The traditional practice of Hatha Yoga encompasses not only physical postures and breathing exercises but also a deep understanding of the subtle energy systems within the body. Prana is one of our body's fundamental subtle energy aspects, the vital life force energy that flows through our bodies, nourishing and sustaining us. It is the master guiding force within the body, coordinating our breath, senses, and mind.
Growing up in a modern society, I was not exposed to the concept of Prana until I delved into the world of yoga and meditation. Initially, I was skeptical about the idea of an invisible life force that permeates everything around us. However, as I began to explore the complete practice of Hatha yoga, which includes asana, pranayama, and meditation, I started to experience Prana's subtle yet profound effects firsthand. It is essential to understand that by shaping Prana, we can harness its power and direct it toward our desired goals.
One of the ways to shape Prana is by working with the Vayus. Of all the body's energetic systems, the Vayus are the most accessible and easily transformed. The human body has Pancha Prana Vayus or five major currents of the energetic body, each with a specific location, function, direction, and action.
Pran Vayu is the first major Prana Vayu in our body. It is an inward and upward-moving force; responsible for internalization, particularly at the heart level, and for recharging the mind and body. It is located in the head and heart regions and governs the heart, lungs, and respiratory system functions. When Pran is balanced, we experience a sense of vitality and enthusiasm for life. However, when it is imbalanced, we may feel lethargic or disconnected from our own energy source. Pran can be cultivated through Backbends and, to a lesser extent, Laterals posture.
The second Prana Vayu is called Apana, the downward-moving energy responsible for grounding and embodiment. It is located on the pelvic floor and governs the functions of the colon, kidneys, and reproductive organs. When Apana is balanced, we feel a sense of rootedness and stability in our lives. However, weak Apana simultaneously creates a poor ability to let go (at all levels) and an inability to stay grounded. We can generate Apana by practicing asanas that focus on Forward folds and, to a lesser extent, Twist; we can promote the healthy flow of Apana and improve our capacity to stay present.
The third Prana Vayu is called Samana, our assimilative force that allows us to digest things, whether food or life experiences. The movement of energy that is centering and balancing; brings a sense of grounded luminosity. It is located in the abdomen and governs the stomach, liver, and digestive system functions. When Samana is balanced, we experience a sense of clarity and focus. However, when imbalanced, we could feel overwhelmed or have difficulty digesting our experiences. Samana is primarily generated through Twist and, to a lesser extent, Forward Folds.
The fourth Prana Vayu is called Udana, an upward-moving force that is responsible for expression, speech, growth, personal development, and the ascension of Kundalini through Sushumna when the time is right. It is located in the throat and is associated with the air element. When Udana is balanced, we feel a sense of ease and clarity in our communication. However, when imbalanced, we may experience difficulty expressing ourselves or feel a sense of stagnation. Inversions are the primary pose category to cultivate Udana. However, Backbends, Extensions, and Laterals also generate a little, as do Twists if the twisting is in the area of the neck and throat.
The final one is Vyana Vayu, the energy that moves out and around and is responsible for the expansion and movement of energy throughout the entire body. It can be understood as the aura or the pranic field surrounding the body. As such, it also serves as a protection bubble against negative energy. Vyana integrates all the other expressions of Prana so that there is harmony and unified power at the energetic level. It also allows awareness to transition between the gross and subtle layers of our being. When Vyana is balanced, we feel a sense of expansiveness and connection. However, when it is imbalanced, things in life will not flow. Laterals are the primary pose category to cultivate Vyana, while Backbends lend support. To a lesser degree, Inversions and Extensions get this energy moving.
Understanding and harnessing the major five Prana Vayus gives us a deeper understanding of our energy systems and how they influence our physical, mental, and emotional well-being. By practicing specific yoga postures, breathing techniques, and meditation, we can cultivate and harmonise these Prana Vayus, allowing us to develop a greater sense of balance, vitality, and connection within ourselves and the world around us. The greater our ability to shape our Prana, the broader our reach as human beings.
In other words, the deeper our connection with our Prana, the more purposefully we will live our lives.