(also see Pranayama and Kundalini)
The Vayus – Vital winds
“Prana” is the one life force that permeates all living things and in fact all matter. This cohesive, animating force is also known as “Maha Prana” or great prana. In the human body, this universal prana has been observed to move in specific ways in specific regions in the body, regulating and controlling physical and mental function. Though there are 49 distinct prana vayus or types of vayus in the body, five principle vayus or “panacha pranas” are important for the yogi to recognize. The word vayu translates as "wind," connoting all-pervading movement. The root ‘va’ means “that which flows” – and so a vayu is a vehicle for activities and experiences within the body, or a “force” that moves throughout the system controlling functions such as digestion, respiration, nerve impulses act.
These pancha pranas are categorized as: Prana vayu, Apana vayu, Samana vayu, Udana vayu and Vyana vayu. Though they function in unison together, each governing a specific area of the body. They can be thought of as elemental forces that are not just the physical, but govern emotional qualities and mental energies, fundamental to physical, mental and emotional well- being.
The practices of yoga, especially asana and pranayama, optimize the functioning of these vayus as well as bring them under our influence. Their energies can then be used to uplift ourselves and restore vibrant health.
1. Prana Vayu – while “Prana” is the general name of the life force, the prana vayu is one of its specific functions. Prana vayu literally means “forward moving air” and moves inward toward the center of the body. Prana vayu is the energy that receives things coming into the body in the form of food (eating), liquids (drinking) and air (breathing) as well as all sensory perceptions and mental experiences. Prana is propulsive by nature and is the driving force for all the other vayus. The energy known as prana vayu governs the region from the abnomin or diaphram to the base of the throat, corresponding to Jalandhara bandha (see bandhas). The “seat” of the prana vayu is the heart, and this vayu ensures that the heart goes on beating. It is associated with the element of air. It works to maintain the proper temperature of the body relative to one’s environment, and sustains one’s vital organs, particularly the heart. Though its seat is in the heart, it moves through the center of the body in a downward direction from the base of the throat to the navel, as well as from the navel back up to the throat*.
2. Apana Vayu – Apana vayu translates as “the air that moves away”. The dominant energy of Apana vayu is a downward and outward movement. It's energy moves primarily in the lower abdomin from the navel to the floor of the pelvis. Apana is the aspect of the prana that governs the ability to eject or eliminate what is not needed to the system. Just as with the breath we exhale what is not needed after assimilating the in-breath, the apana vayu is the force behind the elimination of waste in general, working in the kidneys, colon, rectum, bladder and genitals. It is also the moving force in the process of reproduction – which essentially moves new life ‘out’ into the world – from insemination to childbirth. The healthy functioning of the apana vayu is as vital as that of the prana vayu. Without the healthy functioning of apana vayu, one lacks motivation and determination; one feels lazy, dull and even confused, indecisive and befuddled.
Apana vayu is associated with the element of earth, and is the energy of the Muladhara Chakra (see chakras), which is concerned with having a strong, sure and reliable foundation, especially in fundamental matters of survival.The seat of the apana vayu is in the core of the pelvis, and it governs from the navel to the peranium, corresponding to the area in which we practice Mula bandha. As with Prana vayu can have both a downward movement in the body as well as an upward movement* within it's primary region.
*Prana vayu and Apana vayu move in complimentary opposite directions during inhale and exhale.As you inhale, Prana vayu moves upward from the navel to the chest, while Apana vayu moves downward from the navel toward the floor of the pelvis. On exhale, both move in the reverse direction; Prana moving from the base of the throat down to the navel and Apana moving from the peranium back up the the navel. Both oscillate from the center of the abdomin or kanda.
3. Samana Vayu – Is literally “the balancing air” Moves primarily in the region between the navel and the heart (solar plexus), and its seat is said to be in the navel. It is the controlling power of the metabolism or “digestive fire” and the functioning of the digestive organs and glands. It also governs the assimilation of oxygen from the air we breathe. It is also the vayu that unifies the two opposite forces of prana vayu and apana. It corresponds to the area in which we practice Uddiyana bandha.
In its work with food and digestion, this is the force that separates nutrients from toxins: when it is not functioning well, one may retain toxins, leading to shortness of breath and gastric disorders. In the case of the mind, the Samana Vayu is the power by which we separate out or discern beneficial from detrimental, which allows us to assimilate information for the sake of making choices. When there is a disorder, one can be delusional or of unsound mind. For this reason, in the yoga tradition the power of digestion is very closely inked to the power of the mind – particularly regarding discrimination and judgment.
Samana vayu is associated with the element of fire. It is associated with the Manipura chakra (see chakras), and when unbalanced, its fiery energy can be used to assert one’s will or to dominate, especially through anger. In the yoga tradition, anger is the direct result of a combination of desire, delusion and lack of discrimination.
4. Udana Vayu – Udana is "that which carries upward." It rules the region of the throat and head,and is seated specifically in the throat. It also rules muscle function and strength in the extremities as well as the sensory function of the eyes, ears and nose. It’s said to be the force behind all growth, our ability to stand erect, speech, effort, enthusiasm and will. While apana vayu is concerned with elimination or outward moving energy in general, udana vayu is the specific force that expels air with the exhalation in a way that is particularly concerned with speech and the production of sound. In the region of the head, it's function is mental and expressive in the form of ideas and speech. When udana is unbalanced, speech is disjointed and one cannot speak or articulate ideas properly. Imbalances can also cause shortness of breath and other respiratory problems particularly associated with the throat, which can have their root in obstacles to self-expression, or emotional repression. Uncoordinated movement in the limbs or loss of balance are also signs of imbalance of the vayu.
The energy and movement of Udana is particularly stimulated by Jalandhara Bandha. Ether or space is the element associated with this vayu as is Vishuddha chakra (see chakras). This upward moving energy continues through the upper chakra, the Ajna chakra, to the Sahasrara, and is purified during the upward journey.
5. Vyana Vayu – literally means “outward moving air” and moves from the center of the body out to the periphery. This vayu pervades the whole body, and is a coordinating, connecting force. It has no specific seat, but rather coordinates all the powers such as sensory awareness, and runs through the whole network of the 72,000 nadis or passageways of prana in the body, connecting the functions of the nerves, veins, muscles and joints and circulates nutrients and energy. Its function is cohesive and is associated with the element of water. Vyana vayu is fundamental to making one feel and function as an integrated whole. Though it governs and coordinates all of the senses as well as the functioning of all muscles, both voluntary and involuntary, it is felt especially in the skin. Goosebumps and perspiration, and all of the various actions and reactions of the skin to the environment are manifestations of vyana vayu. It functions at the “surface” or outer boundary of your energy body, much like surface tension on a drop of water, and is associated with a sense of boundaries through which we define ourselves and interact with our world.
Within the body, Vyana vayu governs our internal sense of coordination, balance and physical integrity or cohesiveness. When unbalanced, one feels uncoordinated and clumsy. Coordination between mind and body suffers, and one’s own thoughts can be disjointed, fluctuating and rambling. Dysfunctions in Vyana vayu can also lessen our power of sensation.
Though Vyana vayu itself has no specific seat, it is associated with the energy of the Svadisthana chakra (see chakras). In general, vyana vayu is strengthened by the practice of hatha yoga asanas. More specifically, because of its association with the energy and concerns of the svadisthana chakra, the subtler energies involved are enhanced through Mulabandha.
Direction of Pranic movement (vayus) in the Physical body
- Prana moves down from the base of the throat to the navel (the pranic center or kanda) and energizes and all the vayus. It also moves up from the navel to the throat.
- Udana moves primarilly up from the throat up to the head
- Apana moves from the navel down to the floor of the pelvis.
- Samana moves from the periphery of the body into the core.
- Vyana moves from the core out to the periphery.
Vayus and corresponding chakras and elements summarized
Apana Vayu: Seat is in the Pelvis, Muladhara Chakra, Earth
Samana Vayu: Seated in the Solar Plexus, Manipura Chakra, Fire
Prana Vayu: Seated in the heart/chest, Anahata Chakra, Air
Udana Vayu: Seated in the Throat and Head, Vishuddha Chakra, Ajna Chakra, Ether
Vyana Vayu: Emanates from the navel (kanda) but pervades entire body, Svadisthana Chakra, Water
David Frawley’s book Yoga & Ayurveda and Ayurveda and the Mind
Also see Robert Svoboda’s book Ayurveda.
Writings by Swami Niranjanananda Saraswati