The More I practice yoga, whether it be āsana, prāṇāyāma or meditation (even chanting) I’ve come to see our internal energy or prāṇa as the driving force behind the practice. This energy is connected to, and connects us to all we do feel and think. There is nothing that is separate from it. Understanding this fact has enhanced my practice on so many levels, bringing clarity, strength and ease in a way I would have never thought possible.
Below is a short excerpt from my book, The Yoga Technique Guide defining and discussing prāṇa.
Prāṇa is the one life-force that permeates and flows through all living things and all matter. This cohesive, animating force is also known as Mahāprāṇa or “Great Prāṇa.” Prāṇic energy is the spark of life at conception and, according to yogic lore, continues to flow into us on a psychic level from the top of the head at Bindhu. Prāṇa also continues to enter our body throughout our lifetime by the air we breathe and the food we eat as well as sensory, mental, and spiritual input. Though there is only one life-force, Mahāprāṇa, it moves and functions in distinct ways in the body. These distinct functions or movements are called vāyus. Vāyu is a Sanskrit word meaning “wind.” The root of the word vā means “that which flows,” and so a vāyu is a vehicle for activities and experiences within the body, or a force that moves throughout the system in specific ways. Think of the vāyus as the intelligent energy that drives and regulates functions like digestion, respiration, nerve impulses, and circulation, and that which influences our mental, emotional and spiritual states.
The simplest way to look at it is that energy is received into our body from the outside in different forms: sensory stimuli, food, and air, and mental and spiritual information. Before we can use or assimilate this prāṇa, it is first directed to the chakras by the vāyus, which are part of the body’s own internal energy system. The chakras then “filter” the prāṇa and send it back out again by the vāyus. It is carried to the cells of our body and to our mind, influencing or coloring our perceptions, emotional responses, and our spiritual perspective.
The Vāyus and Your Practice
The foundational practices of Haṭha yoga, āsana, prāṇāyāma and meditation are meant to optimize the functioning of these vāyus and bring them under our intentional influence. For example, in āsana practice we can consciously recruit Vyāna vāyu to bring more power and extension to the arms and legs, and Apāna vāyu to create more grounding and stability. Both Udāna vāyu and Prāṇa vāyu help us to stand tall with an expansive heart. Vyāna vāyu is the cohesive energy that coordinates all the vāyus, creating a bright expansive feeling in our yoga postures. By becoming aware of the movement of the vāyus and tapping into their energy we can recruit them directly in our āsana practice. As our awareness of the vāyus deepens, we can enhance and manipulate their movement with prāṇāyāma. When the vāyus are directed by the breath, they flow more powerfully and help uplift our state of mind and restore our lives to vibrant health and balance.