Many yoga poses are named after animals and other things in the natural world that they…
The Importance of Prana in Yoga
Breath, or prana, is one of the most important aspects of yoga. Whether you’re able to contort your body into a complex pretzel shape or simply sit in a chair, being able to breathe steadily and comfortably is more important than anything else.
By breathing properly in your yoga asana practice, you’ll be able to directly connect with the life force energy called prana. You can learn to control prana through asanas and pranayama, which are breathing techniques that enable meditation without respiratory distraction.
The inefficient use of prana in a yoga pose will only serve to make the pose weak and unstable, and cost you too much energy to practice it. The proper use of prana, on the other hand, will turn any asana into a balance of strength and comfort.
Learn more about prana and the ways in which you can use yoga to master this life force energy both on the out- and inside of your body.
The 5 Vayus or Winds
In the human body, there are five main types of prana pathways called vayu, or wind. Each of these has different characteristics as well as different effects on the body, which is why understanding and balancing vayus is the key to mastering prana yoga.
1. Apana Vayu
Movement: Downward and Outward
Location: Lower Abdomen
Whether it’s food, breath, or liquids, anything that enters the body must at some point also leave it. The obvious physical examples of this are of course menstruation and the elimination of urine and stool, which are all considered to be signs of healthy apana vayu. It does, however, also apply to the elimination of unhealthy thoughts.
An indication of healthy flowing apana vayu in your system is your ability to control the distractions of your mind and let them go.
Blocked apana vayu can manifest as physical blockage in your lower belly. It can make you feel slow and sluggish, as well as unsupported and ungrounded.
To help the movement of apana in your body, focus on directing your breath all the way down to the bottom of your feet. Of course, anatomically speaking, breath can only spread as far as your lungs. Prana, on the other hand, is part of your subtle and energetic anatomy, which you can manipulate with your focus, attention, and awareness.
Use this visualization and feeling exercise in any standing, seated, or twisted asana. It’s especially useful if you notice that you’re having issues with elimination in your body or mind.
Inhale – Breathe in through your nose and mentally follow your breath when it enters your body and moves all the way down to your pelvic floor at the base of your spine.
Exhale – Feel (or imagine that you can feel) your breath moving down through your legs and out the soles of your feet. Allow your breath connect you to the ground and the entire planet.
2. Samana Vayu
Movement: Equalizing and Balancing
Location: Solar Plexus
Before you can eliminate whatever it is that you put into your body, your system must be able to digest and assimilate it properly. This is where samana vayu comes in. In addition to digesting food and matter, 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 either manifest through a physical illness in your digestive system or through being unable to talk or even think about difficult experiences.
If your samana vayu is strong, you’ll be able to properly digest food and nutrients for your body and turn all of life’s challenges into valuable learning experiences rather than holding on to them as trauma.
Focus on samana vayu by doing full diaphragmatic breathing exercises. You may feel a bit self-conscious when fully relaxing and expanding your stomach. By directing your breath to your navel region, however, you’ll be able to access your center of power and inner intelligence.
This breathing exercise will work in any asana but may be most beneficial in asanas that involve core work, seated forward folds, and arm balances.
Inhale – Breathe in through your nose and let your breath fill up your entire torso. Feel yourself expanding at the front, back, and sides. Allow your belly to completely relax.
Exhale – Push your breath through your entire body to distribute the 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 and brighter with each cycle of breath.
3. Prana Vayu
Function: Inhaling, Eating, Drinking, Swallowing
Prana vayu is said to be the most fundamental of all five winds because it applies to everything you take in through your five senses. Too much noise input can be damaging to prana vayu and can cause sensory overload.
With a healthy prana vayu, you’ll be able to turn away from tempting stimulants and appreciate the wisdom of silence. You’ll have a greater ability to turn inwards and avoid being distracted, even by your own mind.
Activate prana vayu when you’re in meditation or practicing still poses like Tadasana (Mountain Pose) or Savasana (Corpse Pose).
Inhale – Very gently breathe in 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 clear 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.
Too much udana vayu, on the other hand, can 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 the following visualization exercise to access free-flowing udana vayu in any standing, supine, seated, or prone yoga poses.
Inhale – As you breathe in, imagine the energy rising up from the soles of your feet, through your legs, spine, and chest.
Exhale – From the chest, allow the energy to continue moving upwards and out of the crown of your head.
5. Vyana Vayu
Movement: From the Center (Heart) Outwards
Location: Skin and Periphery
Vyana vayu supports your overall optimum health on all levels. It’s an expansive and pervasive force that originates from your heart or the center of your core and radiates outwards and beyond your skin.
It not only balances the left and right sides of your physical body, but also supports the circulation of prana through the nadis, i.e. rivers of prana that are also called meridians in other traditional healing sciences.
When vyana flows freely, your thoughts and emotions flow with zero resistance as well.
Allow vyana vayu to flow freely throughout your physical and energetic system in back bending asanas, 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 the breath to be purified and spread it all throughout your body. Fill up every pore and every cell with this life-nourishing prana. 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 and the intention of moving and purifying different vayus, you’ll start to notice a deeper level to your yoga practice.