By: Virginia Iversen
Apana vayu is a Sanskrit term that refers to the expelling of prana or life force energy, in the form of the breath, through a contracting, downward movement. Vayu refers to wind or force and apana is the downward movement of this force. In Yogic terms, cultivating apana during Yoga practice is the process of becoming aware of and enhancing the downward movement of prana through the practice of asanas and pranayama exercises. According to Yogic texts, the seat of apana vayu is said to originate from the central point of the pelvic floor. Yoga poses that are grounding cultivate apana vayu. Yoga poses that are expanding cultivate prana vayu. The balance of prana vayu and apana vayu is one of the core goals of Yoga practice according to many ancient Yogic texts.
Many standing balancing poses simultaneously cultivate prana vayu and apana vayu. Prana vayu is the expansive, upward quality of the movement of life force energy through the breath and asana practice. In order to progress in your practice of standing balancing postures, it is very important to deepen your connection with the earth as you expand towards the heavens. Tree Pose is a balancing posture that is a wonderful tool for deepening and refining both prana yayu and apana. As a metaphor, Tree Pose also brings us to the realization that in order to truly shine, extend our “branches” upwards and sway freely in the breeze, we must have a firm, grounded foundation.
* Vriksasana or Tree Pose
To practice Tree Pose, come to Mountain Pose at the front of your Yoga mat. Stand with your feet gently touching or hips’ distance apart. Take three complete Yogic breaths with your inhale and exhale being the same length. Feel the air fill your lungs completely and then let go completely with each exhale. Feel the four corners of each foot on the mat and make sure your weight is distributed evenly between your feet. Find a point on the floor approximately 8-12 inches in front of you and maintain your gaze or drishti on that point throughout your practice of Tree Pose. This one-pointed focus will help to ground you and will also help you to maintain your balance.
With your next inhale, raise your right foot and place the sole of your foot on the inside of your left calf or above your knee on your inner thigh. Do not place it directly on your knee. Feel the downward movement of your balance and attention as your raise your arms slowly over your head with your palms in prayer position. Breathe deeply and hold this pose for three to five complete Yogic breaths. The more solid and grounded you are, the more comfortable you will be as your expand upwards towards the sky with each inhalation. With your final exhalation, bring your arms back down to your sides and return to Mountain Pose. Pause for a moment to feel the reverberations of Tree Pose and repeat on the left hand side.
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