. (26) Ibid, 175-85. (27) AV 5.4.7. At Paip. 14.11.2cd, apana replaces vyana, pointing to the meaning of inhalation and exhalation. (28) AV6.41.2; 15.15, 16, 17. (29) AV 10.2.13. (30) AV 11.8.4, 26. (31) AV 11.4(6).7-8. (32) AV 2.12.7 and Sayana who cites TB sapta vai sirsnyah pranah; AV 5.30.10; 11.3.2. (33) AV 19.46.5-6. (34) AV 3 15.7; 1 1.3.28; 12.1.3 (35) Mircea Eliade, Yoga: Immortality and Freedom, 101, 111-14. (36) AV 11.5.22. (37) AV 13.1.17-19. (38) AV9.6.19. (39) AV 10.8.19. (40) AV 9.6.22. (41) AV9.5.21. (42) AV 15.11.5, 14.11 (43) AV 15.15. (44) AV 15.16; cf. Whitney and Lanman, who, without explanation, translate daksina as "sacrificial gifts" (Atharva-vedasamhita, 2:790). The meaning here given has late Rgvedic support. See RV 1.18.5; 10.103.8; cf. Sri Sampurnanand, The Atharva Veda: Vratyakanda with Srutiprabha Commentary in English (Madras: Ganesh & Co., 1956), 57. (45) AV 15.17. (46) VS 1.20; 31.22. (47) VS 14.8. (48) VS 13.19; 17 15 (49) VS 8.37. (50) TS; SB 5.3.3-8. (51) TS; SB (52) VS 9 21; 18.22; TS 4 7A053 (53) TS (see A.B. Keith, trans. The Veda of the Black Yajus School, Entitled Taittiriya Sanhita, pt. 2 [1914, rpt. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1967], 415-16); TS; SB -3.20. (54) VS 14.8, 14, 17; 17.25; 22.23; 23.18; 29.8; TS 4.4.1; 4.7.10; 7.4.21; cf. 1.5.11 (= 7.1.19); 1.1.6; (55) TS 4.3.5-7, 4.3.2;, 3.2; SB 8.2.1-4.20. cf. TS 4.3.2, 9, 4.3.2 (where the four breaths are mentioned); (see Keith, The Veda of the Black Yajus School, 2:415-16); 5.3.2, 7.2-3; VS 9.21; 13.54-58; 14.8.17; 15.1519, 62-64; SB 7.3.9-20;; 8.6..1.3-20. (56) See TS and Keith, The Veda of the Black Yajus School, 2:464 n. 1, and A. A. Macdonell and A. B. Keith, Vedic Index of Names and Subjects, 2:47-48. (57) VS 14.28; 15.10; 18.58; cf. Macdonell and Keith, Vedic Index, 2:47-48. (58) VS 25.2; 39. 1 ,3. (59) See Macdonell and Keith, Vedic Index 2:47-48. (60) BAU 3.1.3; 4.2.2; KausU 3.2-4; 4.20. See also KenaU 1.8; CU4.10.5, 13.1; 7.15.1, 3-4, 26.1; 8.12.3 (cf. BAU4.4.2); BAU 1.4.17, 6.3; 2.1.10; TU 2.2-3; 3.3.1-4,7 (cf. 2.8.1;; KathaU 4.7 (cf. 6.2); 5.3,5; MundU 2.2.5; 3.1.4; PrasnaU 2. 1 3; 3.8-9, 11. (61) CU 1.1.5, 3.4, 6 (cf. BAU 1.3.23), 5.3, 7.1, 8.4, 11.5, 13.2; 2.7.1, 11; 3.16; 5.7.1 (= BAU 6.2.12), 19.24; BAU 3.1.5; 5.13.1-4; 6.3.2, 4.24; TU 1.5.3; MaitriU 6.1.2 (cf. 1.1), 5 (cf. 6.3.7), 9; 6.33; MundU 2.1.1-4, 8; KausU 2.3-5. (62) AU 3.4, 10; CU 1.2.7-9, 7.1; BAU 1.3.2, 27. (63) CU 6.5.2, 4, 6.3.5, 7.1, 5. (64) MaitriU 6.9. (65) CU 6.8.2; BAU 1.5.21-23; 5.14.3-4; TU 1.6.2; cf. CU 3.17.6. (66) CU 5 1 (= BAU 6.1; cf. 1.3); BAU 1.4.7, 5.20-23; 2.1.17, 20 (2.3.6); 4.3.7; 6.3.2, 4.24; TU 1.7; MaitriU 6.31; MundU 3.1.9; PrasnaU 2.2-3, 6 (where the simile of pranas as spokes of a wheel occurs), I I-12. (67) BAU 1.5.21-23. (68) BAU 2 2.3-4; MundU 2.1.8. (69) CU 3.12.3-4, 13 (70) CU 2.7.1, 11; 3.13; 5.19-24; PrasnaU 4.3.4; cf. 3.1-12. (71) The latter is a reference to the theory of karman, PrasnaU 3.1-12. (72) MaitriU 2.6. (73) CU5.19-24. (74) TU 1.7. (75) MaitriU 6.18-2676 (76) See K. G. Zysk, Asceticism and Healing in Ancient India: Medicine in the Buddhist Monastery (New York and Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1991). (77) CaCi 3.5; SuSu 1.4, 45.48; SuCi 5.6, 6.7, 28.233-36a. (78) CaSu 9.18. (79) CaSu 28.7; CaSa 3.17. (80) SuSu 45.48; SuSu 46.359, 373-74; SuCi 27.12, 28.20. (81) CaSa 30.15. (82) CaSa 7.9. (83) CaSu 29.3; cf. CaCi 26.3-4. (84) SuSu 15.21. (85) CaVi 5.8, 18; SuSa 9.12; cf. SuSa 4.31. (86) CaCi 17.17, 21-26, 31-33, 45, 52-55. (87) CaSa 1.70-74,77. (88) SuUtt 50.16. The twelfth-century commentator, Dalhana defines pranayama as "suppression of wind" (vayor nirodhah) and explains: "Although pranayama is threefold on account of its divisions of recaka, puraka, and kumbhaka, nevertheless. because of the suppression of the upward-going [wind] only kumbhaka is here meant (yady api recakapurakakumbhaka-bhedat pranayamas trividhah [cf. 1915 edition: . . . kumbhaka-satavahibhedat pranayamas caturvidhah !], tatha'py urdhvagatinirodhat kumbhaka evatra)." The technique of pranayama as a cure for hiccup is familiar to the Western world as well. (89) SuSu 26.13. (90) CaSu 12.8. (91) CaCi 28.5-12; SuNi 12.20a; cf. CaSu 12.8; CaCi 15.36, 203-4 (92) CaCi 28.5-12; SuM 1.12-20a; see also CaCi 26.3-4; cf. CaCi 15.36, 203-4; and CaCi 18.6, where cough (kasa) results when wind, impeded from below, moves to the upper channels, attains the character of udana, and sticks to the throat and chest. (93) CaCi 28.219b-21a. (94) CaCi 28.199-216; SUCi 1.34b-39. (95) CaCi 233-36a. (96) SuNi 1.20b-21b. (97) Caraka's inclusion of the Vedic similes of spokes around a hub and rays from the sun in relationship to prana and the compound pranapana indicates the incorporation of earlier orthodox religious doctrines in this medical text. At CaSi 9.4, prana and apana, mind, intellect, consciousness, and the gross elements (mahabhuta) are established in the heart like spokes in a hub, and senses, channels conveying the senses and pranas are located in the head like rays in the sun. (98) YS 1.2. (99) YS 1.34; 2.49. (100) YS 2.50. (101) YS 2.51. (102) YS 2.52-53. (103) See also Henry [Heinrichl Zimmer, Hindu Medicine. 157, 200 n. 11. (104) See S. Dasgupta, History of Indian Philosophy, 2:256-60. (105) Ibid., 262-63. (106) CaSa 1.127-41, 150-51. (107) CaSa 5.17. (108) SuCi 29.10. (109) See Zysk, Asceticism and Healing in Ancient India, 4-5, 21-37. (110) See R. Shama Sastry, ed., The Ayurvedasutram, with the Commentary of Yoganandanatha (Mysore: Government Branch Press, 1922), i-xv, and S. Dasgupta, History of Indian Philosophy, 2:436. (111) Zimmer, Hindu Medicine, 71. The allegory is recounted and discussed by Zimmer on pages 61-71.
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Author:Zysk, Kenneth G.
Publication:The Journal of the American Oriental Society
Date:Apr 1, 1993
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