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The five ‘Prana Vayus’ -Vital Airs for Pranayama

So as we continue into the second month of exploring the practice of pranayama, let’s begin by exploring the five Prana Vayus. Knowledge of these five “Vital Airs” will be a pathway into understanding and enhancing pranayama. When the vayus are balanced and working harmoniously we experience vitality, energy, positivity and a sense of expansion on the body and mind level. Looking at each vayu individually will  not only help you understand pranayama on a body and mind level, but also help you to understand how you can engage and work with these five vital energies in your asana practice.

Click here to watch this video to show you how to set up your blankets for supine pranayama

PRANA VAYU
This is the energy of inhalation and how the body and senses are powered and energised by how we receive the breath.  Emotional resistances can often contribute to difficulties in taking a deep breath. Prana Vayu can be blocked when we have an inability to receive. Any asanas that centre around the chest and head work to enhance prana vayu.

APANA VAYU
This is the energy of how we release and expel the exhalation or what the body doesn’t need. It is located in the bowl of the pelvis below the navel and works in a direction opposite to prana vayu. Apana vayu is dual in its functionality, as it is both a releasing energy as well as a holding in energy. For example, apana vayu is responsible for childbirth, but also for keeping the baby in the womb.

If there is a deficiency in the exhalation than we have difficulty in ‘letting go and letting be’. When we are able to let go, we come back into the body and ourselves. This makes apana vayu a very grounding energy. In pranayama this can also be experienced as the pause at the end of the exhalation/rechaka kumbhaka. When we pause, we don’t get stuck in fear of when the next breath will come! Most standing and siting forward asanas engage apana vayu.

SAMANA VAYU
Samana vayu is the balance between prana and asana and is located at the navel- the centre of assimilation. Samana vayu is responsible for how our body absorbs, assimilates and transforms food into energy. Emotionally, samana vayu is associated with how well we can be with and absorb the present moment. What blocks our ability to simply be with what is present? Are we okay to be with this pranayama or asana and actually feel and absorb this experience. This is where our transformation of consciousness comes from. Kumbhaka or breath retention is associated deeply with samana vayu and is the key to transforming the experience of the breath and moving deeper into the energy of kundalini. The energy in the pause gets transformed into the energy of udana vayu. Asanas that deeply engage the abdominal region and deep twist- both standing and sitting engage samana vayu.

UDANA VAYU
Udana Vayu becomes the delivery systems of what becomes of samana vayu. It is associated with the exhalation and the upward movement. Samana vayu is energy what gets cultivated through practice and experience. The cultivation of udana vayu leads us to take control of our destiny rather than leaving it all to karma. It is best experienced through intentional directional breath and conscious breathing, demonstrated in pranayama practices such as ‘nadi shodhanam’ and Ujjayi. Udana vayu can get blocked when we lack will and motivation and are unable to express ourselves emotionally, and thus it can be a great impeder to our growth. Inverted asanas like shoulder-stand and headstand best engage udana vayu.

VYANA VAYU
Vyana vayu is a pervasive energy and helps to spread prana throughout our body, mind and spirit. It enables us to be better embodied and holds all parts of the body together. Traumatic experiences can often close us off to this, but allowing ourselves to feel into the energy that is running through our body helps us to re-inhabit it.
It also helps us to expand our awareness beyond ourselves as just physical beings. 

Vyana vayu gives us a fully expanded sense of ourselves and holds the other vayus together. When vyana vayu is balanced we have a healthy sense of ourselves. Embracing who we are is overcoming our limitations. When we feel empowered by who we are and are open to growth and development, then vyana vayu is flowing optimally. All asanas engage this vayu.

Cultivate vyana vayu by being willing to be with your practice, yourself and with the experience of your breath. Once you nourish vyana vayu, you nourish all the others.

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The Practice of Pranayama

Pranayama is a yoga practice that I believe does not get enough attention in the modern yoga world! I have been practising this art form for as long as I’ve been practising asana and that’s why I have decided that the next two months will be dedicated to this life giving practice. Click here to watch a video on some asanas to practice before starting your pranayama practice.



In yoga there are various breathing practices that work to restore our physical, mental and emotional wellbeing, and if we are willing to explore deeper, they can also work for our spiritual liberation.

The paradox of breathing is that it is an automatic function of human existence, yet breathing is not that simple. There are many disorders in breathing patterns and much of it has to do with how our conscious waking life seeps into our unconscious life. This is when our ego mind comes into contact with the breath and our capacity to anticipate what happens next affects our breathing pattern, which then becomes part of our unconscious mind. So our breath is one way that we can work with the mind.
Yoga and pranayama can help us move into our unconscious mind, because the conscious movement of breath can trigger it. In some ways, pranayama is an invitation to undo and feel both unhelpful emotional patterns.

Every discomfort that comes up during pranayama practice is part of the process of becoming conscious. This includes being uncomfortable in your body, agitation, anxiety and dislike. Part of becoming conscious is to increase our awareness by reflecting on:
Where is it coming from?
Why is it coming up?
So be patient if you decide to include pranayama in your patience. Like asana it takes time!

Physical & Mental Benefits of Pranayama
Pranayama practice trains the respiratory system to function optimally by utilising the entire lungs and diaphragm and:

  • oxygenates the blood, which helps remove waste and toxins
  • this oxygenated blood improves blood circulation
  • more oxygen in the blood means more oxygen to muscles of the heart
  • this tones the nerves, brain spinal cord and cardiac muscles, maintaining their efficiency
  • the rhythmic use of the diaphragm and abdominal muscles in pranayama directly stimulates the peristaltic movement of the intestines, as well as promoting intestinal circulation. So it helps the intestine in its function of absorbing food materials and disposing of solid waste
  • the spleen just under the left diaphragm, acts as a filter to purify the circulating blood of worn out oxygen carrying red cells
  • Much of the splenic blood circulation is within lymphatic structures and is stimulated by pranayama
  • reduces breathing rate- pranayama practices help reduce breathing rates per minute from 15 breaths to 5-6 breaths and can help to lower blood pressure and quiet the nervous system
  • regular, rhythmic and prolonged breath develops inner focus, and calms the nervous system
  • Calms the mind becoming sensitive to the flow of breath, the subtlety of the breath, and finally the suspension of the breath, leads you to an awareness of the force behind the breath—prana.
  • becoming aware of prana as the thread that links you to deeper states of mental awareness, independent of the physical body and the senses. This is the beginning of mastering the mind and deepening the spiritual journey
  • helps unleash blockages in the main nadi’s (energy channels) – ida and pingala nadi, and helps to move prana into the central channel (sushmna nadi) in the subtle body (this is how it can work for your spiritual liberation- experientially revealing to you that you are Shakti- a powerful energetic and light body).