The Five Winds of Prana
The ancient Yogis called the life force that permeates all existence Prana. Prana cannot be controlled directly, but it can be affected by your Yoga practice – and one of the definitions of a Yogi is “one who has all his Prana within.”
Due to poor posture, our Prana constantly “leaks” out, leaving us drained, tired, in foul mood. By manipulating the body into a better alignment we re-direct energy in the body, concentrate it, build it, and in turn, Prana in the body is increased.
Prana is made up of five “winds” or vayus, and one or more of these winds could be weak, throwing you off-balance.
One way to add an extra layer in your Asana practice is to incorporate the five vayus – Prana Vayu (upward moving wind located in the chest), Apana Vayu (downward moving wind located in the lower abdomen), Samana Vayu (inward and circular moving wind located in the solar plexus), Udana Vayu located in the throat and governing the function of speech, and Vyana Vayu – an all-pervading wind that distributes the energy from the core out to the periphery.
Prana is that which enters the body, it is governed by the inhale, and is increased by poses that expand the body and by building the inhale. If this wind is weak, back bends take too much energy to do, making one feel dizzy and tired instead of invigorated, or the inhale is too short and shallow. Weak Prana also means that Apana can accumulate. Strong Prana wind pushes on the Apana wind as they meet in the body in the center, keeping it in check.
Apana is that which exits the body, the waste in the lower belly which tends to collect there if the body is out of balance. When a person is slow, sluggish, it is said that they have too much Apana. We need Apana as a strong wind to move the waste products out. Lengthening the exhale will allow the toxins to be removed. Apana governs all eliminative functions of the body, including menstruation. During the time of the menstrual flow, Apana is dominant in the body, and it is best to either abstain from Asana practice altogether, or at least to avoid inversions, as that would reverse the wind and hinder it. We don’t want to interfere with the natural rhythms of the body, we need Apana to carry out its function.
Samana governs the naval center, the Third Chakra. It is a place for assimilation, digestion, not only of food, but also of life’s experiences. It is half way between Prana and Apana. Once proper digestion takes place, we are empowered, our perception is increased, and understanding deepens. Full diaphragmatic breath or any heating breathing practice (Kapalabhati, Bhastrika) have an invigorating effect on the Samana Vayu, as well as Surya Bhedana. Uddiyana Bandha is another great tool to stoke sluggish digestive fire.
Vyana is our ability to distribute nourishment and also our consciousness everywhere in our body and it regulates movement from the core to the periphery. It governs our ability to stay evenly balanced between the right and the left sides. Vyana maintains the balance of the other four prana vayus as well. A pervasive and expansive force, Vyana governs the movement of prana through the nadis, through the circulatory system and the nervous system. Vyana governs the ability of the mind to penetrate deeply into the various levels of our being. When deranged, Vyana makes us feel disjoined, uncoordinated, out of balance, unsteady on our feet. We feel confused, anxious, and weak. Anuloma Viloma, Nadi Shodhana, as well as Surya Bhedana or Chandra Bhedana are great Pranayamas to balance Vyana.
Udana Vayu governs the throat and its functions of speech and self expression, as well as growth and metabolism through the thyroid and parathyroid glands. When Udana is out of balance, it affects our ability to express ourselves – we are prone to negative, inappropriate, or excessive speech, or become tongue tied altogether. The throat region is a major center for charging and discharging energy, and deranged Udana may prevent healthy balance between what is being taken in and what is being put out. Udana allows prana to flow from the lower to the higher planes of consciousness as it is active mainly in the area between the heart and the head. If Udana Vayu is healthy, the mind can travel that space and our head and heart become connected. Lions’ breath, Ujjayi are wonderful Pranayamas to balance it, and a proper Jalandhara Bandha is essential.
In this blog I wanted to share how I have been incorporating my understanding of these vayus into my Asana practice as well, by using my awareness to affect the flow of prana and its five winds in my body. Prana goes where the mind goes!
You too, can practice these five directions of inner reach from within in every Asana. Some Asanas emphasize the upward moving wind (like a back-bend), some emphasize downward moving wind (like knees to chest), some, like twists or abdominal work, concentrate more energy in the solar plexus, asking us to move toward the core, to firm up in the belly, and all Asanas should cultivate a sense of inner expansion.
But just because a back bend invites the energy to move upward in the body, that does not mean we should neglect our grounding, which often happens. Quite the opposite, we need to learn to balance one direction by moving in the opposite direction with equal amount of effort. The more intense the back bend, the more attention one should be diverting toward proper grounding of the body into the