“A yogini is a professional of the interior landscape, an expert conservationist of the vital life force, Prana.” -Tenzin Palmo
Maha Prana, or the “great Prana,” is that vital life force.
I think of it as my raw aliveness.
Many of us first experience Maha Prana on our yoga mats. If you’ve ever been unable to sleep after an intense backbend class, found your body shaking midway through a powerful Vinyasa flow, or experienced a strength you didn’t know you had after holding standing poses longer than you thought possible, that’s the pranic energy flowing through you.
As Tenzin Palmo advises, the longer we practice yoga the better we get at containing, conserving, and managing this magnificent force within us.
Although we often feel great after a yoga practice, in the rest of our lives we might find our energy waxing and waning and seemingly out of our control or feel out of touch with our Prana.
When we reclaim our Prana, we reclaim our life. We tap into that great energy within us and guide it where it is most nourishing, most sustaining, and most beneficial for us and the world we live in.
If you think about the power of the literal wind when it’s wild and free versus when it’s contained, funneled or focused, you can start to get an idea how powerful these vayus can be.
Cultivating awareness of these vayus can help us stay in touch with our Prana off our mats and in our lives.
The vayus govern, not only our physical energy, but also our emotional and mental energy. Without getting into too much detail, here is a brief summary of the energetic qualities of each vayu:
- prana-vayu is a receptive, receiving energy that moves inward, towards the center of the body. Think Inhale.
- apana-vayu is an energy of elimination that moves downward and outward. Think Exhale.
- samana-vayu is a unifying energy that moves from our periphery to our core.
- udana-vayu is an expressive energy that moves upward from the throat.
- vyana-vayu is a coordinating, connecting energy that integrates the whole body and extends from our core to our periphery.
Getting sensitive to the energy we experience in our bodies allows us to then find ways to redirect energy that’s not serving us or unblock energy that is stuck.
I see these vayus most clearly at work in yoga poses. For example, in Warrior 2 apana-vayu grounds my legs and pelvis while prana-vayu lifts and expands my torso and arms. When I hug into my core I tap into samana-vayu and when my head is balanced on my spine and my eyes softly focused over my fingertips I sense udana-vayu. Through vyana-vayu I feel the energy radiating from my core to my fingertips.
Knowing the names and details of the vayus is not the important thing. Sensing them at work in your body is what matters.
How do certain yoga poses and sequences make you feel and how do they affect your mental and physical energy? How does your body feel when you’re depressed or when you’re joyful? What happens to your breath?
Becoming sensitive but not judgmental is the balance we strive for when stepping into our skin.
I’ve found the sequencing of yoga poses and the quality of my breath has a major effect on my overall energy after my practice and through the rest of my day, sometimes even the rest of my week.
To that end I try to first listen to what my body actually needs on any given day and respect that by choosing a practice that will balance my energetic body as well as my physical body.
Sometimes that means just breathing without additional movement; sometimes that means a strong moving practice; and sometimes that means an evening of restorative yoga. (Two online resources I love for balanced energetic practices are here and here.)
Reclaiming our Prana is not a matter of charging in and demanding it obey us.
Reclaiming our Prana is a matter of stepping into our body with awareness so we can hear the quiet wind that blows through every cell of our being and gracefully and gratefully navigate the river of life that flows through each of us.
photo credit: Chuck Coker