Prana is energy gained as a birthright at the moment we were conceived. The Sanskrit word prana translates to vital life. Pra means first and na means basic. Prana is the first and most basic element in everything that lives and consists of cells.
Prana is everywhere and within everything that we feel and experience. We are not necessarily creating prana in a yoga and pranayama practice, we are simply tapping into this vital life force. We are assimilating it, moving and deepening our experience with it and even unblocking it from places that may feel void of prana due to injury, abuse, avoidance, or negligence. We can manifest a greater feeling of this vital life-force in more quality amounts of air we breath, healthy food we eat, and exercise in which we engage.
Prana affects different spaces in the body and in different ways. To tap deeper into prana and explore the body more fully, we need to understand the vayus. The word va translates as that which flows. The word vayu translates as wind, so vayu connotes flowing wind.
There are 49 distinct vayus that are types of prana existing in the body from the belly, heart, throat, perineum, brain, and the outer areas of body like the nervous and cardiovascular systems. We will examine the five principle ones important for a yoga practitioner to know. These vayus are: Prana-Vayu, Apana-Vayu, Samana-Vayu, Udana-Vayu, and Vyana-Vayu.
The vayus govern certain responsibilities that are needed for the body to function properly. When the body is physically aligned and receiving abundant air and nutrients, this inner wind flows more, making a greater conscious impact on the whole body. As we practice asanas, we are affecting the vayus and their ability to open, energize and heal certain areas in and around the body. When we do asana improperly or without keeping the prana active through the use of bandhas, i.e. creating ‘leaks’ for the prana to flow out, or ‘dams’ for prana to move, we are prohibiting the vayus from activating certain powerful areas of the body fully and, therefore, missing out on the full potential of our being as a whole.
Prana-Vayu governs the area from the bottom of the heart to the throat. This vayu becomes more vital during Janandhara Bandha. It is closely associated with heart and lungs offering air, energy, thrust and power. The element air and upward movement empower this vayu with the air we breathe in and the feeling of being lifted upward, just as the venous return of blood to the heart. When we do asana, the inhalation creates space and engages the heart allowing for more energy to stay longer.
With Prana Vayu’s seat within the heart, it works to continue the beating of the heart at a normalized and steady pace. It extends to all the functions of the heart to create regulated blood circulation, filtration, and the pulse throughout the body.
Prana Vayu’s is affected by that which is experienced from the environment, i.e. sounds, action, overall energy of the outside world as well as what is brought directly into the body through liquid, food and air. This vayu works to assimilate all the things we ingest and experience in order to assist the nervous system in how to respond, with a parasympathetic rest and digest or sympathetic fight or flight response. This vayu, being as an assimilator of internal and external energy and propeller of heart and lung power, is integral in an individual’s well being and yoga practice.
Prana-vayu is the energy of the anahata heart chakra. Therefore, heart openers, tri-bandha and pranayama bring balance to the nervous system, regularity to the heart and cardiovascular system, as well as greater lung support and balance to this prana vayu.
Apana vayu is the grounding quality behind the exhalation, so it is natural that its element is earth. The dominant energy is a downward and outward movement. Through exhalation we gain our root and are able to become more present in the moment. Just as the Apana Vayu is associated with earth qualities through exhalation, it also forces elimination and eradication of toxic and foreign matter out of the mind and body. Physically, it works through the colon, kidneys, bladder and genitals. Through expulsion, it is also the driving force in reproduction by way of the genitals moving energy for fertilization and eventually moving life out into the world in childbirth.
The area associated with this vayu is located in the pelvis down through the legs. Muladhara or the root chakra is related to this vayu. We gain strength and clarity in our foundation and the power of grounding through Apana Vayu. The qualities of Apana Vayu are strengthened by applying Pada Bandha foot lock, lifting the knees in standing, sitting with legs extended poses, and engaging the thighs in active asanas. Most importantly, activating Mula Bandha in all poses and pranayama strengthen the qualities of apana vayu.
Samana-Vayu is the marriage of both the Prana and Apana Vayus. Seated in the navel, midway between Prana Vayu in the chest and Apana Vayus in the pelvis, Samana Vayu’s element is fire. This vayu governs where prana or toxins go via assimilation or elimination. When this vayu is out of balance there is trouble with digestion and assimilation not only with what is physically consumed but also with mental or emotional experiences resulting in confusion and/or delusion.
Seated within the belly, Samana Vayu aids in digestion, metabolism and digestive fire. If the abdomen distends, or the pelvis tilts forward away from the belly, there is negative effect of the wind ceasing movement and deactivating Samana Vayu. This causes toxic matter to be assimilated and not eliminated. The other extreme may be an over active abdomen resulting in “burning up everything that comes in” with little assimilation and all being eliminated. Both indicate imbalance of Samana Vayu. One may experience this in constipation or IBS (irritable bowel syndrome).
Since the seat of Samana Vayu is in the abdomen, breathing into the belly, engaging Uddyana Bandha along with core and low back asanas regulate its actions. During asana as well as pranayama with the abdomen actively lifted inward, upward and backward during exhalation reduces the pouring out and loss of prana around the abdomen and stimulates this navel energy. The belly relaxing and expanding during inhalation strengthen Samana Vayu.
Udana Vayu is “that which is carried upward”. It is seated in the throat and carried into the head. Udana Vayu assists in deep sleep, meditation, being fully alert and conscious when awake. Voice, sound, sight, hearing, sleep, hormones, muscle function and tissue repair are some of the areas governed by Udana Vayu. Because it rules the fifth, sixth and seventh chakras, the thyroid, pineal and pituitary glands benefit from this awakened wind. The pituitary glad is the master gland, so this vayu is important in homeostasis for the entire endocrine system. When we are unable to hear, balance, speak clearly or our voice is disjointed, when muscle function or physical growth, deep sleep, and hormone balance is impaired, there is a need for awakening this vayu. Jalandara Bandha during pranayama as well as asanas associated with the throat through the crown of the head will assist in this vayu’s well being.
While Apana Vayu, the second vayu, is the downward movement of elimination and also grounding, Udana Vayu is the opposed upward movement and cultivation of the higher states awakening and manifestation. Thus both together create this stimulating and grounding balance.
The final of these five most recognized and powerful vayus is Vyana Vayu that is “outward moving air”. This vayu integrates and coordinates with the other four vayus, bringing them all in unison. Vyana governs the movement of the prana from the core to the periphery through the nadis energy channels; the movement of the energy through the circulatory system, lymph, nervous system, muscle function, hair, nails and skin.
If one is uncoordinated, not able to balance, has poor blood circulation, swelling, lymph conditions, or hair, nails and skin are in poor health, then this vayu is not receiving the nourishment it needs. When all the previous four vayus are cultivated and cared for then Vyana Vayu will be in balance. Tri-Bandha, pranayama, a balanced yoga practice with full body movement, e.g. sun salutations and twist, coupled with mediation will aid in the awakened state of this full-being, Vyana Vayu.
Vayus at Work
We are turned on to yoga because of the way it makes us feel. We may have had an “ah-ha” moment in a pose. Perhaps some even experienced a spiritual awakening once one was still, focused and aligned—be it in meditation, pranayama or asana practice. These were the vayus at work. We return to our mats with desire to repeat that experience or have an even greater one.
Though your student may not know what is scientifically occurring regarding these vayus when doing yoga, it is energetically being revealed through their overall wellness and keen senses. They feel well conditioned, have better digestion and elimination, sleep more restful, have stronger intuition, feel restored, balance, see observe healthy skin and nails. They gain oomph for obtaining goals and over all living, as well as personal pride in their mirror image. This is all arising from the wind within being stoked and now moving, awakening prana within the being.
In Love and Yoga,