Prana means the vital life force pervading all living beings. In the context of Yoga, it forms one of the 5 subtle bodies (The Panchmaya Kosh) called the Pranamaya Kosha. It is the life force which moves the mind and the body. The Yogic breathing practices focus specifically on nurturing and vitalising this life force. Prana is also responsible for governing our Five Senses. By increasing our awareness of Prana and by increasing and directing its movement we enable the doors of higher consciousness to open.
This life force is classified into five kinds of winds (vayus) which govern different areas of the body and physical and subtle activities. Let us look at them one by one.
1. Prana Vayu
Prana Vayu moves in the region of the chest and head. It is connected to the heart and organs of respiration, along with the muscles and nerves that activate them. It governs the intake of fresh air, propulsion and forward movement. Is provides motivation and sensitivity.
2. Apana Vayu
This air moves in the area of the pelvis and abdomen (below the navel). Kidneys, large intestine, the anus and genitals are associated with this. This vayu governs elimination (downward), and outward movement such as excretion, urination and menstruation. Strengthening the immune system, a healthy Apana is responsible for rooting and grounding us.
3. Samana Vayu
Also called the ‘middle breath’, Samana is located between the heart and navel, it is linked to the digestive system and its organs such as the intestines, pancreas and the stomach. It governs assimilation, discernment and consolidation. It is responsible for inner absorption and balance at all levels.
4. Udana Vayu
This air is connected with the throat and the region between from the neck to the head. It controls our sensory receptors such as eyes, nose, ears and tongue in turn affecting speech and expression. It also affects the limbs and their muscle and joint movements. Governing growth and upward movement, Udana Vayu is also behind an erect posture. It is associated with the Kundalini Shakti.
5. Vyana Vayu
This air pervades the entire body, regulating and coordinating all other pranas. It also governs the circulation and nervous systems. It is expansive and pervasive in nature. It is likened to a reserve force for all other pranas.
A harmonious functioning of these 5 airs (vayus) reflects in good mental and physical health and expression of our best selves in the world. They help us live more meaningfully and with purpose. In addition to these five major pranas, five minor pranas are also described – Naga (belching & hiccups), Koorma (eyes and blinking), Krikara (hunger, thirst, sneezing and coughing), Devadutta (sleeping and yawning) and Dhananjaya (lingers after death before decomposition of the body begins).