What is apana vayu?
Apana vayu is an aspect of your vata, the principle of movement. Apana’s job is to support movements in the lower part of the body from the navel and below. Mainly, apana controls all movements that go downwards and out:
an ovum as it travels in the fallopian tubes
the second phase of a complete expiration
all movements of the lower region of your back
all movement of the pelvic region (hips and thighs)
Apana is responsible for enervating all of the organs and systems concerned with the above functions. As a result, keeping the movement of apana healthy is akin to keeping this lower abdominal zone structures in good working order, keeping the energy flowing in these different places:
Colon ( large intestine)
Lower abdominal muscles
Pelvic floor muscles
Hips and pelvis
Apana as an aspect of vata expresses the following qualities via its various functions or movements (contractions, peristalsis etc) which are somewhat sporadic, moving in a downward direction.
Apart from mobile, these qualities are not so obvious, but they will be if you ‘accumulate’ to much of them, as you will soon see things going wrong with the way apana does its job. Just make a list of movement-type dysfunctions of the above systems and structures, here are some examples:
Frequent loose stools
IBS (irritable bowel syndrome)
Lower abdominal bloating
Urinary track infection
Lower back stiffness and pain (lumbago)
Menstrual difficulty (insufficient, excessive, painful menstruation)
Hip joint pain or immobility
Prostate congestion and prostate diseases
The above list is not exhaustive. Basically any pathology involving a dysfunctional part of your lower body anatomy and physiology, especially if it involves a poor or inappropriate expression of movement, involves aggravated apana vayu.
According to ayurveda, prevention is better than cure. Most ayurvedic treatments are built upon the foundation of a very simple intuitive principle:
Opposites balance / like increases like
This axiom is used to help treat a freaked out or gummed up apana vayu, as much as it is used to prevent disturbances. The main idea is to encourage healthy movement in apana’s different domains by using therapeutic movements, and by seeking therapies that exhibit the opposite qualities to vata.
Apana often gets stagnant, which can cause muscle weakness. Movements become reduced or limited. Apana can also become cranky or unsteady, causing movements to become excessive of erratic (such as the alternating movements in IBS). Getting this movement principle back in shape must be built upon solid foundation of neuro-muscular reeducation. This includes the inner muscles (sphincters, viscera etc.).
In most disturbances of apana vayu, we need to reeducate, reanimate, strengthen, tonify, stabilize and relax the lower trunk, abdomen and pelvic zone using:
Lower back and pelvic exercises (flexing, twisting and squatting mainly)
Pelvic floor exercises (kegal exercises)
Full dynamic breathing to encourage complete expiration
Adopt a squatting posture when peeing and pooing (see http://www.squattypotty.com)
Learn to sit in a squatting posture, or other more ‘natural’ seating postures
Massaging with warm oil from navel to thighs and all in-between then apply a gentle form of local heat to the area. All vata imbalances are treated with oil and heat
Dietary measures to balance apana vayu
Whether or not we are able to remove any antagonistic uses of our lower back and pelvic zone, the above interventions will be of great benefit if integrated into daily life. But In addition to the above primary movement-based interventions, a few simple dietary practices can also help with maintaining healthy apana and its functions. In particular, a diet that encourages regular healthy bowel movements will keep apana and its primary sites, the colon, rectum and anus, in good working order. These guidelines are general and focus on encouraging good movement of apana in the G.I. Tract in general using opposite qualities of vata dosha:
Encourage regularity in your eating habits. This is perhaps the most overlooked issue in today’s culture towards therapeutic nutrition. All forms of vata, especially apana, benefit when we do things in harmony with the natural rhythms of day/night etc. Perhaps the most important two suggestions in this respect are to try to eat your meals at regular times, and avoiding skipping meals.
Avoid ice cold drinks and foods. Consider drinking only hot foods and drinks, especially if your transit is sluggish or if you have chronic constipation. It is especially important to avoid cold drinks at meal times. Another good practice is to drink 2-3 cups of warm to hot water as soon as you wake up in the morning.
Avoid eating too many raw, dry, rough, crispy foods. Favor cooked, soft, smooth, unctuous foods. This is a general recommendation for treating vata. This recommendation has to be applied in the correct context, i.e. assuming that the basic diet is following a wholefoods plant based model, low in animal foods, high in vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds and depending on your capacity to digest them, well cooked unrefined cereals and legumes such as oats, quinoa, barley, buckwheat, wheat etc. While ayurvedic nutrition is a very versatile and individual approach, this basic ground rule is more or less respected by most modern proponents.
A diet that results in symptomless digestion, alertness (not sleepiness) after main meals, and regular healthy bowel movements (1-3 per day, well formed like a ripe banana) is probably suited to you and supporting your apana vayu. If not, it is worth making some changes along the above lines. The domain of apana extends outwith the lower region of the G.I. Tract, however, most chronic apana imbalances are at least in part caused by a chronic presence of ama (toxins born from the consequences of partially digested foods) in the large intestine and rectum.
Herbs for apana vayu
Ayurveda offers a range of herbal solutions to support the correct function of apana. Depending on the specific aspect of apana you aim to treat, different single herbs and formulas exist. It is possible however to highlight a few good general tonics for apana and its overall welbeing:
Valerian root is one of the best plants for correcting imbalances of apana vayu. It is very effective for clearing sama vata (ama produced by aggravated vata in the colon). It helps to re-educate apana to move correctly. It is a mild laxative, purifies the intestines, as well as having a calming or grounding effect. Small doses are well tolerated by most people, however, due to its heating nature, it should be used with caution if there is high pitta and in pitta types.
Triphala formula is a mix of three dried fruits in powdered for. It is perhaps one of the best natural remedies to protect and rejuvenate the intestines, skin, eyes and bones, and especially, the large intestine. It is a very useful overall tonic in its own right. Regular use of small amounts 1-2 grams per day before bedtime is safe for all body types and will help to target the colon and support healthy elimination.