The five prana vayus

Pranayama for beginners

Through exploration of the body and the breath, ancient yogis divided prana into five energetic components called vayus. When the vayus are balanced they promote a healthy body and mind, allowing you to realise your full potential.

When observing prana, ancient yogis found that it acted uniquely in different parts of the body. In order to understand prana more accurately it was divided into 5 vayus – each of which varies in function, intensity and direction of flow. Cultivating a basic awareness of one or more of the vayus can help you to deepen your awareness of body and breath and achieve your greatest potential.

Ancient yogis were able to control and cultivate the vayus simply by bringing their focus and awareness to them.  Through conscious control, they were able to create optimal health and well-being and activate the primordial Kundalini energy to obtain states of enlightened Samadhi. For the rest of us, the practice of pranayama, yoga asana (postures), and shat kriyas can all help to balance the prana vayus.

What are the vayus?

The Sanskrit word vayu translates literally as wind.  While there are actually 49 types of vayus in the human body, of which the five main vayus (also known as the pancha pranas) are most important to understand. These five primary currents of your vital life force energy are named prana vayu, apana vayu, samana vayu, udana vayu, and vyana vayu.

Each vayu governs a specific area of your body and is designed to function in harmony with the others, their subtle energetic movements influence your physical, emotional and mental health. If a vayu becomes imbalanced it can create imbalance throughout the energetic system and negatively affect its associate chakra and the organs linked to its location.

Prana vayu

Prana vayu translates as “forward moving air” and its flow is inward and upward. 

Prana vayu is situated in the heart and lungs and is responsible for the working of your respiratory system.  Prana vayu is the fundamental energy in your body and directs and feeds into the four other vayus. It is responsible for your experience of the five senses, air, food and thoughts – and governs the brain and eyes. The heart chakra (anahata) is said to be the main seat of prana vayu and a blockage in this vayu can lead to depression, low energy, heart-related problems, shortness of breath or a poor immune system.

To experience prana vayu close your eyes and inhale with a focus on energy flowing up the spine from the belly to the centre of your eyebrows – the third eye. Pranayama practices such as bhastrika, nadi shodhana and ujjayi pranayama will quickly strengthen prana vayu. Along with heart-opening yoga poses like bow pose, camel pose, cobra pose,  and bridge pose. To encourage this vital wind to flow upward practice inversions and bring awareness of prana vayu to any yoga pose to create a focus to lift, lengthen and open the upper body.

Apana vayu

Apana vayu translates as “the air that moves away” and its flow is downwards and out. 

Apana vayu is situated in the pelvic floor and its energy nourishes your organs of digestion, reproduction and elimination. Apana vayu is responsible for sexual stimulation, ejaculation and the monthly menstrual cycle for women, governing the elimination of all substances from the body such as feces, gas and urine. Apana vayu’s associated chakra is the root chakra (muladhara), a blockage in this vayu can create feelings of instability and weakness in the legs as well as elimination issues or diseases that affect the intestines, kidneys or urinary tract.

To connect with apana vayu inhale deeply and on an exhale, feel the energetic downward flow from the crown of the head to the base of the spine. To strengthen apana vayu practice nauli, agni sara kriya, ashvini mudra, and mula bandha.

Vyana vayu

Vyana vayu translates as “outward moving air” and its flow moves from the center of the body to the periphery. 

Unlike the other four vayus, vyana vayu has no specific area working area in the body – it travels the entire body and mind through your circulatory system. Vyana vayu governs your nerves, veins, joints and muscle functions and is a connecting force of energy, supporting the function of the other four vayus. This vayu is associated with the sacral chakra (svadisthana) and a weak vyana vayu can create feelings of separation and alienation, poor circulation, impaired nerve stimulation, skin disorders and nervous breakdowns.

To raise your awareness of vyana vayu inhale as you imagine energy travelling from the abdomen towards the arms, legs, fingers and toes. To strengthen vyana vayu – practice pranayama with kumbhaka (breath retention) and vinyasa flow style yoga with a focus on strength and fluid movement.

Udana vayu

Udana-Vayu translates as “that which carries upward” and its flow moves upward from the heart to the head, five senses and brain. 

Udana vayu is situated in your throat and it has a circular flow around the neck and head.  Udana vayu coordinates the neurons of your motor and sensory nervous systems as well as controlling your five physical senses, governing speech, self-expression and growth. Udana vayu is associated with the throat and third-eye chakras (vishuddha and ajna) – and a dysfunctional udana vayu can manifest as speech difficulties, shortness of breath, a lack of self-expression or loss of balance.

To experience udana vayu close your eyes, sit or stand with a long spine and relaxed body, and as you inhale and exhale feel the breath circulating around and through the head and neck. To strengthen udana vayu – practice ujjayi and bhramari pranayama with jalandhara bandha.

Samana vayu

Samana vayu translates as “the balancing air” and its flow moves from the periphery of the body to the center. 

Samana vayu is situated in the abdomen with its energy is centered in your navel.  Samana vayu oversees the digestion of all substances from air and food to emotions, thoughts and sensory experiences. Samana vayu is associated with the solar plexus chakra (manipura) and an imbalanced samana vayu can disturb digestion and appetite which brings weakness in the body, also manifesting as poor judgment, low confidence and a lack of motivation.

To connect with samana vayu inhale, and as you exhale feel energy flowing from the limbs towards the belly. To strengthen samana vayu practice kapalabhati pranayama with uddiyana bandha and agni sara kriya. Bringing awareness of samana vayu to any yoga pose creates a focus on opening and relaxing the body.

Pranayama is a powerful practice and it is always advisable to practice under the guidance of a qualified instructor, especially when learning more advanced breathing techniques. At Breath Evolution we offer both free classes and affordably priced courses online, making the practice accessible to you, no matter what your situation is and and where you are in the world.

At Breath Evolution, our courses incorporate the teaching of breathing techniques based in pranayama, to achieve specific health and wellness goals.

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