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Vāyu: Five winds of energy within the body

Updated: Jun 6

Focus of the Month: June 2024

written by Valery

How the vayus can help you to deepen your yoga practice

During my 300-hour yoga teacher training in Mexico last year, I was introduced to the concept of the vayus. I remember vividly learning about them in theory during class. Initially, despite my familiarity with other concepts of energy like prāṇa and the chakra system, I found the vayus interesting, yet approached them with some scepticism.

But then, we started practicing yoga classes focused on each of the vayus and that completely transformed my perspective. This experience reaffirmed the value of staying open-minded and curious, as it often leads to unexpected and wonderful discoveries. Working with the vayus has profoundly impacted my yoga practice, and I’m eager to share this with you. This month, we’ll delve into the five vayus or yogic winds. Enjoy the journey of discovery!

Prāṇa — The vital life force

However, before we dive into the vayus, the five yogic winds, we firstly need to take a look at the term prāṇa. I am sure, no matter at which stage of your practice you are, you probably have heard of it before. It is a Sanskrit term that refers to the life force or vital energy that permeates all living things. According to the teachings of Yoga, we absorb and exchange prāṇa through our intake of food and drink, and through exposure to natural elements like sunshine and fresh air. The concept of prāṇa is fundamental to many Eastern spiritual practices, including Yoga and Ayurveda.

In the yoga philosophy, prāṇa and the energy body (prāṇamayakośa), play a major role in understanding ourselves not as only the physical body but as well as energy beings. Within this energy body, we can take a closer look at how energy flows, and that is when the five vayus come into play.

So what are the vayus, and what is the link to prāṇa?

"One of the most subtle forms of energy is air. This vital energy, which also flows through the human body, is divided into five main categories according to the Hatha Yoga texts, according to the various functions they perform. These categories are called: Vayu, wind."

B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on Yoga

The concept of the vayus is first mentioned in the ancient Upanishads. Specifically, the Taittiriya Upanishad discusses the different forms of prāṇa and their roles within the body, including a description of the five winds and their functions. Also in the Hatha Yoga Pradipika and other ancient texts you’ll find information and detailed instructions on how to work with them.

It is said, that prāṇa is divided into five major flows called vayus, translates to "wind" or "air“, which are udāna, prāṇa, samāna, apāna and vyāna. Each of those has a specific function and location in the body. The vayus are not the same as prāṇa, but rather describe five different forces of prāṇa, that circulate within our bodies. These are integral to our practice, influencing everything from our physical form to our emotional and spiritual states.

The five vayus: different locations, functions and spheres of influence

In the following I'm going to explain, briefly, what different functions each vayu has and how they influence our bodies, mind and energy.

  1. udāna vāyu: This upward-moving/ascending wind resides in the throat and head, facilitating speech, growth, and self-expression. It governs the function of expressing ourselves with our voice — speaking, chanting, singing, laughing, crying. Udāna vāyu is affiliated with the direction north, and it moves prāṇa up and out through the crown of the head. It is associated with our capacity to think, communicate, and maintain posture. 

  2. prāṇa vāyu: Corresponds with the chest region and the function of drawing nourishment into the body. It also governs the beating heart and the function of breathing in. prāṇa vāyu is affiliated with the direction east, the rising sun, and the return movement of breath, its power of movement is to rise up and energize. On a mental level, it brings clarity. 

  3. samāna vāyu: Corresponds with the central region of the body and the function of digestion and metabolism. It regulates the body heat. It is affiliated with all directions, and it moves from the extremities towards the navel center. Not only that, but it harmonizes the opposing forces of prāṇa and apāna, ensuring that nutrients and energy are properly processed and distributed throughout the body. 

  4. apāna vāyu: Corresponds with the pelvis and lower abdomen. It governs the function of elimination of waste products, and is the power that pushes things down and out of the body. It is affiliated with the direction west, the setting sun and the outgoing breath, its direction of movement is down and out. Furthermore, it oversees bodily functions like excretion and menstruation, as well as the release of negative emotions and toxins. 

  5. vyāna vāyu: Pervading the entire body, vyāna vāyu governs circulation and the movement of energy throughout the system and all areas of the body. It supports the integration and coordination of all bodily functions. It is affiliated with the direction south, and it moves from the center out in all directions.

How to integrate the vayus into your practice 

Before we'll come to the end, let's take a look at how you can integrate the yogic winds into your yoga practice, so you make it a more profound, even more spiritual experience.

Udāna Vāyu

Asana & other practices: laterals, twists, backbends, inversions 

practices that involve chanting or breathwork

Prānāyāma: Use this breath to activate udāna vāyu in āsana or meditation (especially grate in standing, supine, prone, and seated poses): Inhale: Visualize the breath rising from the earth, entering through the soles of your feet, traveling up your legs, through your spine, and into your chest. Exhale: Encourage the energy to flow upward through the crown of your head. Inhale: Repeat the inhale-process as before. Exhale: Release the breath through your throat as you exhale through your nose, letting go of any tension in your throat, jaw, and teeth.

Prāna Vāyu

Asana & other practices: laterals, backbends, extensions with focus on the inhalation

Prānāyāma: Try this breath to activate prāṇa vāyu in āsana or in meditation: Inhale: Inhale and feel how the breath is gently flowing through the nose into the center of your chest – expanding the lungs and fill out the heart. Exhale: Visualize the breath turn into a white light, travelling up to the center of the mind – washing the mind free of distractions and noise.

Samāna vāyu

Asana & other practices: forward bends, twists, prone backbends, abdominal work

Prānāyāma: Try this breath to activate samāna vāyu in āsana or meditation: Inhale: Breathe in through your nose, evenly filling the front, sides, and back of your torso. The front of your belly will expand slightly, but keep it gently contained, allowing your side waist and mid-back to expand equally around your center. Exhale: Distribute the breath evenly throughout your body, spreading the energy equally. Inhale: Again, let the breath fill the cylinder of your torso as before. Exhale: Guide the breath deeper inward, directing it towards a small ball of fire or light at your center that intensifies with each round.

Apāna vāyu

Asana & other practices: forward bends, seated twists, standing postures with focus on exhalation

Prānāyāma: Try this breath to activate apāna vāyu in āsana (especially great in standing postures, seated forward bends, and seated twists) or in meditation: Inhale: In through the nose, and with mental focus, follow it to the base of the spine. Exhale: Feel the breath move down through the legs and out through the feet, plugging you into the earth.

Vyāna vāyu

Asana & other practices: broad, expansive movements and dynamic āsana; backbends, laterals, inversions, extensions, such as halfmoon pose (expanding from the center into each limb and direction)

Prānāyāma: Use this breath to strengthen vyāna vāyu in āsana and meditation: Inhale: Let the breath draw from the nose to the heart, to the back of the heart; into the very center and deepest corners of your body. Exhale: Imagine the breath moving out through the arms and legs, through the length of the torso. Imagine the breath moving out through every pore, expanding you beyond the boundary of the skin.

The spiritual dimension of the vayus

Beyond their physiological effects, the vayus are also seen as carriers of spiritual energy, linking the physical body to higher states of consciousness. Through dedicated practice, the balanced flow of vayus can facilitate spiritual awakening and greater self-awareness. By attuning to these subtle winds, we can enhance our vitality, achieve emotional balance, and explore the deeper dimensions of our inner landscape.

As you continue your yoga journey, may the knowledge of the vayus guide you towards greater harmony and well-being.

Have fun discovering them.


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