Pancha Mahabhutas and Prana Vayus – The Five Great Elements and The Five Movements of Energy
Samkhya philosophy – the philosophy that the yoga tradition is based on – provides a framework for practitioners to understand how the greater consciousness of the universe is present and manifest in all beings and experiences in the seen world. It is said that the greater cosmic consciousness has distilled itself down into five great elements that pervade everything in the material world, including our own body and mind. These elements in order of creation are:
- Akasha – Ether/Space
- Vayu – Air
- Agni – Fire
- Apas/Jala – Water
- Pruthivi – Earth
Further distillation of the cosmic consciousness brings us to the five Prana Vayus or the five “winds” of energy. Prana is often translated as “life force” and is categorized into five unique movements in specific areas of the body that govern physical and mental functions. These five main movements of prana in the body are:
- Apana Vayu – Pelvis, Downward Movement
- Samana Vayu – Navel, Balancing Toward Center Movement
- Prana Vayu – Chest, Inward Movement
- Udana Vayu – Throat, Upward Movement
- Vyana Vayu – Whole Body, Outward From Center Movement
When we combine the concepts of pancha mahabhutas and the prana vayus into a yoga practice, we have a powerful experience on a physical, mental and energetic level that can provide immense clarity on how we live our daily life. They also help us realize that we are part of something greater, a piece of the cosmic whole. These concepts in practice allow us to move into a space where we can make informed choices, leave habits behind and ultimately unfold our life into one of contentment, connection and enlightenment.
Over the next five months we will explore one element and one vayu together to gain a deeper understanding of the pair, how they relate to one another and easy ways to incorporate the two into your asana or meditation practice as well as your daily life.
Live transmission of these teachings will be presented during our Sunday 9 am Prana Vinyasa classes. Classes each month will focus on the element and vayu pair and deepen your understanding of these concepts through the practice. Join us to experience how yoga asana can be a deep expression of the flow of prana (energy) and an opportunity to open ourselves to the flow of consciousness that is present in all beings.
Pruthivi and Apana Vayu – The Path to Being Grounded and Stable
In Samkhya philosophy, Pruthivi – the earth element – is born from Tamas or the power of materialization. It is the quality that gives shape, form and stability to all things in nature including our physical bodies. In our body, it is linked to the structures that give us our form like bones, cartilage, muscles, tendons and ligaments. It is the great container for life. It protects, holds and shapes all living creatures and provides for their continued existence.
Apana vayu is the downward moving energy that is located in the pelvis. It is strongly linked to our physical embodiment and its primary function is physical and mental elimination. Apana is the stabilizing and grounding movement of energy that allows us to establish our foundation and base in the practice of yoga asana. It is the energy that we rely upon to release all thoughts, experiences and physical burdens that we may hold on to but no longer need to carry the weight of.
As you can see, the main attributes of pruthivi and apana vayu are the ability to be grounded and stable. They help us to release the burdens that cause anxiety, unease and the sense of disconnection. It is easy to understand that when life is feeling chaotic, out of balance, too fast or without a sense of direction, that we should bring in the qualities of pruthivi and apana vayu into our yoga practice to bring us back into balance.
These qualities/energies are similar to a state of mind and can be applied to any kind of practice, but for us, we will apply it to the yogic practices of asana (postures), pranayama (breath work), mudra (hand gestures) and bhavana (deep feeling state).
Our modern, fast passed, tech heavy world with excessive amounts of sensory stimulation can make even the most balanced of individuals feel anxiety and disconnection. Try experimenting with one of these techniques regularly over the course of a week and see how the quality of your experience (mental – physical – emotional) shifts and stabilizes.
Asana: Childs pose is a wonderful way to connect back to the deep sense of being grounded and stable. Try it on your back for a bit more ease in your knees if needed. Allow your body to fully relax into the earth and be still for at least 10 breaths. As you exit the pose, observe your response.
Pranayama: Apana Breath or simply slowing the exhale out your mouth with a soft audible sigh. Try 3 rounds and sit quietly for a few moments after.
Mudra: Bhumisparsha mudra or “touching the earth” is a mudra most commonly seen in depictions of the Buddha. This mudra is helpful to calm and focus your mind so that you might find the right path for the moment. Find a place to sit quietly, preferably close to the ground. Place your left hand in your lap, palm up and reach down with the right hand to lightly graze your fingertips upon the earth. Close your eyes and practice even breathing for 2 minutes. Observe as you relax the mudra.
Bhavana: Bhavana, or intentional feeling, can be applied to just about any situation but try it during your next yoga asana class. As you move through your practice, slow down your movements and your breath. Bring in the intention to feel the earth beneath you and attempt to create a sense of being connected, grounded and stable throughout the practice. At the end of class, observe how you feel.