Prana and Subtle Anatomy: The Chakras, Nadis, and Vayus
Subtle anatomy refers to energetic systems and processes that correspond to the physical body, but are invisible to most humans. With regular yoga practice one may become more aware of the subtle systems in their own bodies, and yoga teachers may begin to see or sense them in their students as well. The subtle energy body is not made of blood, bone, or tissues, but of prana . Prana is that vital, life-sustaining force that enlivens all living things. Pra means first, and na means smallest, so prana refers to the most fundamental unit of energy that allows all mental, emotional, and physical processes to occur. When prana flows freely we experience radiant health and wellbeing. When it is obstructed in a certain area, physical, mental or emotional health may deteriorate.
The seven chakras are energy centres that receive and express prana, or life force energy. Chakra (pronounced with a hard “ch” as in cheese, not “sh” as in show) means wheel. The chakra system refers to seven wheels of spinning energy that correspond to the major branching of the nervous system within the spinal column, affecting organs within the physical body. Each chakra has an approximate physical location, a colour associated with it, and qualities associated with it
Muladhara – Root chakra, located at the base of the spine/pelvic floor, the colour red, element of earth, qualities of foundation, survival, and family/tribe
Swadhisthana – Sacral chakra, located at the lower abdomen/sexual organs, the colour orange, element of water, qualities of emotion, desire, movement, change
Manipura – Solar plexus, located at the navel area, the colour yellow, rules personal power, will, autonomy, and metabolism or assimilation of nourishment, both food and learning
Anahata – Heart chakra, the colour green, related to love, compassion, and peace, the integrator of opposites in the psyche: mind/body, male/female, ego/soul
Vishuddha – Throat chakra, the colour blue, related to communication, expression, and creativity
Ajna – Third eye, located between the eyebrows, the color indigo, related to intuition and psychic knowing, allowing us to “see” the big picture
Sahasrara – Crown Chakra, top of the head, the color purple, connecting us to pure consciousness and awareness, bringing spiritual connection and bliss
The first six are considered the major chakras, while the seventh lies beyond the physical realm. Each of the six major chakras is believed to influence or govern the bodily functions near its region of the spine. The chakras can be energized and vital, or sometimes blocked or dim. Through awareness, breathing, postures, and visualization they can become more balanced. Specific postures and sequences can be used to enhance certain chakras. Further information can be obtained through reading and workshops.
Nadis are energy channels that carry prana . The three main nadis are the ida , the pingala , and the shushumna . The central nadi is the shushumna, which corresponds to the spinal column, along which the chakras are located. The ida and pingala wind around the shushumna in a helix-like spiral, with the ida relating to the right brain, and left side of the body, terminating at the left nostril, and the pingala relating to the left brain, the right side of the body, and terminating at the right nostril. Nadi Shodhana , or alternate nostril breathing, is a pranayama practice intended to balance prana . There are said to be as many as 72,000 nadis , or subtle channels, in the human body. But these three are the only ones you need to know!
The five Pranas are the five vital currents of energy, sometimes referred to as the Prana Vayus, or just Vayus. Vayu means “wind”, and refers to the ways in which prana moves within our bodies. The practices of hatha yoga can optimize the functioning of the vayus and bring them under our conscious control. Awareness of the five vayus can be helpful in choosing yoga postures, breathing exercises and sequences that are energetically appropriate to balance your students’ energy.
Prana Vayu while prana is the general name of the life force, the prana vayu is one of its specific functions. The prana vayu governs the region from the throat to the bottom of the heart, is associated with the element of air, and has an upward motion associated with the inhalation.
Apana Vayu governs the lower body from the navel down through the legs, is associated with the element of earth, and has a downward moving force associated with exhalation and elimination, including waste as well as reproduction and childbirth
Samana Vayu is the power of metabolism and digestive fire, located in the solar plexus and controlling the functioning of the abdominal organs. Samana vayu is concerned with discriminating nutrients from toxins, assimilating information to make sound choices, and be powerful in the world.
Udana Vayu Expels air upwardly through speech and sound, ruling the region of the throat and head, and associated with the element of ether, its function is expressive and articulative
Vyana Vayu Pervades the whole body, associated with the element of water, its function is cohesive, connecting the nerves, veins, muscles, and joints, and is felt on the periphery, especially the skin.