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Apana Vayu: Downward Moving energy
2 February 2016

Apana Vayu: Downward Moving energy
2 February 2016

Apana Vayu: Downward Moving energy

In my last newsletter I introduced the Prana Vayus, and explored the first of the 5: (confusingly called) Prana Vayu. Now we will look at Apana Vayu. Apana Vayu is the downward current of energy, originating at the navel and descending through the legs and feet. Associated with exhalation, it concerns the body's many processes of elimination, of both the eliminatory system but also reproduction and childbirth. This Vayu lives in the realm of the first and second chakras, and as such is connected to the elements of earth and water.   Emotionally, free flowing Apana Vayu helps us feel safe and grounded enough to let go of what doesn't serve us. Poses that reflect the energy of Apana Vayu might include standing poses, hip openers, poses where our limbs connect to the earth, another surface like a wall, or another part of the body. It also includes poses where our limbs cross or touch one another, like in the pose above, Ardha Baddha Padma Pascimottanasana: one leg crosses the other in half lotus, one arm wraps behind to bind with the foot of the lotus leg.

Initially, the experiences of Prana Vayu and Apana Vayu serve to confine us within the experience of being in a body.
These two Vayus, working in opposition to each other, are at the root of our being held within the physical body. In the Dhyana Bindu Upanishad there is a description of this duality: the soul is described as being like a bird that has its foot tied by a string to a stone. Prana Vayu is the force of the bird flapping its wings to soar upwards. Apana Vayu is the gravitational force—the energy of the rock that draws the bird back downward. Thus with the breath, we have this experience of both opening upward and being drawn downward. It is in the opposing forces between the two (inhaling, exhaling) that we remain identified with the experience of the body.

What I find most intriguing about Apana Vayu is something I alluded to in my discussion of Prana Vayu. In Prana Vayu the energy is about expansion, and lift, but embedded in that template is an inherent paradox: inhalation, which informs the expansive and upward energy of Prana Vayu, requires that the diaphragm actually contract and draw downward, in order for the lungs to fill. Similarly, though the energy of Apana Vayu is downward, when you exhale, the diaphragm actually floats upward. To feel these seemingly contradictory energies and directions within the body, try sitting for a few minutes, eyes closed. Feel the natural movement of the breath. Feel the natural buoyant rise that occurs on inhalation, but simultaneously feel the diaphragm contracting and moving down. Feel on exhalation a clear downward drop and release, but feel also the diaphragm floating upward. The pairing of opposites within the movement of the vayus within our bodies fascinates me. The paradoxical experience demonstrates that within exhalation is contained the intention and energy of inhalation, and vice versa. This paradox implies a felt experience of the promise of transformation—of the ordinary and mundane transformed into something else entirely. And that alchemy of transformation, whereby ordinary energies are transformed into something other, hints at the non-ordinary experiences of the Self, the promise that yoga offers us the chance to feel something extraordinary and even transcendent. That process begins to unfold more when we get to the third Prana Vayu,
Samana Vayu, which I will explore in the next newsletter. 

As before, I invite you to explore the ways in which you experience Apana Vayu in exhalation, in class, in your practice, and in seated meditation. I also encourage you to explore the felt experience of the two together, Prana Vayu and Apana Vayu, and the paradoxical nature of these energies as described above.

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