Vayu, or the air element, is the energy that internalizes our experiences in life through the movement of the breath. When you have an experience that “takes our breath away” we typically are deeply experiencing a strong emotion. One that usually stays with us and shapes our view of life for the long term. Air is also the medium that connects all mankind as it shared by all of us. We all breath the same air, are touched by that same air and ultimately can not live unless we share that same air. The prana vayus, or five winds, are the refined expressions of energy of the air element. They are the flow of consciousness and the expression of our vital life force.
Prana vayu is the inward movement of energy down into the chest from the head. It is intimately linked to the intake of breath but also to our power to take in information from our senses as well as thoughts, ideas and impressions. When prana vayu is lacking, we have trouble opening to new ideas or connecting to our breath.
The air element and prana vayu are directly correlated to the upper thoracic region of the body, or the heart center. When we stimulate this region with asana, pranayama and meditation, we encourage a deeper connection to our own heart and the unique wisdom that lies there. When we are deeply connected to the timeless wisdom within, we can connect authentically with others and not let our societal conditionings color our view. In this day, authentic connection with family, friends and our greater community is desperately needed. It is also essential to open our hearts and our minds to different views and ideas. In times when you need to open yourself to more authentic connection, 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) expands and deepens!
Asana: Backbends are one of the most effective yoga asanas that stimulate the upper thoracic region and therefore increase prana vayu and the air element. Ustrasana or camel pose is accessible for many and quite powerful in its ability to expand our experience. From a kneeling position, place your hands on your back and use your inhale to lengthen your spine. Allow your hips to shift forward yet continue to use your inhale to lift the space behind your sternum upwards as you head starts to lean back. Your hands may move to your feet but allow your breath to powerfully lift your heart to the sky and create a deep sense of expansion in the region of your heart. Stay for 5-8 breaths then exit the pose to sit on your heels and observe.
Pranayama: When we build our inhale and eventually hold our breath after inhale, we stimulate both prana vayu and the air element in the thoracic region. This can be quite a challenging practice so go slow and build up over time. Complete this sequence with simple ujjayi pranayama:
Inhale 5 counts, exhale 5 counts x 5 breaths
Inhale 6 counts, exhale 5 counts x 5 breaths
Inhale 7 counts, exhale 5 counts x 5 breaths
Inhale 7 counts, hold inhale 2 counts, exhale 5 counts x 5 breaths
Inhale 7 counts, hold inhale 4 counts, exhale 5 counts x 5 breaths
Over time you may build up to longer inhales and longer holds but do not force this practice. The breath should be easy and fluid. When the practice is complete, sit and observe.
Mudra: Prana mudra vinyasa is a wonderful moving mudra practice that follows the energetic pattern of the breath. As you exhale, draw the backs of the hands up the center of your body and open them over your head as if you were holding a large beach ball. As you inhale, draw the backs of the hands down the center line to separate at the hips. Allow yourself to feel the decent of energy into the heart as you inhale and a dispersal out around you as you exhale. Practice for 2-5 minutes and then sit quietly to observe.
Bhavana: The quality of vayu and prana vayu is that of deep connection to all things and the connection to our vital life force. As you move through life or your asana practice, pay close attention to the quality of your breath as it is a direct reflection of the state of your mind. Smooth your breath and let your awareness settle into the space of your heart. Contemplate your connection to your own heart and how you show up and share yourself with those in your life.