What is pranam

Pranam is a respectful greeting expressing respect. Respect for the one who is at the next stage of development or evolution. The prefix “pra” is translated from Sanskrit as ‘forward’, ‘very strong’, and ‘anama’ means ‘bending’. Thus, the word “pranam” means ‘deep bow’, ‘prostration’.

The origins and meaning of the practice

People raised in the Vedic tradition do not say "hello", hug, kiss each other on the cheek or use a handshake as a greeting - instead they bow with their palms together at the heart.

In the Western tradition, such behavior is associated more with religious rituals, prayers, and petitions. Therefore, a Western person may experience distrust, indignation, and protest. It may seem to him that bowing is a symbol of meaningless, blind submission and lack of will.

It is believed that it is very difficult for a proud and self-righteous person to show even such a simple gesture of respect for another as bowing. Therefore, among practitioners, bowing is a means to curb one's ego.

This gesture, unusual for a modern person, has more practical meaning than any other greeting. After all, when, for example, a person physically touches another person (by hugging or shaking hands), he is rudely invading his personal space. When he says “hello,” he most often wishes only physical health. The meaning of the most common word at a meeting - “hello” - is only in the formal observance of the rules of decency.

Pranam is an attentive, respectful appeal not to the individual, but to the Essence of a person. When a person bows, he addresses another not from the point of view of his personal characteristics, but as a part of the Universe. Therefore, in Rus', as a greeting, they bowed, touching the ground with one hand and placing the other on the chest.

6 types of pranams

There are six options for performing pranama:

  1. Ashtanga (‘eight parts’) is a prostration, the most complete variation of pranam, also known as “ashtanga dandavat”. When making a bow, a person lies on his stomach, face down, stretching his arms forward. The body touches the ground in eight parts: knees, stomach, chest, chin, nose, forehead, elbows and hands.

  2. Shastanga (‘six parts’) or panchanga (‘five parts’) is a half-extension in which the toes (they are not taken into account during panchanga), knees, hands, forehead, nose, chin touch the ground. The most common form of prostration is this: the stomach either remains on the hips (as in Shashankasana - Hare Pose), or does not touch the hips and the ground, while the back is slightly rounded.

  3. Dandavat (‘stick’) - bow with the forehead and palms touching the ground.

  4. Namaskar (‘bow’) - a small bow, palms folded together, in Anjali mudra, with the thumbs touching the point between the eyebrows. Used as a form of greeting with special respect.

    Anjali mudra, or prayer gesture, is often performed during greetings. This mudra is not only a sign of deep respect, but also carries a sacred meaning. The joining of two palms together symbolizes the balance between the left and right sides of the body, between Ida and Pingala, reuniting in the central energy channel - Sushumna. Such unity is one of the goals of yoga - the development of a respectful attitude towards other people and the world around us.

  5. Abhinandana (‘rejoicing’, expression of admiration) - a small bow with the palms folded in Anjali Mudra, but unlike the previous version, the thumbs touch the chest. Used to greet equals in status or caste, symbolizing admiration for the wisdom hidden in every person.

  6. Charanasparsha (‘touching the feet’) - bowing combined with touching the feet as a sign of special reverence and respect.

    The feet are considered the lowest point in the human body, where the coarsest energy accumulates. That is why one should not touch the feet of a fallen person. But a wise, holy person accumulates only virtues even in his feet. Therefore, touching the feet is an expression of genuine love and respect for someone whose qualities we admire and want to adopt.

In India there is a special custom of apologizing. When one person's foot accidentally touches books, money or another person's foot, the person causing the inconvenience first touches the object with his right hand, and then brings his hand to his forehead or chest.

5 differences between pranam and namaste

Pranam is a special form of expressing respect to those whom we consider worthy of respect. Namaste is a common greeting that is used when meeting any person.

  1. Pranam is accompanied by a bow, while for Namaste it is enough to simply perform Anjali Mudra.
  2. Practicing pranam requires more effort than namaste.
  3. In the Vedic tradition, women are advised to refrain from performing Ashtanga Pranam, due to careful attitude towards motherhood and the characteristics of the female body, while namaste has no such restrictions.
  4. Pranam is not answered by repeating the pranam in response, but during namaste, on the contrary, it is customary to respond in the same way.
  5. Pranam is performed in front of elders both in age and level of spiritual development. In response, the elders give their blessing. Namaste is used as a greeting for all age groups, without a subsequent blessing.

Spiritual meaning of pranam

Pranam is not just the physical act of bowing or prostrating. This is an expression of gratitude and respect to the Absolute, welcoming His manifestation in the Guru and other exalted people.

When performing pranam, the practitioner prostrates at the level of three bodies (gross, subtle and causal) before the Supreme principle - Perfect Wisdom. He dissolves the boundaries of his own ego in Nishkama Karma - acting for the benefit of others without desires or expectations, which ultimately leads to Liberation.

Practical benefits of pranam

  1. Concentration and staying in the moment develops. Fussiness and anxiety go away.
  2. Humility, modesty, acceptance comes. Pride, greed, attachment to ego goes away.
  3. Calmness and balance are cultivated.
  4. Hormonal levels change, all physical systems of the body come into balance.
  5. The illusion of separation is dissolved, likes and dislikes are erased. The person becomes more open and compassionate.
  6. Grievances and complaints against elders are being worked out.
  7. The practice of Ashtanga Pranam especially helps in cases where there is a feeling of impasse, helplessness, when a person has tried everything, but cannot resolve the problematic situation through willpower, intellectual knowledge and other usual methods.
  8. The willingness to give increases, which leads to prosperity in all areas of life. When performing practice, a person seems to dissolve his ego in the One, which causes a similar response impulse. Then the world around him will meet him halfway in many matters.