In the short time I have been studying to teach yoga, I have learned so much about the history of yoga and the spiritual practice and beliefs that are the basis for the physical practice we are all so familiar with.
The poses that we practice in what you would picture as a typical yoga class are called "asana." This term refers to the physical postures that we take when doing yoga. While asana is often the only part of a yoga practice many of us are familiar with, it is one of the eight limbs of yoga that make up the spiritual and physical practice.
You may already notice that there is often a focus on the breath in yoga classes you have taken. If you've never tried yoga, it is common for a teacher to help you sync your breath to your movements, cueing you to inhale and exhale when it makes sense with your physical movements.
The breath is an integral part of yoga, and as I am learning more about the foundations of yoga I am fascinated by the way this ties in with my perception of the breath as a wind player, and specifically as a flutist.
Prana is the life force energy, a universal energy which flows in currents in and around the body. Yoga often divides it into five distinct vayus. In Sanskrit, vayu means "wind", while the root of the word (va) translates to "that which flows." Vayus are also thought of as energies.
Already, you may sense the connection to playing your instrument - we are often trying to communicate something about ourselves or connect through our sound as made by our own wind.
There are distinct differences between the five vayus, and a familiarity with them can allow us to be more perceptive to subtleties of the body - something musicians are used to doing and need to be quite skilled at.
Prana-vayu is inward moving breath which flows in and up from the heart through the head.
Take a breath in and notice how you can feel opened, lifted and energized by this energy going up through your body.
Apana-vayu is downward moving breath, which flows down and out through the body taking toxins or unwanted substances like carbon dioxide with it.
Breathe in and notice how you can feel opened, grounded, and rooted as the breath travels down through the body.
Now. take a moment to breathe with your focus on prana and apana, allowing yourself to be energized by each breath in and releasing anything that is not serving you on each out-breath.
Samana-vayu translates to "balancing air" and unites the upward and downward energy of prana and apana. Samana energy swirls around your midsection where it brings us balance.
Take a moment to breathe in and out, noticing the way you expand through the front, back, and sides of your midsection.
Vyana-vayu is outward moving and travels from the center of the body through the limbs at the borders of the body.
Breathe and notice how you can feel your breath reach your arms and legs, hands and feet.
Take several long breaths in and out, noticing how you can feel expansion and release in your midsection as the air travels in to the center of the body and out through your limbs.
Udana-vayu is "that which travels upward" and is centered around the neck and head. It's expression is verbal (or, in the case of a musician, based in our tone or musical voice).
Breathe in and out, noticing the way you feel the breath move through your throat - try sighing audibly on the out-breath.
Now that you've given yourself a moment to consider all the ways the breath energizes us, and helps us release and verbalize, consider how this relates to your use of air when playing your instrument.
Our air energizes us to play (prana and apana), allowing us to feel both the energy to create sound and the grounding that we need to resonate. Our air also opens us to being resonant while carrying our sound away from us (samana and viyana).
Finally, our air carries our true expression as we communicate through the sound of our instrument (udana). It radiates out from our heart with the messages we hope our music will project.
There is a Buddhist scripture titled Udana that is translated as "inspired utterances," and I love the connotation of that translation in relation to music.
The next time you warm up on your instrument, use some long tones to consider the five vayus:
- Spend time focusing on each vayu individually as you do your long tone exercise.
- Do you notice anything new about the breath moving through your body or your perception of the breath?
- Does focusing on the breath in this way make you more aware of subtle movements or changes in the body? What about subtle changes in your sound or resonance?
The five vayus can help us balance ourselves in life, but I believe they can help us balance ourselves especially while playing our instruments where our attention often gets swept away as we overexert ourselves in the musical task at hand.