Vayu, The Element of Air
In the yogic tradition, we refer to air as “vayu,” which not just means air as a mixture of nitrogen, oxygen, carbon dioxide, and other gases, but as a dimension of movement. Among the five basic elements – earth, fire, water, air, and ether – which make us and everything in the universe, air is the most accessible and relatively the easiest element to gain reasonable mastery over. Hence, a large number of yogic practices are structured around vayu or air, though in the composition of the body, air makes up only a small percentage.
Most of the yogic practices that involve an element of breathing are aimed towards vayu or prana vayu. Vayu is the element – prana vayu is one of the pancha pranas. We are in a womb of prana, which is the atmospheric bubble. This larger prana breaks down into eighty-four pranas. Out of these, five pranas can cover the day-to-day requirements of most human beings. These pancha pranas are sufficient to keep your body and mind well, and yourself spiritually alive. Another ten are needed for someone who is into occult practices. The remaining pranas are generally too subtle to explore and experience. The prana vayu is an inward movement between the pit of the throat and the navel. At least sixty percent of the process of Shakti Chalana Kriya that we teach is aimed towards prana vayu. We focus on this element because the quality of the air that we breathe and how we breathe largely determines people’s surface experience of life.
I would say almost ninety-nine percent of the people today are only concerned about how to navigate their way through the world in a reasonably pleasant and successful manner. There are very few who seek to become perceptive to another dimension of life. In this context, vayu and prana vayu become most significant, because a certain level of mastery over prana instantly enhances the sharpness of the intellect. That means the practice of Shakti Chalana Kriya can leave you a little smarter. Your emotions get a little more stable, organized, and sweet. And you can do some physical activity better than you used to. For most people, these three aspects are all they want in life.
The impact of the air that we breathe is very immediate. You can go without food for eight to ten days without causing damage to the system. You can go without water for up to three-and-a-half days without causing damage to the system. But most people can go without air for only three-and-a-half to five minutes. With some practice, you can stay without air for longer periods, but this involves a little bit of cheating. If you manage to keep your metabolic activity very low, you do not need to breathe through your nostrils but you breathe through your skin. As there is perspiration, there is also respiration, or movement of air through the skin. If you substantially activate the prana vayu, you can survive for a longer period of time without breathing through your nostrils.
In this context, the Shakti Chalana Kriya is a phenomenal practice. We have taught it to a few million people over the years. If all of them had kept it up and grown with it, the world would have changed by now. Growing with it means – if your practice was initially only forty minutes, over time, you extend it to one-and-a-half to two hours. If, let us say, at least one hundred thousand people were doing Shakti Chalana Kriya the way it should be done, it would already change the atmosphere in the world.
So, what can we do with air? We can pollute it. We can purify it. Above all, we can use air as a force of transformation in our lives. There is a certain immediacy about air or vayu, which makes it very responsive and gives it the ability to transform or to bring about changes very quickly. And of all the elements, wind is the one that can generate maximum force. That is true both in the outside atmosphere and within the human system. If you learn to activate it, it will make you phenomenally strong – not necessarily in terms of muscular strength but in terms of life. A certain amount of sadhana is needed to activate the prana vayu. The standard is that generally, if you do 1,008 days of Shakti Chalana Kriya without a break, then your prana reaches a certain level of activity. The sheer energy that you carry will set you apart.
You will seem to have a limitless amount of energy. There is no such thing as limitless energy, though – only in other people’s perception, it appears like that. If your prana vayu is really active, you will be able to manage your time well. Life is a combination of time and energy. If you keep your energy or the prana vayu very intense, you will seem to have more time. Activity will happen out of the effervescence of your energy, not out of effort. If you keep up the Shakti Chalana Kriya, your ability to be active will increase immensely.
Today, an increasing number of people need to take longer breaks from their work, in the sense of sabbaticals and the like. This need arises when you do not manage your prana vayu well, and there are many reasons to it. One thing is – if you eat food that generates gas or air in the lower belly, below the navel or manipuraka, it disturbs the movement of air or vayu from the navel to the pit of the throat. The area between the navel and the pit of the throat is the main activity zone of prana. When you eat bad food and have gas, you will experience a great lack of energy in the system, because the prana vayu will not function well. You have gotten the air in the wrong place. It should move between the navel and the pit of the throat – in this area, it is powerful.
If the prana vayu moves below the navel, the effervescence in life is gone. The body feels like a sack of potatoes. By the way – potatoes literally cause inertia in the system because they lower the prana vayu. And of course, any food that is moving towards putrefaction has the same effect. This includes food that you buy in the supermarket, which is stored for long periods of time, and has no pranic value. Even if it is not yet beyond the expiration date, it is slowly moving towards putrefaction. In the yogic culture, one important aspect of managing the prana vayu is to eat food within an hour-and-a-half, or a maximum of four hours after cooking. Certain substances must be eaten even more quickly, or else they will create gas in the system. Once there is gas in your system, you cannot master your prana vayu.
Not only yogic practices – even the way you keep yourself, the way you breathe, walk, sit, and stand can help you gain a certain amount of control over prana vayu. Every human being has some control over the five elements – otherwise, you would not be alive. For life to move to a higher possibility, having mastery over the elements is important. Vayu or air is the best dimension to work with for part-time yogis, because it is relatively easy to master. Yogic practices that focus on vayu give instant results – especially on the level of your mind and emotions. By increasing the prana vayu, you can solve mental problems. The mind will get much more organized. But even if you master the element of air, your karmic mill will still keep rolling. Generally, it will move even faster than before, because it has a clear run now. That means your karma is getting worked out faster – but you may have a more eventful life.
The idea of taking charge of the element of air is to bring about health and an instant sense of wellbeing. If you activate vayu and it reaches a certain peak, naturally agni or the fire element will follow to some extent – maybe to twenty-five to thirty percent. If you have mastery over the element of air, the element of fire will partially come along with it. A lot of people lack fire, which is a big problem in life. They may do things, but nothing will come out of it. Once the fire is on, you are much better than the way you were. Though fire only makes up a small percentage of the human system, in many ways, it is everything. It also gets you closer to the subtle element of ether.
Vayu has a great influence on all the day-to-day things that people aspire for. The process of activating vayu is an important step in one’s growth. Vayu-based practices can bring you a higher level of intellectual capability, energy, and effectiveness in the world.
A dynamic yogic practice to enhance the flow of prana, taught as part of Isha’s Shoonya Intensive program