There is a popular shloka by Scholar Charaka describing the functions of Vata/Vayu.

It deals with the normal activities of vata or vayu, one of the three doshas on whose vitiation, provocation or deficiency disorders of various types start and bring unhappiness to the individuals. This passage by Charaka deals with in these nut – shell the whole physiology of vata.1

Vayustantra Yantra Dharah – meaning Vayu or vata is responsible for the normal working of the tantras and the yantras of the body. Here the body is not just human body, but it can be of any animal or a living entity. Here Tantra means a system such as digestive system, nervous system, cardiovascular system, endocrine system etc. Yantra denotes an organ as such, a viscus.

Pranodanasamanavyanapanatma – It means Vata/Vayu is the soul of Pancha or five pranas. Ayurveda and Yoga philosophy describes 5 categories of Vata.

Vata Type Prana Udana Samana Vyana Apana
Location in the body Chest, Head Throat Navel Whole body Pelvis
Functions Governs intake, inspiration, propulsion, forward momentum Governs growth, speech, expression, ascension, upward movement Governs assimilation, discernment, inner absorption, consolidation Governs circulation on all levels, expansiveness, pervasiveness Governs elimination, downward and outward movement
Working with this Vayu in Asana Standing poses, seated forward folds, seated twists Warrior pose, chair pose, eagle pose, seated forward folds Standing, seated and supine twists, Planks and chaturanga dandasana, Forward folds, Arm balances Back bends, lateral/side bending postures, Sun Salutations, Savasana Standing poses, seated forward fold, seated twists

 

Ayurvedic texts describe 5 categories of Vata. Names given to these categories are the same as given above in charakiyan quotation. Prana is inhaled throughout the body by each and every cell to get freshness and energy. The moment it is stopped a person leaves this world. Its supply from outer atmosphere resuscitates the individual if given in time. Udana is that which is exhaled, which is to be held up for a definite effort or push and which causes speech and vocal music. The samana is responsible for the digestion. This digestion may take place in alimentary canal or in tissues or in cells. A unicellular creature amoeba takes up a food particle; this particle is ingested and then digested. It is the samana part of vata which does this work. The vyana helps cause circulation of blood or lymph possible. It moves with the vessels or allows fluid to move in the hollow spaces. Movement of extra cellular fluid to venules, movement of the fluid of venule to a vein and from vein to the heart and from the heart to the aorta, thence to larger and then smaller arteries from there to arterioles and from there to capillaries. Vyana actively participates in this work. Apana is meant for the disposal of the waste products formed from the ingestion of materials as food. It excretes fecal matter, urine, sweat, menstrual fluid, and the ovum and the seminal fluid. The last two are also the excretion though meant for continuation of the race.2

In Yoga, the direction of the vital energy is represented by different Vayus.

  1. Apana Vayu rules downwards and outward movement in the body. When we direct the vital energy/Prana in the downward direction to the base of the spine and then out through the legs and feet we connect with the earth feeling a sense of being grounded.

How to experience Apana Vayu?

Inhale deeply and sense the flow of prana downwards up to the base of spine. Now gently exhale sensing the feeling of prana out through the feet and legs.

 

  1. Vyana Vayu moves from center outwards. Based in the area of the heart, Vyana vayu represents the whole body, especially the skin and the energy that radiates past the boundary of our skin.

How to experience Vyana vayu?

Inhale deeply through the nose and feel the breath up to the heart region. When you gently breath out, feel the energy flowing out through every pore of the skin outward.

  1. The flow of Samana-Vayu moves from the periphery of the body to the center.

How to experience samana Vayu?

Sit in an erect manner with your spine straight. Relax the body, inhale and exhale feel the breath rising and falling in the front, sides and back of the torso.

  1. Udana Vayu relates to the upward movement of our bodies and our perspectives.

How to experience Udana Vayu?

Breathe from the feet or pelvic floor (if seated) all the way up the spine and exhale through the throat. Or close your eyes as you inhale and exhale and feel the flow of energy circulating around and through the head and neck.

  1. Prana Vayu the flow is inwards and upward.

How to experience prana vayu?

Close your eyes, sit or stand with a long spine and relaxed body, and as you inhale feel an energy flowing up the torso from the belly to the third-eye.

Clinical Studies for understanding the concept of Pancha Vayus –

  • Vata dosha is the most important factor of Tridosha which is responsible for controlling all types of movements. Among five vata dosha, prana vayu is situated in the head and travel across urah (thorax region) and kantha (throat region). It is reasonable for functioning of spitting, sneezing, eructation, respiration, and deglutition  and  also  maintains  the  proper functioning  of budhhi  (intelligence/judgement),  hridaya  (heart),  chitta  (mind). Here head refers to brain and brain stem as it controls all these functions. All the functions of prana vayu are compared as per modern medical science. Basically, the functions of limbic system, cranial nerves, cerebral cortex, basal ganglia and other structures might be compared with the functions of prana vata. So, we can easily understand the basic principles of Ayurveda which is badly required in this present era. Most of the vatik disorders discussed in Ayurveda are being diagnosed under neurological disorders in modern medicine.  Very few works have been achieved on conceptual features of vata.3 By collecting basic materials from Ayurveda classics an attempt has been made to correlate the physiological activity of prana vayu with special reference to neurophysiology.
  • Among five vata dosha, udana vayu is located in urah(thorax region), and travel across nasa (nasal passage), nabhi (umblicus), and gala (throat region). It is responsible for the production of speech, effort, energy and maintenance of strength required for the purpose. It also helps in remembrance of vocabulary required to make the speech meaningful. That’s why it is considered as pavanottama. It collaborates with prana and vyana vayu to perform most of its functions. All the functions of udana vayu can be compared with physiological functions of anatomical structure of contemporary modern medical science. Basically, Broca’s area, Wernicke’s area, thymus gland, serotonin like happy hormone, motor area of cerebral cortex and other structures might be compared with the functions of udana vayu. 4

 

The focus of Vayus while practicing Yoga can help gain more consciousness and awareness about one’s body and can assure health and vitality of body and mind.

 

References –

  1. Ancient Science of Life Vol No. I No. 4 April 1982, Pages 184 – 191
  2. Ancient Science of Life Vol No. I No. 4 April 1982, Pages 184 – 191
  3. Moharana and Roushan 2018 Greentree Group Publishers © IJAPC Int J Ayu Pharm Chem 2018 Vol. 9 Issue 1
  4. Moharana and Roushan 2018 Greentree Group Publishers © IJAPC Int J Ayu Pharm Chem 2018 Vol. 9 Issue 1

 

Photo by Patrick Malleret on Unsplash

Article by Dr. Arya Krishna, BAMS