Nadis: Pranic Energy Channels of the Body
In a previous article on Yoga Physiology, I wrote about the Pancha Kosha (the Five Layers of Existence) and mentioned the topic of Nadis or Energy Channels. In this article, I will discuss Nadis in a little more detail. Please remember this is still a very basic overview written for those just entering the topic of yoga physiology and the practice of tantra.
In classical yoga physiology, nadis are energetic pathways which form a matrix throughout the human body. These channels are not considered as physical, measurable or dissectible structures. They are “that which underlies and sustains life within the body.” In higher states of meditation and yoga practice the nadis can be perceived as flows of light, heat, color, or sound.
Nadis are conduits for Prana (Qi or vital life force). The classical texts suggest there are somewhere between 72,000 and 7.2 million nadis. These are big numbers and are more philosophical than practical. For our practice, we will concern ourselves with only five primary Nadis: Ida, Pingala, Arohan, Awarohan, and Sushuma. With regards to our practices, these channels are the main conduits for energy flow.
- Sushuma: the central channel, runs from the mooladhara chakra near the perinium to the top of the head and is considered the channel of balance.
- Ida Nadi: follows a path up the left side of the body and represents the moon or cool energy.
- Pingala Nadi: runs up the right side of the body and represents the sun or hot energy.
- Arohan Nadi: travels the front of the body between the mooladhara chakra and the top of the head.
- Awarohan Nadi: travels the back of the body between the top of the head and the mooladhara at the base of the body.
(These last two channels, the Arohan Nadi and Awarohan Nadi are primarily used in advanced Hatha, Kriya and Tantric yoga practices, thus I will save the discussion on these topics for a later writing).
As for Ida and Pingala, the flow of these channels (moon and sun) represents the constant ebb and flow of human existence. To see the importance of this concept we can look to the term “Hatha” yoga.
The term Hatha itself signifies Ida and Pingala in that the word “hatha” is made of two root mantras: Ham representing sun energy or Pingala; and Tham representing moon energy or Ida. Thus, the major premise of Hatha Yoga is to find a natural balance of these two forces within the body.
Much like acupuncture in Chinese Medicine, or the use of marma points in Ayurveda, the Asanas (postures) used in classical Hatha Yoga are designed to improve health by freeing up blockages of prana and facilitate the free flow of vital energy throughout the body. Any other use is simply gymnastics.
As mentioned, Pingala represents the solar polarity. It produces physical vitality, dynamic activity, and tension. It is the extroverting force and generally dominates during the daylight hours.
Ida represents the lunar polarity. It is cold in nature and corresponds with the parasympathetic nervous system. Ida relates to relaxation, thinking, and passive activity. Ida is generally dominant during the evening hours and sleep.
Ida and Pingala dominance is directly related to the flow of breath in the nostrils. At any given moment one nostril is more open than the other. When the flow of breath is stronger in the left nostril, it indicates that Ida is dominant. When the flow is stronger in the right nostril it indicates that Pingala is dominant. When you are sleepy or drowsy, you are likely to notice the left nostril flows easier. Conversely, when you are physically active, the right nostril will be more active. Observing this phenomenon, the ancient yogis devised breathing and meditation techniques to regulate the flows of energy in order to regulate the experiences of the pranic body.