Note: This is part 6 of 7 of the five vayus series.
Udana vayu is the upward-flowing aspect of our life-force. It is most influential in the upper chest and throat. When active, udana can lift us into higher dimensions of consciousness.
Udana powers our speech and expression. When it’s strong and active, we are passionate, motivated, and can easily communicate our thoughts and emotions. Udana vayu is often associated with Kundalini Shakti, the dormant soul force that, when awakened, purifies our awareness and guides us toward Self-realization.
In our meditation practice, udana draws our attention to the higher centers and connects us with higher aspects of our Self. It’s like an elevator that carries us to the penthouse, where we get a more expansive, panoramic view of reality.
Balanced and Imbalanced Udana
When working with vital energies, thinking in terms of strength, balance, and flexibility is helpful. Disturbances and weaknesses in the various vayus in the body create physical and psychological disease and suffering.
When udana is weak and inactive, we feel depressed, unmotivated, and uninspired. Life seems to weigh us down. At the other extreme, when udana is hyperactive and disturbed, we become ungrounded, “blissed out,” and unable to function in the world. Developing a solid inner foundation helps us avoid imbalances. Like the base of a tall building, this structure provides us with the stability we need to ascend safely.
Ways to Strengthen Udana
A healthy yoga practice involves gently working with energies rather than attempting to force thoughts from the mind or muscle our way into stillness. Such attempts are never effective in the long term and can injure the subtle channels and nerves.
Instead, we can ride the winds, so to speak, allowing the life-force to lift us. We rise by trusting in the inherent wisdom of creative energy and cooperating with its flow — not by attempting to master, manipulate, or control it.
When we open inside, we expand. When we expand, we ascend. We’ve all felt this when entering a beautiful temple, walking through an old-growth forest, or listening to a powerful piece of music.
During those times, the ascending force becomes active, and we’re transported into higher dimensions of being. The environment and circumstances in which this happens can vary from person to person. Here are a few ways udana can become stimulated and strengthened:
- During deep prayer
- In meditation
- Through conscious surrender of personal will to a higher will
- Through love and devotion (bhakti yoga)
- By serving others
- Visiting beautiful, uplifting places
- Reading inspirational books
- Purifying your diet — consuming light, nutrient-dense fresh foods (a sattvic diet)
- Yogic pranayama and bandha techniques
- Udana, being seated in the throat, can also be stimulated through devotional singing and chanting. The mantra ham (pronounced hum) can enliven this prana, especially when chanted aloud.
Meditations to Strengthen Udana
Often called “the ocean breath” or sometimes even “the Darth Vader breath,” ujjayi involves the slight constriction of the throat. To practice breathing this way, imagine you are trying to fog a mirror or window. This makes a haaah sound when exhaling. Keep the gentle constriction in the throat on both the exhale and inhale.
Jalandhara bandha, referred to as “the throat lock,” is another yogic technique used to influence the movement of udana. This bandha prevents prana from flowing outward through the throat and directs it into the higher centers in the head.
- Sit in a comfortable, upright position.
- Inhale slowly and deeply, then hold.
- Draw the chin in and down to apply gentle compression to the throat. (Avoid lowering the head too far forward, as is often taught in yoga classes. Doing so can cause strain in the neck muscles. Instead, retract and drop the chin.)
- Hold for a few seconds without straining.
- Relax the lock and exhale.
Shifting Attention from Manipura to Sahasrara
Note: This is a more advanced practice that assumes proficiency in the basic technique of Rudra Meditation.
Our primary focus is the navel chakra during Rudra Pranayama, especially in the beginning stages of practice. This is crucial because it helps build a stable inner foundation. Once we establish that base, we can begin to ascend from it.
We can do this by shifting attention from the navel to the crown. Refraining from effort and force, we float upward with the exhaling breath.
- Begin with 10-15 minutes of Rudra Meditation.
- Then, take a deep breath into manipura chakra and hold for a few seconds, allowing the energy to gather and build.
- Exhale, bringing your attention and energy through the sex and root chakras and up the central channel of the spine toward the crown.
- Let go of the breath and allow your attention to rest within the center of the head, expand through the crown, and into the space above. Open into the vast sky of awareness. Let yourself dissolve into it.
- After a few moments, take another deep breath into manipura, pause briefly, and exhale toward the crown.
- Repeat several times, circulating prana throughout the entire chakra system.
- Then come to rest again in sahasrara (the crown chakra).
- Repeat the process as long as desired. When you’re ready to end the meditation, bring your attention and energy back down and become centered again in manipura.
As you develop proficiency in this practice, you’ll become more sensitive to the flow of life-force rising toward the crown. And each time you circulate it back through the chakra system, you’ll notice it becoming lighter and more refined. This can be a blissful, ecstatic experience that clears out the heavy blockages from the subtle channels and leaves you feeling like you’re levitating six inches above your seat.
The following article will conclude our study of the five vayus and discuss how it relates to our practice of Rudra Meditation.