- PRANA AND THE PRANA VAYUS -
In this piece, we'll introduce the concept of Prana as the all pervasive life force in the Yogic model and some pointers to understand the perspectives that 'feeling' Prana open for our Yoga practice. Prana goes by the name of Chi for the chinese and Ki for the Japanese.
The root pra means 'first' and na means 'basic unit of energy': Prana with a capital P represents the fundamental unit of energy. Another definition of Yoga could be: Yoga is the science of harnessing, storing and using (spending) wisely the Life force. As a concept, Prana is the radiance of life itself and within us it is the moving force behind all activity and sensation (mental, emotional, physical). A smooth, unobstructed, healthy and natural flow of prana restrains the mind from taking interest in undesirable objects and pursuits.
There are many ways in which we lose Prana: to a certain extent with each exhale, hence the yogic practice of pranayama designed to minimize the loss of Prana through exhalation, when we exercise too much, in times of strong emotion, through excessive speech, the emission of semen, childbirth, waste elimination...
Spending Prana is more often than not an exhilarating experience. Yogic disciplines are meant to re-stock Prana, minimize its depletion and increase its storage and inner shelf-life. As a result, the Yogi learns to enjoy life experiences in an alert and joyful way, without being robbed of Prana unknowingly.
Prana operates distinct functions in the body to maintain life, and moves in specific ways and in specific areas. When seen under this light, the generic Prana instantiates itself in many 'vayus' (va is sanskrit for 'that which flows'), or inner winds. The practice of Asana and Pranayama is meant to optimize the functioning of these vayus.
We'll be concerned with the 5 main vayus and their associated body areas and functions: the practice of Yoga, working on body, breath and mind, increases the Prana in the form of these vayus. We can think of the vayus as elemental forces in the body that are not only physical, but also govern emotional qualities and mental powers. Understanding the chakras without notions of prana vayus is incomplete since the chakras are the manifestations of the energy of the prana vayus.
Each vayu has a seat in the body where its function is felt most strongly. Similarly, each vayu is associated to a specific element and its physical and subtle qualities. For those reasons in Hatha Yoga, the 'opening' of the associated chakra leads to mastery of the corresponding element.
While Prana is the generic life force name, prana vayu is one of its functions, namely the moving force behind the inhalation. Located in the area of the chest (throat to diaphragm), associated with the heart anahata chakra, it is paired with the element of air and feels like an upward energy in the upper body (prana storing up as when we fill a glass of water): the experience of prana vayu is being filled with energy. The prana vayu governs assimilation, taking things in (including sensory impressions and their mental assimilation). Though its seat is in the heart, the prana vayu can be experienced in different parts of the body (head or navel typically). But its main locus is to rest in the energy of the anahata chakra, the heart chakra.
Moving force behind the exhalation, apana vayu governs the ability to expel, eliminate what's not needed for the system: waste disposal, control and management. Its seat is in the core of the pelvis. We see it at work with the kidneys, colon, rectum, bladder and genitals, but also speech when one unloads emotional baggage on another etc... It is fundamental that apana vayu is unobstructed since assimilating fresh energy can only be done if waste is cleared and room is made. Otherwise, one feels lazy, dull and confused. In a subtle sense, waste management is intimately linked to mastery of our power of choice: choosing means eliminating all options not nourishing for a certain objective. As a result, apana vayu is associated with the element of earth and the energy of mulhadara chakra. In pranayama and meditation, clarity begins with a good exhalation, making room for fresh energy and focus.
Is the power of metabolism, the digestive fire, seated in the abdominal organs and glands, between the bottom of the heart and the navel, with its main locus in the navel area. While prana and apana vayu are concerned with assimilation and grounding through eliminative choice, samana vayu is concerned with the power to discriminate (think digestion, keeping in nutrients - prana vayu, expelling toxins - apana vayu). The discriminative power is also found in the mind, where information has to be assimilated, discarding the un-useful stuff so that through discrimination and judgement we make sound choices (apana vayu). Associated with the fire element and manipura chakra, when imbalanced there can be a tendency to seek domination through anger.
Seated in the region of the throat and associated with the production of sound and speech, its function is expressiveness and its energetic flow is upward and out. Imbalances in udana can cause shortness of breath and other respiratory problems associated with the throat, having their root in obstacles in self-expression and emotional repression. Udana vayu is related to the element ether and focused on the 5th chakra, vishudda chakra, the throat. The feeling od movement and energy in the head during pranayama and meditation are manifestations of the udana vayu.
Pervading the whole body, it has no specific seat and is more easily understood as a connecting force with a function of cohesiveness associated with the water element. Vyana vayu is fundamental to making one feel and function as an integrated whole. It is felt especially in the skin, and goosebumps, perspiration and all the actions/reactions of the skin are manifestations of vyana vayu. Within us, vyana governs our sense of coordination and balance. Though there's no locus for vyana vayu, it is associated with the energy of swadisthana chakra. The energy of swadisthana chakra concerns our sense of self as well as our sense of boundaries and the way we express ourselves creatively in relationships. A healthy sens of boundary (healthy skin has strong but permeable boundaries) is fundamental to forming good relationships. Weakness in the energy of this chakra lead to low self-esteem and a weak sense of self, possibly problems with the immune system too, all of which concern interaction and exchange with our world.