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The 5 directions of Prana

At Newburgh Yoga Shala, my Shala in upstate New York, we have a theme of the month. Every month we focus on a new aspect of the practice and threads teachings within out classes.

This month we explored the 5 Values or the 5 directions of the breath. Vayu is a sanskrit word that means that which moves. Vayu is manifested as prana in the context of the body. Translates as wind because of it's movements as the 5 winds within the body. The 5 movements are:

Prana - located in the chest, head region of the body. It governs intake, inspiration, propulsion, forward momentum

  • Apana- located in the pelvis. It governs elimination, downward and outward movement

  • Samana - located in the navel. It governs assimilation, discernment, inner absorption, consolidation

  • Udana- located in the throat. It governs growth, speech, expression, ascension, upward movement

  • Vyana- Whole body, it governs circulation on all levels, expansiveness, pervasiveness

All these functions are happening without us doing anything. They are the mechanisms that keep us alive. Their functions are propelled by a living, vital energy and it is what we really mean when we say that breathing sustains life. It is thanks to Prana that the body/mind comes alive.

According to the yoga tradition, this system of vital energy functions through five sub-energies called the prana vayus (vayu means “wind, breath, or life force”). Each function has a distinct role, and each is integrated into the total system of “human energy". When all these are circulating properly, in the right direction there is harmony in the system and general sense of well being. When out of normality then there is disturbance and disease. When one of these is not able to do its function then we begin to feel disturbances in the body and mind.

  • Prana Vayu: the mind cannot focus, excess worry, shortness of breath, anxiety, low energy or a poor immune system.

  • Apana Vaya: feelings of ungroundedness, weakness in the legs, elimination issues, diseases that affect the intestines, kidneys, or urinary tract.

  • Samana Vayu: poor judgment, low confidence and lack of motivation and desire, issues with digestion.

  • Udana Vayu: speech difficulties, shortness of breath and diseases of the throat, lack of self-expression, uncoordinated movement or loss of balance.

  • Vyana Vayu: feelings of separation and alienation; disjointed, fluctuating and rambling thoughts; poor circulation, impaired nerve stimulation, skin disorders, and nervous breakdowns.

To strengthen each vayu you can take up some of these practice:

  • Prana-Vayu: Practicing pranayamas like Nadhi Shodhana and Ujjayi Pranayama. Heart-opening poses like dhanurasana, ustrasana, bhujangasana, natarajasana, and bridge pose. To encourage this vital wind to flow upward practice inversions and poses with raised arms like Virabhadrasana A, Utkatasana, and Urdhva hastasana, or any pose that focuses on lifting, lengthening and opening the upper body.

  • Apana-Vayu: Practice calming and tension releasing poses like forward bends and seated twists. Focus on engaging the leg muscles and grounding down in standing yoga poses. Practicing Nauli, Kriya, and Mula Bandha. Overall a general focus on grounding and stabilizing the lower body.

  • Samana-Vayu: Focus on twists and core-strengthening poses. Practicing Kapalabhati Pranayama with Uddiyana Bandha, and focusing on opening and relaxing the body.

  • Udana-Vayu: Practice Ujjayi Pranayama and Bhramari Pranayama with Jalandhara Bandha. Practicing inversions and backbends or poses that bring energy to the neck, shoulders, and head. Keep the focus on maintaining a long spine and a correct alignment to your correct posture.

  • Vyana-Vayu: Practice pranayama with kumbhaka (breath retention). Focus your asana practice more on rhythmic movements like Sun Salutations to circulate prana and blood. A general focus on poses that strengthen the body and bring fluid movement of the body.

“Yoga practice, like life itself, begins with the breath. Breath, or Prana, provides an endless, all-pervading background, a continuous ebb, and flow of sound and perception that unifies, sustains, and informs us on the physical, mental and emotional levels. Prana(with capital P) refers to the internal breath as a whole. We experience it as a vibratory quality of pure sensation and perception within every nook and cranny of the body. It is often referred to as “life breath”.…Prana and citta(the mind) move together like two fish swimming in tandem. Move one, and the other automatically follows...prana, which refers to the breath as it rises and is based in the heart. Apana-based in the pelvic floor-goes down, contracts, and squeezes things out of the body....The most immediate and workable patterns of breath are apana, which controls the exhalation pattern, and prana, which controls the inhalation pattern. Awareness of these complementary patterns of breath opens a door to a direct experience of the sacred nature of all perceptions and mental patterns.” From ‘The Art of Vinyasa’ by Richard Freeman and Mary Taylor.

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