The original yogis believed that the body must be mastered in order to more comfortably sit in meditation, and the asanas were originally systematized in order to do this. Another way to master the body is to use asana to access prana, the giver of vitality or life-force. Because breathing is so integral to life, prana is seen as deeply connected to the breath; this metaphor is further developed by the division of the life-force into five different vayus, or winds, that can be harnessed to help treat different conditions and to bring balance into an individual’s being.
Each of the vayus is located in a different part of the body, and each has a particular regulatory function. Imagine Michaelangelo’s famous drawing of the anatomical human body. The spine is erect, and the navel is at the center of a circle created by arms stretched out to the sides, with the legs held apart. In yogic belief, the energy centers line up the center of the body, allowing vitality to come down through the top of the head and up through the pelvic floor. At the third eye center, pran vayu sits; in the center of the throat resides udana vayu; vyana vayu rests in the heart and lungs. Moving down the body, samana vayu is found in the abdomen, and apana vayu resides in the pelvic floor.
While the vayus are a separate focus of study from the chakras, they are located in similar areas of the body and similarly regulate bodily functions. Pran moves up, while apana moves down. Udana energy is circular, while samana moves out from the center. Finally, vyana governs the vayus themselves, helping them to function.
An imbalance in one or more of the vayus can lead to illness or disordered living. Disordered pran leads to depression, to problems with the heart and lungs, and to other energy depletions. Interrupted apana is responsible for issues with the elimination areas such as the colon, as well as problems with the reproductive systems. Udana disturbances manifest themselves in the nervous system and in one’s thoughts and speech. Samana governs digestion, and vyana governs muscles, joints, and emotions.
Specific yoga positions are associated with each of the vayus, and are thought to strengthen the ways in which the vayus move energy throughout the body. Yogis interested in working with these energies would do well to start by experiencing each one as it currently exists in one’s body. In order to do this, stand in Tadasana, or Mountain Pose. An inhale will summon the force of pran, moving upwards to connect the body with the universe. Conversely, an exhale will highlight apana, moving downwards towards the earth. Inhale again, and note the energy moving around the head and neck to focus on udana. Feel the movement of the ribcage and diaphragm supported by the pelvis to emphasize samana. Finally, bring the arms out and focus on the navel center, noting vyana energy pulsing out into the circle circumscribed by the outstretched hands and feet.