Vayus for Postural Alignment
The five Vayus are subdivisions of Prana, and work in separate areas of the body.
- udana-vayu – throat and speech
- prana-vayu – chest
- samana-vayu – central region of the body and digestion
- apana-vayu – lower abdomen and elimination
- vyana-vayu – distribution of energy to all parts of the body.
This article is one of a series designed for the 300-hour advanced teacher training course. One of the aims of this course is to make a deeper connection with our subtle bodies through our practise. On the 200-hour course, we learn techniques and practices to begin a deeper understanding of ourselves through yoga. On the 300-hour course, we expand on those techniques we have been practising. Through deeper study of classical texts such as the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, and including techniques that will aid our journey to a deeper connection with our pranic body. The connection we create will make a lighter and more refined practise, which will have a dramatic effect on our asana practice and therefore our everyday lives.
The vayus control specific areas of our subtle body, and can be affected through our gross body with certain practises. Udana vayu is in the area of the throat, and is linked to speech and communication. It may affect our ability to communicate effectively, and also may affect our posture. For instance, a student who habitually sticks out the chin, or pushes the head forward from the throat. In my experience, it seems to have no effect how many times I verbally or physically adjust such a student, they revert to the same habit.
Applying a practise from an udana vayu perspective may help. The student will observe the breath in the location of the throat, and to the front of the body. Keeping the focus in the throat area and on the exhale. Allowing the throat area to feel wider, and at the same time relax the jaw. The head will organically reposition itself into a neutral position.
Students who have a tendency to thrust out the chest may be helped to relax their posture with a practise around that focuses on the prana vayu area. Get your student to sit in easy pose, and ask them to watch the breath for a few moments in the chest area. Then ask them to focus on the exhale, while maintaining an awareness on the upper chest. What they will find is the lower ribs will compress, while the upper chest will stay open without being thrust forward, and the back does not collapse. This practise allows for a more balanced posture, feeling the lower back widen with the inhale.
Now taking our attention to the pelvic area and samana vayu. One of the most common postural problems I encounter is either a pelvis that collapses forward from the top front. This will cause a sway back, putting pressure on the lower back. Try exhaling into below the navel as the feet are pressed firmly and evenly into the floor. This action can lift the pelvis to float in neutral, as the rectus abdominal muscles engage.
Vyana vayu means outward moving air, and moves from the centre of the body out to the peripery. Vyana vayu pervades the entire body, and coordinates and connects. Vyana vayu governs our internal sense of coordination, balance and physical integrity. When Vyana vayu is unbalanced our coordination and balance is affected. Practise Ardha chandrasana, or half-moon. Visualise an energy source emanating from the centre of the body and pervading out to all parts of the body, will create a stableness and lightness simultaneously. We will feel grounded but light, perfectly balanced.
Apana vayu controls the elimination processes and its area is in the core of the pelvis, below the navel and down to the perineum. It will create a strong and reliable foundation. It is in the area where we practise Mula bandha and is primarily a downward energy, but can have an upward movement within its own region. Take for example prana vayu, which moves opposite to apana vayu, or in an upward direction. On the exhale, though, this action is reversed. Prana vayu will on the exhale travel from the base of the throat to the navel, and apana vayu will travel from the perineum up to the navel. Our apana vayu practise will focus primarily on the exhale, encouraging an upward feeling from the perineum to the navel. Sit in vajrasana (kneeling) and watch the breath rise and fall for a moment. Now as we inhale watch the breath descend from the nose, throat, abdomen and finally the perineum. Now as the exhale begins feel the breath hook into the pelvic floor and experience a lift from the pelvic floor running up through the abdominal cavity. At the beginning of the inhale continue to feel the pelvic lift. Repeat.
The Direction of Pranic Movement, or Vayus in the Gross Body
Prana: flows from the base of the throat down to the navel, or the pranic centre (kanda) It also moves up from the navel to the throat
Udana: moves 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 / elements
Apana Vayu: Muladhara Chakra, Earth
Samana Vayu: Manipura Chakra, Fire
Prana Vayu: Anahata Chakra, Air
Udana Vayu: Vishuddha Chakra, Ajna Chakra, Ether
Vyana Vayu: Svadisthana Chakra, Water