The five vayus, prana vayu, apana vayu, samana vayu, udana vayu and vyana vayu, are five currents, energetic forces that collectively serve the master of Prana.
Prana is the vital life force, the energy that lives in your breath, which can be enhanced through the practice of Yoga.
Each of these five vayus have different energetic qualities, directions of flow and specific functions, and govern different areas of the body.
This article will guide you to learn how to engage the five vayus in your Yoga practice so you can restore and maintain balance, harmony and health. We will explore:
- Why the five vayus are important
- Each of the five vayus explained
- How to connect with each vayu in your yoga practice
Why are the Five Vayus important? How can they improve my Yoga practice and health?
Balance of the vayus is key in maintaining our physical, emotional and mental well-being. In our daily functioning, we move through the cycle of taking things in – tangible things like fluids, food, and intangible things like experiences and information.
Then we process these things, filtering them into either nutrients and knowledge to be kept, or waste, which is then eliminated from the system.
When the vayus are functioning harmoniously, we flow through this cycle smoothly, and can tackle challenges and obstacles in life with finesse. As a result, we can make our way through life feeling grounded, energized and centered.
Within the lens of Ayurveda, the Yogic science of finding balance in your life, discomfort, illness and disease in the physical body is believed to be associated with imbalances within the subtle body where one or more of the five vayus might be weak, impeded or imbalanced.
A powerful way of restoring balance in the subtle body is through working with five vayus in your yoga asana practice, pranayama, mudra, or through diet and ayurvedic rituals.
Understanding the five vayus:
1. Prana vayu: Taking properly in to move forward (Water Element)
Prana vayu (not to be confused with the master Prana) is the inward moving breath.According to the International Journal of Research in Ayurveda and Pharmacy, it is the energy that is situated in the head and travels across urah (thorax region) and kantha (throat region), empowering us to breathe in, take in, and move forward.
It helps ensure the proper functioning of three key aspects of us: our budhhi (intelligence/judgement), hridaya (heart) and chitta (mind).
When prana vayu is in balance, we’re able to properly take things in – including sensations, perceptions, emotions, and thoughts. As a result, we feel empowered to move forward easily in life even in the face of challenges or tricky life transitions, and can step into the next phase, and keep going on our life journey.
Here are three ways to connect with Prana Vayu through your Yoga practice:
- Breath / Pranayama: Try focusing on Puraka (inhalation), and allowing your inhale to be long and full to encourage Prana Vayu. As you are breathing you may wish to visualize you are drinking in the source of life itself: Water. As you exhale, rather than rushing to release the breath from your lungs, savor it and gently, sweetly allow prana to linger as it slowly leaves your lungs.
- Asana (Yoga poses): Heart-opening asanas, such as backbends like dancer pose, bow pose, bridge pose stimulate prana vayu. Prana vayu can also be experienced by drawing awareness to open, lengthen and lift the upper body in any yoga pose.
- Subtle body: Prana Vayu is associated with the Water element. To connect with this, notice and feel your emotions fully, rather than resisting or avoiding them.
2. Apana vayu: Letting go of what no longer serves us (Earth Element)
Apana vayu and prana vayu are two opposites that balance each other – as much as prana vayu moves in and up, apana vayu moves down and out.
Apana vayu is the energy that lives in the pelvis that moves down and out of the body. The International Journal of Health Sciences and Research describes apana vayu’s functions as supporting elimination of Sameeran (flatus), Sakrit (faeces), Mootra (urine) and Shukra (semen), in reproduction and bone health.
This grounding and rooting energy is also the primary force that helps women deliver a baby during childbirth or to have a healthy menstrual cycle.
When apana vayu is in balance, we’re able to let go of the things that no longer serve us.
When an imbalance occurs, we might feel ungrounded and/or struggle with feeling stuck, or experience irritable bowel syndrome, constipation, diarrhea, menstrual-related problems or sexual issues.
Here are three ways to connect with apana vayu through your Yoga practice:
- Breath / Pranayama: Try focusing on Rechaka (exhalation), and allowing your exhale to be long and full to encourage apana vayu. You may wish to visualize the breath flowing out from the crown of your head down along your legs out through your feet, which root you to the earth.
- Asana (Yoga poses): Forward folds like standing forward fold, seated forward fold, seated twists as well as grounding poses like bound angle pose and yogic squat strengthen apana vayu.
- Subtle body: Apana vayu is associated with the Earth element. To connect with this, engage in self-care practices and rituals that help you, especially your lower body, feel grounded, calm and centered.
3. Udana vayu: Speaking the truth of your highest self (Air)
Udana vayu is the ascending force that empowers us to express ourselves and speak the truth of our highest self, and as well as remember vocabulary necessary for meaningful speech.
According to the International Journal of Ayurveda and Pharmaceutical Chemistry, udana vayu is located in urah (thorax region) and travels across nasa (nasal passage), nabhi (umbilicus), and gala (throat region).
Imbalances in udana vayu can manifest in the form of diseases relating to the throat, difficulty in speaking, lack of self-expression, or excessive or inappropriate speech that renders one unable to express oneself properly.
Here are three ways to connect with Udana Vayu through your Yoga practice:
- Breath / Pranayama: Practising Ujjayi pranayama, which involves slightly constricting the throat while following diaphragmatic breathing, and practicing jalandhara bandha can be beneficial for activating udana vayu.
- Asana (Yoga poses): Try poses that direct energy to the head, neck, and upper back or those that invert the body upside down, such as shoulderstand, plow pose, bridge pose, fish pose, headstand or viparita karani (legs up against the wall) to activate udana vayu.
- Shat Kriyas (Cleansing practices): Try Gaja Karani, a cleansing technique described in the Hatha Yoga Pradipika which involves cleansing the stomach with saltwater, to strengthen udana vayu.
4. Samana vayu: Digesting, Assimilating & Transforming (Fire)
Samana vayu lives in the belly and governs digestion, the way we consolidate, take things in and assimilate.
It is the force that helps to draw everything from the edges into the middle, where it can be processed, utilized and separated into what is nourishment to be kept and absorbed, and waste that needs to be let go of.
Associated with the third chakra, our solar plexus, and our Agni (sacred digestive fire), samana vayu also governs the way we process information, supporting us to feel confident and connected with our inner power.
When out of balance, we may feel unsure of ourselves, lack motivation, feel scattered, or have problems with metabolism or digestion e.g. lack of appetite, bloating or poor digestion.
Here are three ways to connect with Samana Vayu through your Yoga practice:
- Breath / Pranayama: Practising Bhastrika pranayama (bellows breath), Kapalabhati pranayama (skull-shining breath), Uddiyana bandha, Agni sara kriya, nauli kriya or any pranayama that engage the agni are highly effective in activating samana Vayu.
- Asana (Yoga poses): Try standing, seated and supine twists and core-strengthening postures like chair pose, boat pose, plank or crow pose to activate Samana vayu.
- Diet: Samana vayu can be regulated by kindling Agni, the digestive fire by incorporating foods and herbs like ginger in your diet.
5. Vyana vayu: Circulating and diffusing (Space)
Vyana vayu is responsible for smooth circulation, and as such, unlike the other vayus, isn’t localized in any specific area of the body.
It governs movement and pervades the entire body, and is the dominant energy that contributes to our feeling of aliveness. Vyana vayu integrates and supports the other four vayus, ensuring there is overall balance.
According to Ayurveda specialist and Yoga teacher Ali Kramer, Vyana Vayu governs venous return– the flow of blood from the periphery back to the right atrium. When in balance, vyana vayu manifests in the form of good cardiac health and a smooth functioning nervous system.
Here are three ways to connect with Vyana Vayu through your Yoga practice:
- Breath / Pranayama: Anuloma vilom pranayama and Nadi Shodhana pranayama (alternate nostril breathing) are great ways of enhancing vyana vayu.
- Asana (Yoga poses): Practising sequences that circulate prana through the whole body, like Sun salutations, and poses that integrate energy flows such as standing postures, including Warrior I, Warrior II and Warrior III, eagle pose and half moon pose can activate Vyana Vayu.
- Visualization and Mudra: Try vyana mudra, a hand gesture that enhances your healing power of awareness, to balance vyana vayu. You can do this mudra by placing your index and middle finger to touch the thumb, then resting the mudra of this hand on your lap. Gently close your eyes and visualize as you inhale, energy moving outwards through all your nadis (energy channels), and as you exhale, this energy moves inwards towards your heart center.
Integrating and balancing Five Vayus in your Yoga practice
Now that you have a deeper understanding of the five vayus, the next step you might try is to intentionally create and practice your own sequences that balance the five vayus.
When we have an excess of one, we can balance it out by cultivating the opposite, just as prana vayu, activated in backbends, can be balanced by apana vayu which is the dominant force in forward folds.
Another powerful approach is intentionally connecting with the five vayus energetically in relevant poses or breath practices.
For example, you might tap into apana vayu to come down into malasana, a yogic squat position. Then, as you maintain this position, you might connect with prana vayu to open your heart, and udana vayu to lift up the sides of your waist, extend the sides of your neck up to the crown of your head.
In the table below, as an overview, we have summarised the main actions of the five vayus and how you can integrate them in your yoga practice for better health, vitality and balance.
|Prana Vayu||Apana Vayu||Udana Vayu||Samana Vayu||Vyana Vayu|
|Function||Intake, inspiration, moving forward||Elimination, moving down and out||Ascension, speech, moving upwards||Digestion, assimilation, consolidation||Circulation, expansion, and diffusion|
|Associated Element (as indicated in Yoni Shakti by Dr. Uma Dinsmore-Tuli)||Water||Earth||Air||Fire||Space|
|Pranayama / breath||Focusing on long deep inhalations||Focusing on exhalations, lengthening breath out||Ujjayi pranayama, jalandhara bandha||Bhastrika pranayama, Uddiyana bandha||Anulom vilom and Nadi Shodhana pranayama|
|Yoga poses||Backbends e.g. dancer, bow, bridge||Forward folds e.g. standing forward fold||Inversions e.g. shoulder stand, fish, headstand||Twists, core poses e.g. boat, chair, plank||Whole body sequences and asanas|