Air as Prana, as seen by ancient wisdom as well as modern science

Among the five primordial elements (pancha bhutas) --earth, water, fire, air and space-- Vayu (air) is considered the sustainer of life. While modern science terms it a compound of different gases (oxygen, nitrogen, etc.), in traditional wisdom air is seen as a universal power, a pure substance, but its significance is recognised by both as the energy of life.

Hindu mythology accords a high position to Vayu. Vayu is considered the God of air or wind. He is the one who stirs the clouds to cause rain. He is the breath of the world. He is the guardian deity (Dik Palaka) of the northeast direction.

Other Names
Mythology refers to Vayu by several other names, too. He is called Vata. This has similarity with the Latin word, vita, which means life. His another name is Pavana, referring to wind and sky. He is also known as Auila, Sada Gagha (ever moving), Gandhavaha (bearer of perfumes). He is picturised as riding an antelope (deer). The word, prana, is a synonym for Vata or Vayu.

Evolution of Atmosphere
Tracing the origin of the atmosphere, modem science holds that in the beginning the atmosphere primarily consisted of helium and hydrogen. This was due to the heat of the sun and volcanic eruptions. About 3.5 billion years ago the surface cooled and carbon dioxide, water vapour and nitrogen occupied it, but there was virtually no oxygen.

During the next few million years water vapour condensed to form rain and oceans. Carbon dioxide started dissolving, the earliest living species--some kinds of bacteria-came into existence, after which oxygen became a component of air.

Mythology offers a similar concept. According to Bhagavata Puuurana and Vayu Purana, the earth was stolen by Hiranyaksha, an asura, Satya Yuga and hidden under water. Vishnu took incarnation as a varaha (wild boar) and brought it up on his nose. When it emerged out of the water, it was a bail of earth, fire and water, but was full of intense heat Brahma was asked to create new lives on earth.

But how could life be sustained amidst such intense heat? Brahma thought of seeking Vayu’s help to act as prana, the life energy. He, therefore asked Vayudeva to surround the earth as a clothing to reduce the heat of fire and increase the quantity of water to sustain new life on earth. Vayu surrounded the earth as Vayu mandala and the earth became fit to sustain life. Thus were created fauna, flora, animals and human beings. This mythological legend is only a different version of the scientific explanation of the atmosphere.

Vayu as Prana
Ancient wisdom further visualises different forms of Vayu- as prana, apana, vyana, udana and samana, controlling life through respiration, circulation, digestion, nervous and excretory systems.

Air in Science
Science describes the atmosphere as a layer of gases surrounding the earth, retained by the earth’s gravity. It contains 78% Nitrogen, 21% oxygen, 0.93% orgon and traces of other gases and water vapour. This mixture of gases is called air and the atmosphere is referred to as the air column above the earth. This air column extends to an altitude of 120 km above the earth and tapers off thereafter. Three quarters of the air column lies within one tenth distance of the atmosphere, approximately 11 km from the earth. Space science is developed taking these facts into account.

The Bhagavad Gita also gives an indication of this concept. During the battle of Kurukshetra, Krishna gave Visvarupa darsan to Arjuna. In his excitement Arjuna described the Lord’s form as a comprehensive combination of Vayu, Agni and Varuna--air, fire and water.

Yoga and Vayu
Inhalation and exhalation of air have a major role in sustaining life, though there are other factors too, such as nourishment. We cannot prolong our lives at our will. We are said to breathe our last when we die and on a similar reckoning must be said to breathe our first when we are born. But in between we can strive for a healthier way of life through regulation of the breathing process. This is what yoga teaches. The essential part of Yoga Sastra is pranayama or breath control. It helps regulate the movement of air inside the body and get the maximum amount of oxygen to rejuvenate the system.

The Maharshis of ancient India calculated the life span by the number of breaths (inhalation and exhalation). By regulating this one could increase the life span by years. Pranayama is the secret of good health and longevity.

Vayu Putras
Hindu mythology emphasises the importance of Vayu by alluding to the two great sons of Vayu- Hanuman, the mighty, in the Ramayana and Bhima, the strongest among the Pandavas, in the Mahabharata. Both were physically and mentally strong and both fought against evil to establish dharma (righteousness).

But Hanuman is given the status of being worshipped as God. He is said to be a manifestation of Siva. He is portrayed as one who helped Lord Vishnu fulfill his mission to destroy Ravana during Ramavatara.

Hanuman is the portrayal of the divine form for physical and mental strength, with commitment to protect dharma. Hanuman can be taken as a role model for anyone who aims to get success through righteous means.

He is an embodiment of supreme intelligence, positive physical power, commitment to cause, selfless devotion to the master and dynamic action.

He is the role model for setting ideal objectives, sticking to them steadfastly and achieving success. In the Ramayana he helped Rama as his devoted servant in de evil and in the Mahabharata time he positioned himself in the flag of Arjuna and heard the Bhagavad Gita directly from Lord Krishna along with Arjuna.

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