Note: This is part 1 of 7. For the full series on the 5 Vayus click here.
There’s a pulsation at the heart of existence, a creative vibration radiating waves of conscious energy. In the West, some call this life-force or spiritual energy. The yogis call it Prana, Spanda, Shakti, or Vayu (which means ‘wind’). There is one Prana, one primal current of energy that blows throughout the universe.
We can learn to make conscious contact with that Power and open more and more to It’s flow. Doing this, we become centered, energized, inspired, and empowered. Ultimately, Prana will guide us toward a full awakening of our true nature.
The purpose of this series of articles is to provide you with a working knowledge of the flows of Prana throughout the many layers of your body and mind. With that understanding, you can discover how to open to and connect with your inner vitality and power.
Categories of Prana
Prana (aka Shakti) springs forth from the unmanifest field of Awareness (aka Shiva) and takes on different properties as it condenses into and interacts with form.
The particular form we are concerned with here is the human body. To be more specific, we’ll be looking more deeply into the bodily layer referred to as the pranic body or pranamaya kosha. For more information on the koshas check out this article series here.
Prana forms all levels and dimensions of our being. This means that all of our five koshas are made of Prana. But it’s within pranamaya kosha where we most experience It’s flow.
For centuries, yogis have observed this movement and examined its different attributes and functions. Some of the texts they wrote on the subject delineate two main traits of Prana. Others break it down into three, five, ten, or other configurations. These are all attempts to categorize Prana’s actions and qualities.
In this article series we’re going to examine what is referred to as the five pranas, or the five vayus.
The 5 Aspects of the 1 Prana
- Prana vayu. The inward flowing force seated in the chest and operating above the navel center. (Here the term ‘prana’ is used as one of the 5 aspects of the one universal Prana.)
- Samana vayu. The centering, digestive force that draws energies toward the navel center.
- Vyana vayu. The force of circulation which moves outward from the navel center toward the periphery of the body.
- Apana vayu. The downward flowing force seated in the area of the large intestines and active below the navel center.
- Udana vayu. Seated in the throat, this force brings energy upward from the navel center into the higher areas of the body.
From this brief description, you’ll notice that all the movements of the vayus relate back to the navel center (manipura chakra). This is because all of the 72,000 nadis (subtle channels of energy) in the body originate in manipura.
This is overlooked in many modern systems of yogic meditation. Instead, the focus — even in the beginning stages of practice — is on the upper chakras where the bliss of expansion is most prominently felt.
But as we look closer at the five vayus you’ll see that the safest and most integral approach is to work from the center. We train to build a strong foundation first, then to expand and rise from that core.
Confusion Surrounding the Terms ‘Prana’ & ‘Apana’
The functions of the vayus are not difficult to understand. Having said that, there’s some confusion and contradiction surrounding the terms ‘prana’ and ‘apana’. Let’s explore this for a moment before moving on so we’re all on the same page.
Some sources describe prana as the ingoing breath and apana as the outgoing breath. Others claim the opposite is true. Still other sources state that prana alone regulates all respiratory functions.
There is a strong argument that both of the first two positions are incomplete. A more universal explanation has to do with the areas of the body where the life-force functions. Prana moves above the navel, apana below the navel.
I prefer to approach the topic in this way because almost everyone agrees on the general location and function of all five vayus. So, the main focus of these articles will be on the movement of life-force throughout the body rather than on the function of the respiratory system alone.
Going Forward: Exploring the 5 Vayus
The five vayus are a microcosmic map that provides us with a simple understanding of the complex interaction of energies taking place within us. Like the ancient siddhas we inherited this map from, we can use it to chart our journey toward awakening.
Throughout this series we’ll learn how to better read the map of the five vayus. Exploring each of energies, we’ll discover how they function and learn how we can cooperate with them more fully. As we conclude the series, we’ll examine the role the vayus play in our practice of Rudra Meditation.
In the next article, we’ll take a closer look at the inflowing energy, prana vayu.