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Prana is the life-force that flows through the universe, animating every plant, animal, and human. It is what allows us to think, move, and love.
When we learn to control the flow of prana through the body, we open up a whole world of possibilities, giving ourselves governance over our thoughts, emotions, and even our health and wellbeing.
In yoga, the prana can be split into five vayus (literally meaning “air” or “wind”), which flow through the body as currents, each encompassing a different fundamental process of life.
These vayus are apana vayu, samana vayu, prana vayu (which should not be confused with the master prana), udana vayu, and vyana vayu.
When each of these are balanced we find that the body and mind are in harmony and we are at peace with the world, but when they are too weak, too strong, or unbalanced then we can be facing a whole host of problems.
Learning to recognize when these vayus are unbalanced, and how to rectify this situation, is to take full control over your body and mind, and draw vitality, productivity, and love into our lives.
In this guide we will be exploring the function of each vayu, how to recognize when they are weakened or blocked, and how to go about the balancing process, in order to fully access the power of the pranic life-force.
Everything that enters the body must leave, in some form or another. To hold anything within the body is to poison ourselves. Food, water, air, and even emotions must flow through the body, and ultimately be expelled.
Apana vayu rules the downwards expulsion from the body. It is also closely associated with the menstrual cycle and fertility, where a strong apana is required in order to conceive and sustain a pregnancy.
The apana vayu also governs the mind’s ability to let go. When the apana is blocked or weakened, we find ourselves holding on to grudges, fixating on the past, and worrying about things which we cannot change. When the apana is healthy we are able to look ahead with clarity and confidence, processing worries efficiently and then letting them go, leaving positivity in their stead.
To notice a blocked or weakened apana, take note of feelings of being ungrounded or weighed down. Holding tension in the lower back and legs is another common symptom.
How to Work With Apana
To direct prana through apana vayu, draw the breath in through the nose, and follow the breath down into the base of the spine and pelvic floor.
As you exhale, follow through with this direction of breath and feel it flow down through the legs, out of the feet, and into the planet. Allow this sensation to ground you to the earth.
Try to include seated twists and forward folds into your yoga practices to help to bolster your apana vayu, remembering to expel through the base of the spine or feet directly into the earth to ground you.
Before we can eliminate food, drink, and emotions from our bodies we must first process them, take nourishment, and assimilate. The vayu that governs these processes is the samana vayu, which controls digestion, balancing and processing all that we ingest.
The samana vayu is strongly associated with the processing of information. When we have a strong samana we find it easy to listen and understand new information, and committing these things to memory is a simple and stress-free process. When the samana is blocked or weak, we find ourselves forgetful and easily distracted.
The samana vayu is also crucial in processing traumatic or stressful experiences. When the samana is strong we are able to talk about these occurrences productively, and start to heal, but when it is weak we feel weighed down by negativity and trauma.
How to Work With Samana
To strengthen samana vayu we must draw the breath towards the navel, filling the torso with its power. Inhale through the nose, feeling the breath fill the trunk of the body evenly, pushing down and out with equal strength. Hold the core of the body strong, allowing the belly to fill but without pushing it out.
Exhale, allowing the energy to spread evenly throughout the body. With each inhalation, draw the breath in deeper and deeper, allowing it to fill the body with more intense energy each time, remembering to always keep the distribution around the body even. Any exercises which strengthen the core muscles of the stomach, back, and upper legs, will help to strengthen the samana vayu.
The most fundamental of the vayus is the prana vayu (this should not be confused with the master life-force known as prana) as it governs everything which we take into our body. Our breath, our food and nourishment, our drinking and our swallowing are all controlled by the prana.
It also closely governs our five senses, and can be deeply affected by sensory overload. When the prana is weakened we crave deep stimulation of the senses, seeking out loud music or violent television and computer games.
When the prana vayu is strong we know when to walk away from these stimuli, instead seeking out peaceful solitude and relaxation.
To notice a weakened prana, consider whether you are able to seek serenity. For many, a weak prana vayu means they feel like meditation is impossible as they crave stimulation and distraction instead.
How to Work With Prana
As you draw the breath into the body through the nose, imagine the lungs filling with the sweetest, most beautiful air.
Picture the breath as the life-force that it is, and the nourishment that it is bringing to the body as it fills. Direct this breath to the center of the mind.
When you exhale, allow the breath to linger, try not to force it out with any power, and remember to savor it. Imagine its cleansing properties, taking with it anything that does not serve you, leaving your mind clear and undisturbed.
The fourth vayu is the udana vayu, which governs our growth and progression, both mentally and physically. Udana is closely connected with our throats and the associated skills of communication and speech, as well as mental and physical growth.
It is no surprise that when the udana is blocked we struggle to communicate our wants and needs, and can begin to feel ourselves stagnating. In these situations we tend to find ourselves accepting less than we deserve, and we stop hunting out new opportunities, instead choosing to stay in unfulfilling jobs and relationships.
On the other hand, when the udana is too powerful it is associated with feelings of pride, stubbornness, and arrogance, as well as an inability to listen to those who bring advice or concerns.
How to Work With Udana
To balance the udana vayu, draw the breath up from the earth, starting from the soles of the feet and moving up into the legs, body, and finally the head. As you exhale, allow this breath to continue to move up, releasing around the throat and mouth, feeling tension in the jaw slip away.
This process is particularly effective in an inverted posture, but instead of the breath starting at the feet, imagine it traveling through the earth and up through the hands and the arms, through the torso, and leaving the body through the soles of the feet and tips of the toes.
The final vayu is vyana vayu, which governs the body’s circulatory systems. Its primary purpose is to take nourishment from internal stores, such as oxygen, food, and water, and radiate these outwards, facilitating free-flow and efficiency. It is the backbone of all of the other vayu, as it is required for the enrichment of the body after these fundamental processes take place.
Vyana vayu also relates to the flow of emotions and information. When the vyana is healthy, these things can flow without restriction, enabling us to communicate effectively, show love and affection, and live fearlessly.
However, when it is blocked we can become fearful, anxious, alienated, and frustrated by our limitations. A healthy vyana is essential for those wishing to pursue romantic and non-romantic relationships or creative occupations.
How to Work With Vyana
Draw the breath in, allowing it to fill every corner of the heart. As you exhale imagine it flowing through every blood vessel throughout the body, filling the arms and legs, eventually leaving through the hands, feet, pores and hair follicles.
Try this breathing exercise while following the sun salutation sequence, allowing the exchange of energy and light into the heart, feeling it lift the body and the mood as you breathe and move.
The five currents of prana, apama, samana, udana, and vyana keep the body and mind working efficiently when they themselves are balanced and strong. Understanding how they work, how to nurture them, and how to recognize when they are out of balance, is the first step in learning how to control the flow of pranic life-force through the body.