This is part two of a post about prāṇa. Check out part one here.
Yoga poses are the part of yoga that most folks think of when you say the word yoga. However, the heart of yoga more than the flexibility and strength we build in our posture work. We are ultimately engaging in a practice of managing energy or life force, known in Sanskrit as prāṇa.
Yoga practice is ultimately about bringing awareness to how we manager our ability to do physical, mental, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual work.
Energy is defined by science as the ability to work. Potential energy is untapped, stored up like the energy of a battery.
Kinetic energy is the release of this potential energy.
Sometimes our yoga practice is about expanding our capacity to store up energy for later, stockpiling for the future.
Other times the practice of yoga is a work in kinetic energy. We intentionally release and direct energy for a specific purpose.
How can we change the the patterns of use and storage when we feel off kilter?
Haṭha Yoga gives us a framework to answer this question.
Prāṇa - our life force energy - is divided into five specific internal movements called vāyu, literally meaning “the winds”.
This picture of a wind farm works perfectly as metaphor. On the most simplistic level, the energy generated from the wind, is captured and stored for future use.
The energetic framework of the vāyu is split into five specific types of "winds":
1. Prāṇa Vāyu
While it is the same word, prāṇa vāyu is not to be confused with the undivided big concept prāṇa. Prāṇa vāyu is the inward moving energy seated in the heart and lungs that governs intake and receptivity. When in balance, this energy presents as feelings of unbounded possibilities and contentment. You feel inspired and ready to take action to make things happen without urgency.
Out of balance, prāṇa vāyu presents as unchecked cravings and restlessness.
2. Apāna Vāyu
Seated in the genitals, apāna vāyu is downward outward moving energy that governs eliminative functions.
When in balance, this energy presents as a grounded feeling.
Out of balance, apāna vāyu presents as feelings of depletion and an inability to let go.
3. Samāna Vāyu
Seated in the navel samāna vāyu is a consolidating energy that governs assimilation.
When in balance this energy presents as a feeling that power comes from whatever is consumed. You will feel able to easily discern what is meant for you and what is not.
When out of balance, samāna vāyu presents as a struggle to digest both physical things and emotional experiences.
4. Udāna Vāyu
Seated in the throat, udāna vāyu is upward moving energy that governs expression.
When in balance, it presents as clarity and confidence.
When out of balance, udāna vāyu presents as a negative outlook that can manifest as excessive talking or complaining.
5. Vyāna Vāyu
All pervasive with no single seat, vyāna vāyu moves through the whole body. It is an expansive energy. Especially active in the limbs, this energy governs circulation and muscular control. When in balance it presents as coordinated movement and good fine motor control.
When out of balance, vyāna vāyu presents as disjointed efforts and unbalanced physical action.
Why Does This Matter?
Āsana and prāṇāyāma are yoga practices that help us master the movements of energy within. We do this in order to create the right environment for release from our suffering.
Read more about how Haṭha Yoga works here.
Learning about the vāyu is a way we can deepen our intellectual understanding of what we feel in our practice.
And as always, learning about yoga philosophy is a way for us to honor without appropriating the culture, traditions and wisdom of these practices.
Interested in learning more about yoga philosophy? Join Tara at Uplift Yoga in Olney, MD on Sunday, September 11 at 1:30 PM for From the Roots of Yoga: Philosophy to Grow Your Practice.
Tara is also the lead teacher training in the Lighthouse Yoga Center 200-hour Hatha Yoga Teacher Training. Dates for 2023 are coming soon. Find all of the details here.