Many yoga poses are named after animals. This is either because the asana makes you resemble…
Breath or prana is one of the most important aspects of yoga. Whether you can contort your body into a complex pretzel shape, or simply sit in a chair, it’s more important that you’re able to breathe steadily and comfortably.
It is so fundamental to breathe properly in your yoga asana practice because it is your direct connection with a life force energy called prana. Through your yoga practice, you can learn to control prana through asana and pranayama, breathing techniques which enable meditation without respiratory distraction.
Inefficient use of prana in a yoga pose makes it weak, unstable, and takes too much energy to practice. But proper use of prana in your body makes any asana a balance of strength and comfort.
Learn more about prana and how you can master this life force energy around you and in your own body through yoga.
The 5 Vayus or Winds
There are five main types of prana pathways in the human body which are called vayu or wind. Each of these vayus have different characteristics and effects on your body, so understanding them and balancing them is key to mastering prana yoga.
1. Apana Vayu
Movement: Downward and Outward
Location: Lower Abdomen
Whether it’s food, breath, or liquids, everything that enters your body must go out. This is obvious in the physical sense like elimination of urine, stools, and menstruation as a sign of healthy apana vayu. But this also applies to the elimination of unhealthy thoughts.
Your ability to control the distractions of your mind and to let go is an indication of healthy flowing apana vayu in your system.
Blocked apana vayu can manifest as physical blockage in your lower belly. It can make you slow and sluggish and feel unsupported and ungrounded.
To help the movement of apana, focus on directing your breath all the way to the bottom of your feet. Of course, anatomically, breath only enters your body until the level of your lungs. But prana is part of your subtle and energetic anatomy which can be manipulated with your focus, attention, and awareness.
Use this visualization and feeling exercise in any standing, seated, or twisted asana. It is especially useful if you notice any issues with elimination in your body or mind.
Inhale – Breathe in through your nose and mentally follow your breath into your body all the way down to the base of your spine to your pelvic floor.
Exhale – Feel (or imagine that you can feel) your breath move downwards through your legs and out the soles of your feet. Let this breath connect you to the ground and to the entire planet.
2. Samana Vayu
Movement: Equalizing and Balancing
Location: Solar Plexus
Before you can eliminate that which you put into your body, your system must first be able to digest and assimilate it properly. This is where samana vayu comes in. You do not only digest food and matter, but you must also process all of life’s experiences in a balanced and healthy manner.
The inability to digest properly will eventually weigh you down and deplete you. This can be manifested through a physical illness in your digestive system, or being unable to talk or even think about difficult experiences.
If your samana vayu is strong, you will properly digest food and nutrients for your body, and you will also be able to turn all of life’s challenges into valuable learning experiences rather than hold on to them as trauma.
Focus on samana vayu with full diaphragmatic breathing exercises. It may make you feel self-conscious to fully relax and expand your stomach. However, directing your breath to your navel region allows you to access your center of power and inner intelligence.
This breathing exercise will work in any asana, but may be most beneficial in asana which involve core work, seated forward folds, and arm balances.
Inhale – From your nostrils, let your breath fill up your entire torso. Feel yourself expand in your front, back, and sides. Allow your belly to completely relax.
Exhale – Push the breath to move all over your body to distribute prana evenly.
Inhale – Fill up your entire torso as before.
Exhale – Move your breath deeper into the center of your body. Imagine a ball of energy that grows brighter with each breath cycle.
3. Prana Vayu
Function: Inhaling, Eating, Drinking, Swallowing
Prana Vayu is said to be the most fundamental of all the winds because it applies to everything you take in through your five senses as a whole. Too much noise input can be damaging to prana vayu and cause sensory overload.
With a healthy prana vayu, you will be able to turn away from tempting stimulants and appreciate the wisdom of silence. You will have a greater ability to turn inwards and not be distracted even by your own mind.
Activate prana vayu when you are in meditation or in still poses like Tadasana (Mountain Pose) or Savasana (Corpse Pose).
Inhale – Breathe in very gently through your nose and move the prana to the center of your mind.
Exhale – See your breath, or prana, turn into a white or blue light. Let this light purify your mind of noise, distractions, and clutter.
4. Udana Vayu
Function: Perspective and Growth
The upwards motion of udana vayu governs growth and expanding horizons. A healthy udana vayu allows you to go beyond your preconceived limitations and accept challenges in your personal and professional growth.
Indicators of udana vayu being blocked are a stagnant career, lack of enthusiasm, and the inability to speak up for yourself and express your needs.
On the other hand, too much udana vayu may lead to pride, arrogance, and overconfidence.
Lion’s breath and ujjayi pranayama are powerful tools to get udana vayu moving properly. You can also use this visualization exercise to access free-flowing udana vayu in any standing, supine, seated, or or prone yoga poses.
Inhale – As you breathe in, imagine the energy rising up from the soles of your feet, up your legs, spine, and chest.
Exhale – continue this upwards movement of the energy to rise up from your chest out the crown of your head.
5. Vyana Vayu
Movement: From the Center (Heart) and Outwards
Location: Skin and Periphery
Vyana vayu supports your overall optimum health on all levels. It is an expansive and pervasive force that originates from your heart or the center of your core and radiates outwards past your skin.
It not only balances the left and right sides of your physical body, it also supports the circulation of prana through the nadis — rivers of prana also called meridians in other traditional healing sciences.
When vyana flows freely, your thoughts and emotions also flow with zero resistance.
Allow vyana vayu to flow freely throughout your physical and energetic system in back bending asana, lateral stretches, any vinyasa flow, and all static poses.
Inhale – Allow your breath to enter your heart and fill up even the deepest, darkest crevices.
Exhale – Allow this breath to be purified and spread it all over your body. Fill up every pore and every cell with life-nourishing prana. And allow this energy to expand even beyond your own skin and aura.
Understanding the role of prana in yoga can enrich your asana practice on many physical and subtle levels. When you practice various yoga poses with breath and visualization exercises with the intention of moving and purifying different vayus, you will notice a deeper level to your yoga practice.