James Chapman teaches a weekly yoga for stress class in Camden and also offers yoga therapy, so is one of our resident experts offering advice during Stress Awareness Month. In this blog, James dives deeper into what makes a yoga for stress class different to other yoga classes. He also provides lovely insight into the five main vayus of Hatha yoga – what they are, their relationship to our physiology, how to work with them and more.
In my ‘yoga for stress’ class, we look in detail at how yogic techniques affect our physiology and mental functions. A class might include restorative practices, dynamic postures, Vinyasa flow, meditation, pranayama and strengthening exercises. We often go into deeper practices like the prana vayus with sharira prana mudras which you may not have come across unless you’re a teacher or have had a yoga therapy session.
Pranayama (or conscious breathing) is the easiest way for us to change our autonomic nervous system which plays a part in regulating all the bodies systems. The easiest way for us to change our mood is to change our breathing. Knowledge of the vayus gives us a deeper understanding of prana and more control over our breath and so our minds.
Prana is energy and vayu means current or air. This is how the energy moves within our body. In the Hatha yoga tradition, there are five main vayus which are seated in the chakras and very much linked with their associated organ systems and functions.
What are the five vayus?
1 – Prana vayu
Located in the third eye (ajna chakra) or at the heart centre (anahata), this is our main way of taking in energy. Prana is also absorbed through sunlight, through the things we take in through the senses such as sounds or smells, through water and of course through sattvic food (the yogic diet – pure vegetarian & non spicy).
Prana vayu is related to the inhale and the sympathetic branch of the autonomic nervous system (ANS). So if you want to increase your prana, focus on the inhale and maybe hold the breath for a short period after inhaling. On a physical level we can do anything that opens the chest area such as back bends and raising the arms above the head. We can also focus on the third eye as this is where we gain one pointed concentration which opens the pathways to allow nourishment in.
Prana vayu feeds all the other vayus so if there is an imbalance in another vayu we would also consider prana vayu to be weak. If you have a lack of energy or are depressed then there may be an imbalance in prana vayu.
2 – Samana Vayu
Located in the mid-body and seated at the navel (manipura chakra), this vayu is linked to the digestive fire (agni) and helps us with assimilation. Samana vayu is also linked with the lungs where prana is absorbed and also in the mind where thoughts are absorbed. Samana vayu brings balance to the two branches of the ANS. It also brings balance to the mind as it helps us to assimilate thoughts.
Samana vayu is linked to the small pauses at the end of the inhale and exhale. To balance this vayu, we can practice equal breathing and physically we may do twists, side bends, abdominal work etc. Any imbalance in the digestive system would indicate a disturbance in Samana vayu.
Samana vayu is said to be the most important vayu as Samana is the area where prana and apana are mixed to raise the Kundalini (but that’s a whole new blog).
3 – Vyana vayu
This distributes energy around the body and is located in the heart chakra where it is associated with blood and the lungs.
Vyana distributes energy around the body and is also linked to lymph and nervous impulses. Vyana sends energy to the extremities.
To work vyana vayu with asana, anything where you use the whole body and sun salutations, with the breath imagine breathing through every cell of the body.
Numbness, tingling, cold hands feet, peripheral joint problems, arthritis, skin issues etc. would indicate a problem with this vayu.
4 – Udana vayu
Udana coming from urdva meaning upward, so energy to the head. This is located at the throat chakra and is related to communication and also the higher centres, think of self-transformation and acting from a higher purpose.
We can work with this vayu with mantra and sound, inversions and back bends.
This vayu is said to be imbalanced if there are any problems with the head, face and throat.
5 – Apana vayu
Located in the first chakra this is downward energy and elimination. This is also related to sexual function and childbirth.
Apana vayu is related to the parasympathetic branch of the ANS (rest and digest) and the exhale. So to work apana vayu, focus on your exhale. With asana, standing poses and everything where the belly is being pressed such as child pose.
Too much or too little elimination (e.g. stress incontinence or constipation) is considered a weakness in apana vayu.
Try James’ YouTube prana vayu practice to explore the five vayus using the sharira prana mudras for yourself.