Updated: Oct 12, 2021
Through exploration of the body and breath, ancient yogis discovered that prana (life force energy) could be divided into energetic components called Vayus (winds). The five Vayus of prana all have very subtle yet distinct energetic qualities, including specific functions and directions of flow. The yogis were able to control and cultivate these Vayus by simply bringing their focus and awareness to them. Through this conscious control and cultivation, they were not only able to create optimal health and well-being but were able to activate the primordial Kundalini energy to obtain states of enlightened Samadhi.
The Sanskrit word Vayu translates as “wind,” and the root ‘va’ translates to “that which flows.” Thus a Vayu is an energetic force that moves in a specific direction to control bodily functions and activities. Yogis found 49 distinct types of Vayus in the body. Only five of the main Vayus or Pancha Pranas are important for yoga practitioners to understand. These five primary currents of vital force are Prana-Vayu, Apana-Vayu, Samana-Vayu, Udana-Vayu, and Vyana-Vayu.
Each Vayu governs a specific area of the body and ideally functions in harmony with each other. Their subtle energetic movements affect and influence our physical, emotional, and mental health and wellness. If a Vayu becomes imbalanced it can create disharmony through the whole energetic system of the body or can negatively affect its associate chakra or the organs linked to its location.
Complete mastery over the Vayus is not necessary to benefit from using them to improve our health, inward focus and the ability to feel the subtleties within the body. Cultivating a basic awareness of one or more of the Vayus will help us deepen our awareness of body and breath to enrich our yoga practice and achieve our greatest potential.
The Five Vayus
The two most easiest and important Vayus to connect with are Prana-Vayu and Apana-Vayu. Once you connect with the subtle energies of these two Vayus it will be easier to work with the others.
Prana-Vayu is situated in the heart, and its energy pervades the chest region. Prana-Vayu translates as “forward moving air,” and its flow is inwards and upward. It nourishes the brain and the eyes and governs the reception of all things: food, air, senses, and thoughts. This Vayu is the fundamental energy in the body and directs and feeds into the four other Vayus. This Vayu’s action is crystallization, its expression is cyclical, and its associated chakras and elements are Anahata and air. When this Vayu is weak, the mind cannot focus and experiences excess worry. Shortness of breath, anxiety, low energy or a poor immune system can be related to disturbed Prana-Vayu.
• To experience Prana-Vayu: Close your eyes, sit or stand with a long spine and relaxed body, and as you inhale feel an energy flowing up the torso from the belly to the third-eye. Alternatively, practice our third eye meditation.
• To strengthen Prana-Vayu: Practicing pranayamas like Bhastrika, Nadi Shodhana and Ujjayi Pranayama will quickly strengthen this Vayu. Heart-opening yoga poses like bow pose, camel pose, cobra pose, dancer pose, and bridge pose will activate and strengthen the Prana-Vayu. To encourage this vital wind to flow upward practice inversions and poses with raised arms like Warrior I, Chair pose, and Mountain pose. Bringing awareness of Prana-Vayu in any yoga pose creates a focus to lift, lengthen and open the upper body.
Apana-Vayu is situated in the pelvic floor and its energy pervades the lower abdomen. Apana-Vayu translates as “the air that moves away,” and its flow is downwards and out. Its energy nourishes the organs of digestion, reproduction, and elimination. Apana-Vayu governs the elimination of all substances from the body: carbon dioxide, urine, stool, etc. This Vayu’s action is elimination, its expression is steadiness, and its associated chakras and elements are Muladhara and earth. A weak or dysfunctional Apana-Vayu creates feelings of ungroundedness and weakness in the legs. Elimination issues or diseases that affect the intestines, kidneys, or urinary tract can be related to disturbed Apana prana.
• To experience Apana-Vayu: Close your eyes, sit or stand with a long spine and relaxed body, and as you exhale feel an energy flowing down the torso from the top of the head to the tailbone, and then out through the legs and feet.
• To strengthen Apana-Vayu: Practice calming and tension releasing poses like forward bends and seated twists. Focus on engaging the leg muscles and grounding down in standing yoga poses strengthen this Vayu. Also consider practicing Nauli, Agni Sara Kriya, Ashvini Mudra, and Mula Bandha. Bringing awareness of Apana-Vayu in any yoga pose creates a focus to ground and stabilize the lower body.
Vyana-Vayu is situated in the heart and lungs and flows throughout the entire body. Vyana-Vayu translates as “outward moving air,” and its flow moves from the center of the body to the periphery. It governs the circulation of all substances throughout the body and assists the other Vayus with their functions. This Vayu’s action is circulation, its expression is alignment, and its associated chakras and elements are Svadisthana and water. A weak or dysfunctional Vyana-Vayu can create feelings of separation and alienation and can create disjointed, fluctuating, and rambling thoughts. Poor circulation, impaired nerve stimulation, skin disorders, and nervous breakdowns can be related to disturbed Vyana-Vayu.
• To experience Vyana-Vayu: Close your eyes, sit or stand with a long spine and relaxed body, and as you inhale feel the breath radiating outward from the navel to the arms and legs.
• To strengthen Vyana-Vayu: Practice pranayama with kumbhaka (breath retention). Focus your asana practice more on vinyasa movements like the Sun Salutations to circulate prana and blood. Bringing awareness of Vyana-Vayu in any yoga pose creates a focus on strength and fluid movement body.
Udana-Vayu is situated in the throat and it has a circular flow around the neck and head. Udana-Vayu translates to “that which carries upward,” and its flow moves upward from the heart to the head, five senses, and brain. It functions to “hold us up” and governs speech, self-expression, and growth. This Vayu’s action is metabolization, its expression is verbal, and its associated chakras and elements are Vishuddha & Ajna and ether. A weak or dysfunctional Udana-Vayu can manifest as speech difficulties, shortness of breath and diseases of the throat. A lack of self-expression, uncoordinated movement or loss of balance can be related to disturbed Udana-Vayu.
• 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 Pranayama and Bhramari Pranayama with Jalandhara Bandha. Focus on practicing inversions and back-bending yoga poses that bring energy to the neck, shoulders, and head. Bringing awareness of Udana-Vayu in any yoga pose creates a focus to maintain a long spine and a correct posture.
Samana-Vayu is situated in the abdomen with its energy centered in the navel. Samana-Vayu translates to “the balancing air” and its flow moves from the periphery of the body to the center. It governs the digestion and assimilation of all substances: food, air, experiences, emotions, and thoughts. This Vayu’s action is assimilation, its expression is internal, and its associated chakras and elements are Manipura and fire. A weak or dysfunctional Samana-Vayu can manifest as poor judgment, low confidence and a lack of motivation and desire. Issues with digestion can be related to disturbed Samana-Vayu.
• To experience Samana-Vayu: Close your eyes, sit or stand with a long spine and relaxed body, and as you inhale and exhale feel the breath rising and falling in the front, sides, and back of the torso.
• To strengthen Samana-Vayu: Focus your asana practice on twisting poses and core-strengthening yoga poses. Practice Kapalabhati Pranayama with Uddiyana Bandha and Agni Sara Kriya. Bringing awareness of Samana-Vayu in any yoga pose creates a focus to open and relax the body.
Thank you Timothy Burgin for this clear and concise article on this topic.