The word ‘Prana’ refers to the vital life force or energy that exists within us. Prana flows through the Nadi, subtle energy channels that run throughout the body. They pass through the Chakras, as the Prana rises upwards. It manifests as the Kundalini Shakti. There are also five layers or sheaths in the body, known as Pancha Koshas. Of these five Koshas, the second one is Pranayama. Pranayama consists of five Pranas (or Vayus) that are responsible for various bodily functions, balances and activities. The functioning of the Pancha Pranas comes from Ayurveda and the five Pranas are considered to be a sub-division of the Vata Dosha. Let’s look at these Pancha Pranas in detail.
The Pancha Pranas
The first one is Prana and it functions between the throat and the diaphragm. The organs of the thoracic region, including the heart and lungs, between the larynx and the top of the diaphragm, are governed by Prana. Its functions include respiration and the flow of breath, and pumping the heart. It is also associated with the muscles, nerves and tissues in the region. Prana draws the breath moves in an upward and inward motion. Associated with the Heart Chakra, known as the Anahata Chakra, Prana is responsible for respiration, swallowing and upward movements. Prana exists in the eyes, ears, heart, lungs and moves in and out of the nose. Imbalances lead to diseases of the heart and lungs as well as a poor intake of oxygen. It may also cause difficulty concentrating and lead to low productivity.
Mainly responsible for elimination, Apana is associated with organs between the naval and perineum, including the small and large intestine, kidneys, urinary system and reproductive systems. Apana Vayu is responsible for elimination of waste such as feces, gas and urine. It also controls forceful expulsion of the breath. It also influences the sense of smell, contributes to body stability and its sphere of influence is from the navel to the rectum. Also, ejaculation of sperm, monthly menstrual cycle for women and expulsion of the fetus during childbirth is done by Apana Vayu. This prana flows downwards and stimulates the downward and outward movement of the wastes. It is associated with the Muladhara Chakra (Root Chakra). Imbalances can cause poor elimination, constipation, depression, lethargy, diarrhea, piles, etc.
Governing the region between the naval and diaphragm, Samana Vayu controls the function of organs such as the stomach, liver, pancreas, spleen, small and large intestine. This prana travels sideways. Samana Vayu is responsible for digestion, metabolism and breaking down of nutrients into the body. Disturbance of the Samana Vayu causes indigestion and other stomach disorders. It is associated with the Manipura Chakra or Solar Plexus Chakra and is responsible for transformative processes within the body. On a spiritual level, Samana Vayu pertains to the expansion of consciousness. Samana (on-breathing) is a horizontal motion and translates to equalizer.
Samana Vayu ensures proper nourishment to all body parts and equal distribution of energy. It influences one’s charisma and aura. When imbalanced, Samana affects mental peace, balance and calmness. Harmony is disturbed in the mind and body causing agitation and irritation. Poor assimilation of food leads to a build up of toxins.
This prana functions above the throat, face and head region. It governs the sensory organs, head, neck and functioning of the brain. It activates sensory receptors such as the eyes, tongue, nose and ears. It is responsible for movement and related organs such as hands and legs. It maintains harmony and balance in the limbs, muscles, ligaments, nerves and joints associated with it. It is also responsible for maintaining an upright, strong posture and controls one’s ability to respond to external stimuli. It is associated with the Vishuddi Chakra in the throat. The movement here is outward and upward. It also regulates falling asleep, body heat and functions of speech, music and humming. Udana separates the astral body from the physical body at the time of death. An imbalance leads to difficult breathing, poor productivity and inability to think clearly, as well as uncoordinated speech.
Pervading the entire body, Vyana carries nutrients to every cell of the body via blood. If there is a shortage of energy, Vyana Vayu sends the required nutrients to the cells to produce energy. It acts as a regulator and controller of all movement, encouraging muscular movements. It causes perspiration too. It has a circular, back-breathing motion and combines the qualities of Prana and Apana. It moves through all the Nadis or energy channels and controls the circulatory, lymphatic and nervous systems, and directs voluntary and involuntary movements of the muscles, joints, tendons and fascia. It is responsible for blood flow, lymph detoxification, sweating and coordination of all bodily systems. Irregular Vyana leads to energy disruption, lack of coordination, tremors and inability to connect with people.
In several yoga therapy treatments such as yoga for heart health, yoga for lungs, yoga for diabetes, yoga for digestion, etc. the Pancha Pranas are looked at as an important factor to balance and to improve the functioning. Practices such as Shat Kriyas, Bandhas, and Mudras can work on balancing and stimulating all the Pancha Pranas. With asana, hip openers and prone postures work on the Apana Vayu, forward bending and sitting asana work on Samana Vayu, backbending and dynamic movements work on Prana, Inversions and certain sitting asanas work on Udana and balancing and standing yoga postures work on Vyana.
The Pancha Pranas are interconnected and interdependent on each other. Prana is disrupted and does not flow freely when the Nadis are blocked. This leads to a build-up of toxins and waste if not removed. Blood flow gets obstructed leading to low energy, imbalances in the organs and systems, and can even lead to serious disorders and diseases of the heart, lungs, digestive system, etc. With the practice of yoga, one can work on balancing, activating and encouraging a harmony of the Prana Vayus.