Vayus and Bayous: how does your energy flow?

Prana Vayus are the five main currents by which Prana flows subtly throughout the body.

In Yoga, “Prana” is what we call that unique, life force energy that animates all things. Prana moves through the body in a subtle way, that is, not necessarily experienced through the five senses.

Do you feel your own energy as a river or as a meandering, borderless, spreading bayou? Does it flow with direction and intent, or does it puddle and become clogged and seasonally disrupted? Our Sushumna, the spine, the central channel is our major river, our energy thoroughfare. Energy moves up and down the spine, and radiates into all parts of our body, our organs, and our limbs. This energy flow is helped along into all our “tributaries” with the specific types of currents called the Prana Vayus.

Ah, Take Me To The River YOGA

Let’s start with acknowledging the “ports of call.” We practice bringing our attention to the seven Chakras in the body. Our yogic study of these areas center around their location, core qualities, elemental attributes, colors on the light spectrum, and how to recognize balance and imbalance in these areas of the body. And we practice Pranayama (breathing) and Dharana and Dhyana (focusing) into these areas to generate currents of energy, to balance, and to unblock energy within the Chakras.

The Prana Vayus are our way to develop the story further! We learn more about Yoga through the interesting narrative laid down by the ancient philosophy of Yoga. The story of Yoga and of vital energy continues with the introduction of five new characters: the Prana Vayus. They have names, symbols, direction of energy, location in the body, are related to the Chakras and the five elements, and they have qualities. These are the currents that move our energy like that of water in the river. When we experience imbalance within our system (be it physical, psychological, emotional, spiritual, or psychically) we may become like that proverbial bayou. The bayou can be wild, and rich, and exciting in its own right. But eventually we need to join the bigger river, and flow through our journey.

Summary of the 5 Prana Vayus

Apana Vayu – Downward direction, related to 1st & 2nd Chakra, earth and water elements
Samana Vayu – Inward & outward direction, related to 3rd Chakra, fire element
Prana Vayu – Upward direction, related to 4th Chakra, air element
Udana Vayu – Upward and in a circulating direction, related to 5th Chakra, space element
Vyana Vayu – From the center and outward, related to 2nd through 6th Chakras, space, air, fire and water elements.

Prana Vayus and the Pranamaya Kosha

This story of the Prana Vayus springs from the Pranamaya Kosha. In order to understand the many dimensions of our true being, Yoga looks at our form as having five distinct Koshas, or layers, or sheaths. The Koshas provide an outline to help categorize aspects of our human being-ness. Just as Asana (yogic postures) are related to Annamaya Kosha (the physical body), the breath and Pranic energy is related to Pranamaya Kosha.

The five Koshas are:

  1. Physical Body – Annamayakosha
  2. Breath/Energy Body – Pranamayakosha
  3. Psycho/Emotional Body – Manamayakosha
  4. Witness/Wisdom Body – Vijnanamayakosha
  5. Bliss Body – Anandamayakosha

Learning the Sanskrit for Asanas

Learning a new language can be a challenge for some people. There are those of us who seem to have a knack for acquiring language skills easily, mastering the exact pronunciation and gaining a good understanding of a new, foreign syntax. For me, it is more like the pounding of the round peg in the square hole. It just doesn’t sink in!

I find myself overanalyzing the word structure and trying to leap frog over the hard work of memorizing by making up word patterns that I think I am seeing. This approach of “analogous thought” has served me well when learning concepts, recognizing trends and when trying to anticipate the next likely event. It apparently is the worst way to learn a new language!

And so it is with my efforts to learn the Sanskrit names to yoga asanas. There are many lists on the internet and thousands of books that are helpful. Here are a few of my favorites:

The Yoga Toolbox by Joseph Le Page and Lilian Le Page. A sturdy binder containing 90 laminated cards. It’s a comprehensive book that illustrates the poses and gives detailed information about getting into the poses, alternate poses, the effects the poses have on the Chakras with notes on the Koshas, Prana Vayus and Ayurveda.

Yoga Journal’s index of yoga poses lists the Sanskrit name and the English name is an easy to read table with links to pictures and descriptions of the poses.

Wikipedia’s list of asanas is a table with columns for the Sanskrit translation, Sanskrit text, English common name, image and classification in an easy to navigate format.

My personal favorite tool in the form of a game with animated flash cards and score keeping for the competitive at heart:

Yoga Toolbox – Yoga Asanas on Quizlet. Quizlet.com is a simple online tool that is useful for teachers and people wanting to make learning easier and more fun. I’ve set up a set for Yoga Asanas that you may find fun and entertaining. The Quizlet platform has gone back to the age-old method of games as an engaging learning tool. I particularly like the “Scatter” and “Space Race” tools. Of course there is a Quizlet iPhone app that weaned me off time sucking Zynga’s “Friend” games like Words with Friends, Running with Friends, Hanging with Friends and Gems with Friends. Now I have a new addiction! Quizlet sets.