Asana and the Prana Vayus

The Prana Vayus are a yogic map to facilitate our experience of what it is to be a human being, to understand the movements of life energy and help us to awaken. Like any map they are not the territory. Taking teachings literally generally only leads to superstition, dogma, rigid belief and fundamentalism. Teaching metaphors and maps, in my view are meant as guides to inquiry not substitutes for inquiry. In the splendid Tantric map of the Divine, there are two inseparable faces, the male still-point of love as formless consciousness and the female energy of love as creativity, movement and power. Everything that moves is made of prana. A further useful understanding is that prana has one primary quality and three aspects. Lets look at these.

The human body-mind is composed of all three
aspects, the first of which is animated by the second,
whilst the third is that which senses both animated
and animation. In other words, one is matter, one is
energy and one is individuated lucid mind.
In the living human experience the primary quality
of Prana-shakti is unknown until the full arising of
Kundalini and the descent of wisdom also called
‘prajna’ or ‘pragya’ through the central channel.
The central channel is called ‘Shushumna’ in
Sanskrit, meaning ‘she who is most graceful’ and
‘Avadhuti’ in Tibetan meaning ‘beyond the two’.
In traditional tantric practice it is not just ascent
of Kundalini, but crucially descent of the feminine
energy of wisdom that is also sought. This is mostly
forgotten in modern tantra and kundalini yoga.

The first of these three aspects of Prana constitutes
the atomic and molecular bonding and therefore
the structural base of our cells and body. This is
animated by the second aspect.
The second of these two forms of Prana is
experienced in our body as a fivefold division of
flows or winds (vayus) within the body – these
vayus animate the body.
The third aspect of Prana has the flavour of knowing
in a lucid clear way; it’s creative appreciation and
senses, knows and honours the other two aspects.
The primary quality of Prana Shakti can also be
understood as matrix energy.
‘Matrix’ means ‘womb’ and this energy of the divine
feminine face of the totality has no form and yet is
the fount of form. Matrix energy moves through
vibration and is thus divided into its quadruplet
of energies, vortex, flow, radiance and life-energy.
Matrix energy is all pervasive, supporting, moving
through and as every element, every form. It is all
elements, all forms and all of life.
‘Vortex-energy’ is also known as ‘tamas’, it is energy
spinning fast in concentric rotation around itself and
manifests as matter; it is the atomic bonding.
‘Flow-energy’ is also known as ‘Rajas’ and is energy
moving in particle/wave probabilities and is detected
as light, heat and the whole of the electromagnetic
spectrum. This animates the appearance of solidity
and yet also arises from it as solidity arises from it.
These two qualities are fractal.

Radiance-energy is undetectable by the previous two and is known through its activity and vast presence and is only seen clearly from the still point of consciousness. This is the energy of lucid mind and is also known as sattva. Life-energy is the union and movement of all the above and the elements as the flow of living organisms and is experienced as the five prana vayus or directional winds in the body. There is Prana Shakti, the ground of being. There is also the individuated experience of flow as prana which is an aspect of Prana Shakti. So to differentiate them there is Prana with a capital ‘P’ and the personal experience of life-energy flow as prana with a lower-case ‘p’.

THE FIVE WINDS
PRANA VAYU – located in the chest, stimulates
and controls the rising movement of breath, speech
and respiratory system, absorbs atmospheric
energy and is responsible for reception, absorption
and input. It is reaching out, taking in and levity.
Here we consider it as related to the inbreath.

APANA VAYU – located in the lower abdomen,
responsible for the lower trunk and organs of
elimination, discharges babies, semen, menses,
urine and faces. What should be eliminated, what
should not and when are all functions of apana. It
stimulates and regulates movement with gravity.
Here we consider it as related to the outbreath.

SAMANA VAYU – this fire in the belly is located
in the navel, responsible for fire of digestion and
assimilation of food, provision of energy, and

metabolism. It is responsible for assimilation and
incorporation. It is that which absorbs what is
required. It is inward force and distribution in all
its aspects. Here we consider it as the experience
of centring and also the breath that is the point of
fullness.
VYANA VAYU – pervades the whole body, creates
distinction, responsible for all sensation, grasping,
lifting, relaxation of all muscles and joints. It also
facilitates outward transportation and distribution.
It is responsible for primary life processes. Here we
consider it as the experience of expansion, sharing
and the empty point of the breath.
UDANA VAYU – located in the throat and
head. Responsible for thought, expression and
communication, it is that which allows vocalisation as
an upward and outward process. Here we consider it
as the surrender of the ego-self to that which is whole
and sacred, therefore sushumna nadi and the chanting
of the mantra Om and its derivatives.
The first and foremost of these forces is samana,
the centring force. This we experience initially in
intelligent asana.
The second crucial force is moving with gravity
and is like the roots of a tree, this is apana and is
the essential second quality of asana, no roots
equals no asana and no yoga.
The third force is upwards and arises solely
from strong roots, weak roots limits the upward
force. The upward force is anti-gravity and is
rejuvenation.
The next force of outward expansive energy is
completely dependent on the other three and yet
is often the only force really considered in modern
yoga. This will never work to facilitate asana being
a force for awakening.
The last force is vocalised gratitude, which brings
us right back to the beginning, gratitude to what,
to whom and how? This is the beginning and
ending of yoga philosophy.

WRITTEN BY – CHRISTOPHER GLADWELL
CHRISTOPHER TEACHES
CONTEMPORARY YOGA-TANTRA
UNDER THE NAME OF ENGAGED YOGA.
CHRISTOPHERGLADWELL.COM

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