The Paradox of Prana & Citta

One of the fundamental principles of Yoga/Qigong practice is that prana (energy, life-force, qi) follows citta (mind, intention, focus). You can experiment with this, right now, by closing your eyes (after you read the rest of this paragraph!), and then placing as much of your attention/focus into one of your hands (say, your left hand) as you can: as you inhale and exhale, think of sending waves of love or kindness or joy (or some other up-lifting quality) into your left hand. Breathe and focus in this way, on your left hand, for a minute or two, or longer … and notice what happens, notice how the feeling in that hand begins to transform, as it “fills” with love/joy/kindness. Perhaps you’ll notice it feeling a bit warmer, or notice a tingling sensation, or a feeling of heaviness, or a feeling of the fingers being a bit swollen. Perhaps that hand will begin to sweat, or feel cold or clammy. Each person’s experience will be different. But what our various experiences will likely have in common is that we’ll notice that our left hand has become, almost magically, more “alive” ~ we’re able to feel it in a more clear and immediate way.

What we’ve just experienced is “prana following citta”: we placed our mind/attention/focus (citta) on our left hand, which generated a flow of energy (prana) into that hand, creating new and more potent sensation, of some sort. We see this principle at work in every aspect of our lives: when we’re focused on something (a project, our work, a relationship), our energy flows into that activity, and it tends to grow …

Part of the process of a Yoga/Qigong practice, then, is to become more & more conscious of this mechanism ~ of prana following citta ~ so we’re able to use it in ways that are supportive of our practice. One aspect of the “paradox” of prana & citta is that while this relationship can serve us in powerful & pleasant ways, it can also ~ when it’s operating unconsciously ~ be our greatest nemesis. For energy flows not only into fields/patterns that we consciously choose to focus on, but also into fields/patterns of mind/citta which we are unconsciously “focused” on, and hence perpetuating/giving energy to. These are the samskaras (past-life tendencies) which we work/play to unravel (make conscious) within the context of our practice.

Another paradoxical aspect of this relationship is that the inverse of the original “formula” can also be true, i.e. not only can “prana follow citta” (the basis, for one, of Yuen Method work), but it’s also the case that citta/mind can follow (be influenced or shaped by) prana/energy. Which is why asana practice, as well as any form of energy-body “healing” (e.g. acupuncture or Reiki), can work not only to transform our physical & pranic bodies, but can also, in the process, transform mental patterns ~ can shift our whole outlook or “attitude” in a way which then (cycling back to the original formula) has new effects on our energy-bodies …

So once we’re able, as practitioners, to bring body, mind & breath (like a beautiful golden braid) into a conscious relationship, what is the most skillful way to use this yogic axiom: prana follows citta (and citta follows prana)? And here, once again, we find paradox … On the one hand, wouldn’t we want to choose, always, to focus on and therefore support/”feed” only the “positive,” only what is “good” or balanced or healthy? “Keep your mind focused on the positive” is advice that forms the core of many a yogi/yogini’s daily life and practice. Yet if this is our only technique, how will those “negative” patterns (that are wreaking havoc from the unconscious planes of our existence) ever be transformed?

The Vietanmese Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh gives the following advice to his students, on this point … When we’re beginners, he says, it’s most skillful for us to give energy to, to nourish & support, what is healthy & balanced within us. Especially valuable to cultivate is what in Buddhist language is called the “energy of mindfulness” ~ a spacious, vibrant “awakeness” (a fully-awakened citta). We use this energy of mindfulness, then, to “touch” or nourish (to pay loving attention to) those “positive” qualities which we wish to augment. And if, on a regular basis, we’re able to focus our attention on the positive, what we’ll notice happening also is that many of our “negative” qualities will ~ simply by not being given our attention, not being “fed” ~ quite naturally dissolve …

But not all of them! Which is why as we become more advanced in the practice, and our energy of mindfulness becomes strong, it is appropriate to begin to use our energy of mindfulness to “touch” (or invite into our conscious mind) not only the “positive” within us, but also the more “negative” or “stuck” aspects of our bodyminds. So, for instance, at this point ~ once our “mindfulness” is strong ~ we could choose to embrace, with our mindfulness, the mental/emotional pattern called “anger” … And to the extent that our mindfulness is strong, its energy will begin to transform, unwind, release those “anger” patterns. Eventually, when our mindfulness is quite bright … merely shining its light onto these dark/stuck patterns will be enough to “liberate” them, instantaneously. (Much like the “darkness” of a room is gone completely once we turn on a light!)

And as our practice becomes quite advanced ~ our energy of mindfulness very bright, the braid of body, mind & breath quite coherent, fluid & fluent ~ our Presence (awakened prana/citta) will begin to have affects not only on our “own” bodymind, but also the bodyminds of those with whom we interact … a wonderful (though not always immediately “pleasant”) gift we’re able to give to “others” ~ a lovely form of service … Grown out of the resolved & un-resolved paradoxes of ….

prana follows citta