Sharir – Tattvas Part III (contd.):
Prans – in General II
It would be surprising to know that Hinduism describes pran merely on detailed observations and not on any pathophysiological or biochemical laboratory analyses. Not only that, Hinduism describes 10 prans, five major prans and five minor prans (upa-prans). Currently, the modern medical sciences also describe altogether about 10 to 14 major and minor important physiological systems of the body, namely, Circulatory or Cardiovascular System, Dermal or Integumentary System, Digestive or Gastrointestinal System, Endocrine (Glandular or Hormonal) System, Excretory System, Muscular System, Nervous System, Reproductive System, Respiratory or Pulmonary System, and Skeletal System. Immune System, Lymphatic System, Urinary System, and Sensory System are considered sub-system. Out of them five are major vital systems. Five main prans correspond to the body’s five most important vital functions or life-sustaining processes, especially at the cellular level, without which life cannot sustain for longer. Because of their life sustaining importance they are collectively called “prān”, meaning, “life”. Five prāns are namely, Prān (also spelled as prāna), Apān (also spelled as apāna), Vyān (also spelled as vyāna), Samān (also spelled as samāna) and Udān (also spelled as udāna). Five upa-prans are: Nāg (Naga), Kurm (Koorma), Krikar (Krikara) or Kukal, Devdatt (Devadatta) and Dhananjay (Dhananjaya).
Now, let us try to look at prans in little more detail. As we have seen the importance of prans in the old Vedic story, body still can function or sustain for much longer without any of the sensory organs (indriyas) and mental functions (antahkarans) but without prans it cannot sustain much longer, death is imminent.
From the modern understanding of science we can see that, the five main prans correspond mainly to five main vital functions at the cellular level. Moreover, they may also be found interconnected to more than one of the five main vital systems of the body, because they are all interrelated or interdependent to each other for their proper functioning. The five main vital functions of the body are respiratory function, circulatory function, digestive function, nervous or neuromuscular function, and excretory or urogenital function. The five very important vital systems of the body for the above functions are respiratory system, circulatory or cardio-vascular system, digestive or gastrointestinal system, neuromuscular system, and genitourinary system.
Among the prans or main vital functions, if genital or reproductive function is compromised life can sustain for years and if excretory function is compromised life can sustain for a few years with assistance; if the sensory functions, autonomic nervous functions (work at an involuntary or subconscious level and include sympathetic, parasympathetic, and enteric nervous functions that responds, respectively, to stress; maintain homeostasis by sending biofeedback on the condition of internal organs to the brain; and controls digestive movements and secretions), motor or musculoskeletal functions (work at conscious or voluntary level and include movements, balance, and coordination), and mental or cognitive functions, that is, functions of the psyche or antahkaran are compromised life can still sustain for much longer; if gastrointestinal system is compromised life can sustain only for a few months without food or only for a few weeks without water; but if respiratory function is compromised life can only sustain for a few hours or for a few days with assistance; and if circulatory or cardiac function is compromised life can sustain only for a few minutes. Cessation of brain functions means death.