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Breath and the five Vayus: Catherine Carrigan explains the magic of the yogic flows of breath.

Whether you are practicing hatha yoga, lifting weights, running, or engaging in any form of exercise, you can gain better control of your mind, life energy and performance by deeply expanding your breath.

Many disciplines explore the vast healing potential of the breath. In Integrative Yoga Therapy, we say that virtually any ailment can be healed by correcting the flow of breathing. Why? Breath directs the flow of prana, or life energy, in the body. Simply by learning to breathe as fully as possible, the energetic system that feeds the physical body can be opened up and healed.

Those of us who have studied the association between breathing and depression have found that there are particular patterns of breathing associated with each mood we experience. An anxious person will have short, shallow, upper chest breathing. In states of joy, the breath is full, deep and relaxed. Even if you are not exercising, you can change your mood by attuning to your breath, noticing where you feel blocked, and deepening and opening the lungs.

Learning deep yogic breathing is the gateway for all those who seek to heal the heart--not only emotionally, but also physically. The lungs and the heart are directly connected.

You have the power to change your EKG--the scientific measurement of your heart simply by breathing deeply and evenly. An expert in EKG can look at your heart pattern and tell, without knowing anything about your biography, whether you are anxious or angry, depressed or stressed.

In states of anger, for example, the EKG and the breath seem to quiver. With a full yogic breath, the EKG looks like a beautiful, easy ocean wave, oscillating easily up and down. In this type of breathing, the body begins to produce its own natural antidepressants, lowers the stress hormone cortisol and begins to produce DHEA, the number one youth hormone of the body, which fights fat and makes us feel young and energetic.

Those who seek to maximize their sports performance understand that the breath is the first indication whether an athlete is in a peak performance flow state. Under stress, the first thing we do is interrupt the flow, narrowing the gaze of the eyes and freezing the muscles.

My own personal history as an athlete is amusing. I can remember joining a boot camp. After the second hour running up and down Kennesaw Mountain near Atlanta, I was passing all the men. They asked me what my primary mode of exercise was. No, I am not a runner, I am a yogi! A similar story brings me great glee. On a recent bike tour, I passed the gung-ho male bikers simply by using deep yogic breathing while they were panting furiously, mouths open and breaths shortening.

Those of us who understand breath know it is the power of athletics. If you learn to use the full power of your lungs you too can run farther, hit the golf ball with grace and ease and win a race while others are still gasping their way to the finish lines.

To harness your breath, you must understand it. The science of yoga describes five flows of breath. All five flows have to be working well for aperson to be completely healthy, and to be a great athlete.

Prana Vayu is the upward flow. It nourishes the brain and the eyes. According to Ayurvedic medicine, disorders of the upward flow of breath may be a factor in asthma, anxiety, insomnia and ringing of the ears.

Apana Vayu is the downward flow. I find that many of my clients with high blood pressure are not exhaling fully and experience profound, measurable shifts in their heart when they learn to let go more fully. I have had several who were able to get off high blood pressure medication simply by learning to breathe. Apana vayu nourishes the organs of digestion and elimination. It is essential for feelings of tranquillity and groundedness.

Vyana Vayu is crucial for everyone who exercises. It is the breath that radiates outward from the navel to the arms and legs, literally bringing life energy to the extremities. Another description of this breath is naval radiation, the first breathing reflex to develop in the womb. If you don't feel like moving, it may be because your vital energy is literally stuck in the core of your body, often because of a subconscious unwillingness to experience buried emotions. Vyana vayu rules movements in the body that proceed from inside to outside. Out of balance, it can lead to high blood pressure and heart rhythm irregularities.

Udana Vayu is important for women who want to maintain their thyroid function and metabolism. In Ayurvedic tradition, thyroid abnormalities are often accompanied by a disorders of this aspect of breath. Udana vayu is a circular flow of breath around the neck and head. Out of balance, it can "also lead to sore throats, coughs, and memory problems.

Finally, Samana Vayu is a circular flow of breath around the waist. It corresponds to a special acupuncture meridian in Chinese medicine called the belt meridian. Its principal movement is from outside to inside. Samana Vayu helps to maintain the digestive fire. Disorders with this breath may lead to indigestion, diarrhea, constipation, or malabsorption.

Throughout your day, you can gauge your level of relaxation by noticing these aspects. If you are not breathing, chances are your performance is already compromised. If an aspect of your breathing is continually compromised, a specialized kinesiologist can help you identify how to switch it back on. You can also meditate on the lines of energy for each breath, and through awareness, learn to open each one until your lungs are full and your heart is open and full of joy.


Meditation on the Five Vayus (The word vayu means winds.)

Lie on the floor, grounding your body and relaxing. Can you feel the upward flow as you inhale? This is prana vayu.

Can you feel the downward flow as you exhale? This is apana vayu.

Can you feel the breath radiating life energy from your navel into your arms, legs and head? This is vyana vayu.

Can you feel a circular movement of breath around the head? This is udana vayu.

Lastly, can you feel the breath around the waist, so that you are breathing in three dimensions? This is samana vayu.

If any flow of breath feels difficult, relax. Visualize the breath. Imagine the energy of the breath flowing more easily. Feel for any blocks in yourmind, body or spirit, and ask for guidance to let them go.


Repeat this exercise daily until all five vayus flow easily.

When the vayus flow, let go of any consciousness of breathing and allow yourself to slip deeper into meditation.

Catherine Carrigan is president of, an Atlanta-based resource for personal and professional transformation.
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Author:Carrigan, Catherine
Publication:New Life Journal
Date:Feb 1, 2003
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