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Some Terms Relating to Pranic Anatomy


Koshas / Sheaths

The term kosha is usually translated to mean sheath or body. In ancient India they developed the idea of thinking of oneself as consisting of sheaths – each sheath referring to a different aspect of one’s being. Individuals are said to consist of 5 or 7 sheaths – the reason for the two numbers is that two of the sheaths are thought to be universal (the same and shared by all) unlike the other 5 which are particular (in nature / quality) to each individual.

The seven koshas / sheaths are called : Annamaya kosha (anatomical or physical body), Pranamaya kosha (physiological or prana body), Manomaya kosha (mental or psychological body), Vijnanamaya kosha (Intellectual aspect), Anandamaya (Blissful or body of joy), Cittamaya (Consciousness), Atmamaya kosha (Self / Atman). The last two are the universal koshas.

Pranic anatomy is concerned with Pranamaya kosha – the pranic aspect of one's being, which is said to be the mediator between one’s physical aspects (Annamaya) and one’s mental aspects (Manomaya).

Prana / Vital Current

The term Prana is often translated as life force or vital current/energy. The analogy is often made with electricity. The idea is that, just as it is the flow of electricity through electrical appliances that makes them work, so the flow of Prana in individuals is what gives life to individuals. Going further with the analogy, it is said that, just as the effect of an electrical current depends on the appliance it flows through (e.g. light in the case of a light bulb and sound in the case of a radio), so the effect of Prana is said to depend on the particular channels or nadis (see below) through which it flows.

There are said to be 5 currents or winds of prana in an individual and these are called Prana-vayus or vayus. These five Prana-vayus are : prana-vayu (upward moving), apana-vayu (downward moving), samana-vayu (equalizing), udana-vayu (refining) and vyana-vayu (all pervading).


The term nadi is often translated to mean tube or channel and is taken to be that which prana flows through or along. Often nadis are said to be analogous within pranic anatomy to bloods vessels and nerves in “western” anatomy.

There are said to be 72,000 nadis (or an uncountable number) and a lot of yoga practices (especially in hatha yoga) are about purifying or unblocking nadis so that prana can flow more freely and thus increase one’s vitality.

There are three main nadis about which a lot of practices are orientated (e.g. alternate nostril breathing). These are sushumna nadi (channel of balance and harmony), ida nadi (moon channel – soothing and nurturing) and pingala nadi (sun channel – heating and energizing).


The term Chakras is typically translated to mean “Psychic Centres” or “Energy Centres”. The idea being that they are centres (or places) where energy / prana / awareness collects and is stored, transformed and distributed to where needed.

Another way of thinking about chakras is as places or means for interchange and dialogue between different aspects of one’s being as indicated by the terms physical, emotional, mental and spiritual. There are said to be hundreds of chakras but most books only discuss the seven main ones (and one of these is often said to be not really a chakra!) These seven chakras are: Muladhara (Base Support), Swadhishthana (Sacral centre), Manipura (Power Centre), Anahata (Heart Centre), Vishuddha (Purity centre), Ajna (Third Eye) and Sahasrara (Crown centre).

Kundalini and Agni

In some forms of yoga there is an idea of there being latent or dormant energy / potential waiting to be activated (or awakened) at the base of one’s trunk. In hatha and tantric yoga this is symbolized by Kundalini which is said to be a snake coiled 3 and a half times around the base of the spine. In earlier forms of yoga this is often thought of in terms of fire (Agni) which might be hidden, as fire is hidden in fuel waiting to be released.


The term granthi is usually translated to mean knot. The idea is that there are knots which tie one to the material world and society. These are thought to be protective – they tie one to things one needs to be tied to until one is ready to let go or move beyond them. They are also thought to be inhibitors – one needs to untie them sequentially if one wishes to make spiritual progress to enlightenment. There are three granthis mentioned in texts – these are : Brahma Granthi, Vishnu Granthi and Rudra (or Shiva) Granthi.

Personally I take the view that one does not have to do anything to untie these knots – they untie themselves when one is ready – and that to actively work on untying them is potentially hazardous (and so not something to do unless one is really sure of what one is doing).