What Are Prana Vayus: Your Complete Guide
By: Steph Ball-Mitchell, E-RYT-500, RPYT, RCYT, YACEP
Understanding the Prana Vayus, sometimes referred to as the five vayus, is an important step in deepening your yoga practice. It begins with understanding prana.
Prana is a Sanskrit term that refers to the vital force or life energy that permeates everything in the universe. In ancient Indian philosophy and Ayurvedic medicine, prana is considered to be the essence of life, responsible for sustaining all living beings.
Prana is closely tied to our human consciousness, as it is believed to flow through the body and mind, nourishing and energizing us. It is said that the quality and quantity of prana in our bodies determine our overall health, well-being, and state of mind.
Imagine prana as the breath of life that flows through us, connecting us to the world around us. When our prana is balanced and flowing smoothly, we feel vital and alive, with a clear mind and a sense of purpose. But when our prana is blocked or disturbed, we may experience physical or emotional symptoms, such as fatigue, anxiety, or illness.
This is where prana vayus come in. Prana vayus are the five different directions in which prana flows through our bodies. Each vayu is responsible for an aspect of our physical and mental well-being, and understanding and balancing them is vital to achieving optimal health and consciousness.
Prana Vayus is a fundamental concept in the practice of yoga and Ayurveda, and their history can be traced back to the ancient Indian texts known as the Upanishads. These texts date back to the 8th century BCE and are considered some of the earliest known documents of Indian philosophy.
The Upanishads describe the concept of prana as the life force or energy that animates all living things. Prana is said to flow through the body in channels known as nadis, and it is believed that there are over 72,000 of these channels in the human body. The Upanishads also describe five different types of prana, known as Prana Vayus, which are said to govern various aspects of the body and mind.
The concept of Prana Vayus was further developed in the Yoga Upanishads, dating to around the 6th century CE. These texts describe the practice of yoga as a way to control and manipulate prana, and they outline various techniques for doing so, including pranayama (breathing practices) and asanas (physical yoga postures).
One of the earliest known texts to specifically focus on the Prana Vayus is the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, which was written in the 15th century CE by Swami Svatmarama. This text outlines the practice of Hatha yoga, which focuses on the physical body and uses various techniques to balance the Prana Vayus and achieve greater health and well-being.
The Hatha Yoga Pradipika describes the five Prana Vayus as follows:
Prana Vayu: Governs the breath and the heart and is associated with the element of air.
Apana Vayu: Governs elimination and is associated with the element of earth.
Samana Vayu: Governs digestion and assimilation and is associated with the element of fire.
Udana Vayu: Governs speech and the upward movement of energy and is associated with the element of ether.
Vyana Vayu: Governs circulation and the movement of energy throughout the body and is associated with the element of water.
In addition to the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, the Prana Vayus are also described in other classical texts of yoga, including the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali and the Bhagavad Gita.
Today, yoga and Ayurveda continue to incorporate the concept of Prana Vayus. In yoga, pranayama and asanas are used to balance the Prana Vayus and promote health and well-being, while in Ayurveda, the Prana Vayus are seen as necessary for maintaining the balance of the doshas (the three fundamental energies that govern the body and mind).
Prana vayu is the first and most important of the five vayus or vital winds that govern the physical and energetic functions of the body. It is associated with receiving, and all around movement of energy in the body. In the practice of yoga and Ayurveda, prana vayu is associated with the breath and the heart and is considered to be the primary source of vitality and life force in the body.
Prana vayu is responsible for the inhalation of breath, which brings oxygen and vital energy into the body. It is also responsible for the circulation of blood and the movement of energy throughout the body. When prana vayu is balanced and flowing freely, it promotes good health and vitality, while imbalances or blockages in this vayu can lead to various physical and emotional problems.
Practicing pranayama, or breath control, is an integral part of yoga and is used to balance and strengthen the prana vayu. By controlling the breath, practitioners can increase the flow of vital energy in the body, improve lung function, and promote relaxation and mental clarity.
Apana vayu is the second of the five vayus, responsible for the downward movement of energy in the body. This vayu governs the elimination of waste and toxins from our bodies and also regulates the reproductive and menstrual cycles.
Apana vayu is associated with the element of earth and is located in the body's lower abdomen and pelvic region. This vayu is responsible for the proper functioning of the digestive system, including the absorption and assimilation of nutrients and the elimination of waste.
In yoga and Ayurveda, imbalances in Apana vayu can lead to various physical and emotional problems, including constipation, diarrhea, urinary problems, and menstrual irregularities. To balance this vayu, practitioners may use techniques such as asanas that engage the pelvic floor, such as squats, and specific pranayama techniques that help to regulate the downward flow of energy.
Proper functioning of Apana vayu is vital for overall health and well-being, as it helps maintain the body's cleanliness and purity and supports the proper functioning of the reproductive system. Additionally, Apana vayu is believed to play a role in grounding and stabilizing the body and mind, providing a sense of stability and security.
Samana vayu governs the process of digestion and assimilation of food, as well as the transformation of thoughts and emotions. Samana Vayu is connected with inward movement of energy.
The word 'samana' means 'balancing' or 'equalizing.' Samana vayu is responsible for balancing the energies of the body and mind and ensuring that they function harmoniously. This prana vayu is located in the navel region and extends up to the diaphragm.
Samana vayu is associated with the element of fire, which represents transformation and digestion. It is responsible for the process of breaking down food and extracting nutrients from it, as well as eliminating waste products from the body.
In addition to its role in digestion, samana vayu is also responsible for balancing emotions and thoughts. It helps to transform negative emotions, such as anger and fear, into positive ones and ensures that the mind remains calm and focused.
To balance and strengthen samana vayu, Ayurveda recommends practices such as pranayama (breathing exercises), yoga asanas (postures), and a balanced diet that is easy to digest. Keeping this prana vayu in balance can promote overall health and well-being in both body and mind.
Udana vayu is responsible for the upward movement of energy in the body and is associated with the throat, chest, and head regions.
The word 'udana' means 'upward moving' in Sanskrit. This Prana Vayu is responsible for the expression of speech, sound, and emotions, as well as the movement of the body upwards, such as jumping, running, or standing up.
Udana vayu is associated with the element of ether or space, which represents expansion and lightness. It is responsible for the ability to experience joy, enthusiasm, and inspiration, as well as the capacity for spiritual growth and transformation.
When udana vayu is in balance, one experiences a sense of lightness, clarity, and inspiration. However, imbalances in this Prana Vayu can manifest as feelings of heaviness, lethargy, and depression, as well as speech and communication difficulties.
To balance and strengthen udana vayu, Ayurveda recommends practices such as pranayama (breathing exercises), chanting, singing, and practices that promote spiritual growth, such as meditation and prayer. A balanced and nourishing diet, as well as adequate rest and exercise, can also support the healthy functioning of udana vayu.
Finally, we have vyana vayu. Vyana vayu is responsible for blood circulation and energy throughout the body and is associated with the element of air. It is associated with outward movement or flow of energy.
The word 'vyana' means 'expanding' or 'spreading' in Sanskrit. This prana vayu is responsible for the expansion and contraction of blood vessels and the movement of energy through the muscles and tissues.
Vyana vayu is located throughout the body and is responsible for coordinating and integrating the functions of the other Prana Vayus. It is associated with the sense of touch and is responsible for the perception of sensations such as heat, cold, pressure, and pain.
When vyana vayu is in balance, one experiences a sense of ease, relaxation, and overall well-being. However, imbalances in this prana vayu can manifest as issues with circulation, such as poor blood flow or swelling, as well as feelings of restlessness, anxiety, and tension.
To balance and strengthen vyana vayu, Ayurveda recommends practices such as yoga asanas (postures) that promote circulation, self-massage, and other techniques that promote relaxation and stress reduction. A wholesome diet that supports circulation and adequate hydration can also help the healthy functioning of vyana vayu.
As a yoga teacher, I like to think of the Prana Vayus when I write out my class plans. This helps me to make sure I have energy moving in all directions. Even when my class is centered around one specific principle of movement, such as backbending or forward folding, I still want to make sure I have movements that allow energy to flow in all 5 directions.
There are certain yoga poses that can help us make sure we keep our prana flowing in all possible directions. Below are yoga poses for each of the 5 Prana Vayus:
Prana Vayu is all about movement in all directions, all around movement. We want energy flowing in a circular way. We can tap into Prana Vayu through backbends such as cobra pose, bow pose or camel pose. We can also activate our Prana Vayu through standing poses like Warrior I or chair pose.
You can also activate Prana Vayu through breathwork. Imagine inhaling and filling your lungs completely. On the exhale, think about letting the breath linger in the lungs rather than forcing it out quickly.
Apana Vayu is about downward flowing energy. We think downward and outward flowing when we think of Apana Vayu. We can activate Apana Vayu in our practice with many of our standing postures, such as extended side angle pose, triangle pose or Warrior II. We can also find Apana Vayu in seated forward bends, such as Paschimottanasana (seated forward bend) or Janu Sirsasana (head to knee forward bend pose). Seated twists such as Marichyasana (Pose Dedicated to Sage Marichi - all variations) are also helpful.
You might also activate Apana Vayu by inhaling deep into the pelvic floor and exhaling as if you could send the breath out through the feet.
Udana Vayu is all about upward flowing energy. We can find Udana Vayu on our mat when we practice backbends that expand the belly, such as Urdhva Dhanurasana (Wheel pose) or Dhanurasana (Bow Pose). We also find Udana Vayu in inversions.
You can work with Udana Vayu with your breath. Standing in mountain pose, imagine that you inhale from the earth and draw the breath into the feet and up through the body all the way to the crown of the head and beyond.
Samana Vayu is our inward flowing energy. Samana Vayu makes me think of core work, or any movement that asks us to draw our energy inwards towards our core. Some arm balances, such as crow pose, may ask us to tap into Samana Vayu. Seated twists and boat pose (Navasana) are also good for Samana Vayu.
Working with the breath and Samana Vayu, we want to imagine we first draw the breath deep into our core and that we then can fill up our entire torso with the breath on the inhale, distributing it evenly to the front, back and sides of the body. As we exhale, we want to exhale evenly.
Vyana Vayu is about the outward movement of energy. Side bending postures help us to tap into Vyana Vayu. Savasana is good for finding Vyana Vayu. Sun salutations are most commonly connected to Vyana Vayu.
Using our breath, we can move prana through Vyana Vayu by inhaling deep into our heart center and then exhaling and envisioning the breath moving out through all extremities, arms to hands to fingers and legs to feet to toes.
When our prana vayus are in balance, we feel a sense of vitality, clarity, and ease in our body and mind. However, imbalances in the prana vayus can lead to physical, emotional, and mental disturbances and impact our ability to live a fulfilling life. We can promote our overall health and vitality by practicing techniques that balance the prana vayus, such as pranayama, yoga, meditation, and a balanced diet. It is important to be gentle and patient with ourselves as we work to balance these energies and to seek support from healthcare professionals and experienced practitioners when needed.
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