Two Practices for Balancing Udana Vayu
Ujjayi Pranayama (Victory Breath) and Gaja Karani (Upper Wash)
With Sandra Anderson
Udana vayu rules the throat center, manifesting as speech and other refined expressions, and governing growth and metabolism through the thyroid and parathyroid glands. When udana is balanced and strong, we stand tall and are joyous, enthusiastic, alert, articulate, and strong-willed. Deranged udana, on the other hand, may prod us to negative, inappropriate, or excessive speech—or render us unable to express ourselves at all. Since the throat center controls reception, deranged udana may hamper the intake or use of physical nourishment, while on a mental level, new ideas or experiences can seem “hard to swallow,” leaving us obstinate, arrogant, and inflexible—in a word, stiff-necked.
Try these practices for balancing udana:
Ujjayi pranayama (victory breath) adds a slight constriction in the throat to a basic diaphragmatic breathing pattern, and thus engages and directs the flow of udana.
Gaja Karani (Upper Wash)
One of the most effective practices for treating deranged udana is the upper wash, one of the six cleansing practices (shat kriyas) of hatha yoga. The upper wash strongly activates udana by stimulating the gag reflex and mobilizing energy to relieve congestion and stagnation in the throat, bronchial tubes, and the entire upper chest. As you eliminate excess mucus in the respiratory system, you attain relief from anything that is “stuck in the craw,” so to speak. Though the upper wash is often recommended to treat bronchial asthma, allergies, congestion, and upper respiratory infections, it should not be done during the acute phase of illness. Other contraindications include ulcers, hernia, heart disease, and uncontrolled high blood pressure.
Practice on an empty stomach in the morning. Add 2 tablespoons of kosher salt to 2 quarts of lukewarm water. Squat down and drink slowly and steadily until stomach is full and you feel slightly nauseated. Don’t allow yourself to be distracted, and don’t stop drinking until you are ready to bring the water back up. Tickle the back of the throat with your finger to stimulate the gag reflex and regurgitate the water. Continue until all the water is thrown out of the stomach. Then relax and go about your day. It’s fine to have a light breakfast after the stomach settles in half an hour or so.
Text by Sandra Anderson
Learn More: Read Sandra Anderson’s companion article, Udana Vayu: The Breath of Ascent, for a yoga routine that includes the practice of ujjayi.
Download and listen to a podcast about the prana vayus, the five movements of prana (the vital life force energy), that govern different areas of the body and different physical and subtle activities.