what are nadis in yoga

Ah! The beautiful journey of becoming a yogi! You’ve been practicing asanas, doing breathing exercises, and chanting mantras. But you’re not there yet. The physical aspect of yoga is just the tip of the iceberg.

Now, you’re learning all this stuff about your astral body, prana, and Nadis.

Similar to our nervous system, our astral body has thousands of channels that energy flows through – those channels are Nadis and they are a VITAL part of a yogi’s journey.

In this article, we’ll explore what Nadis are, the different types of Nadis in humans, and the significance of Nadis in embracing the true essence of yoga.

What Are Nadis?

The Sanskrit word ‘nadi’ translates to ‘tube’ or ‘flow’, or as we call the Nadis, channel. 

In terms of the Nadis, it refers to the astral channels that energy or psychic current uses to run through the astral body. Just like our physical body has an elaborate central nervous system, our astral body has one too—a network of Nadis—which you can experience through self-enlightenment.

Because these tubes or channels aren’t tangible like blood vessels and arteries, they aren’t something people have been able to do experiments with or conduct research on so you won’t find them in your anatomy or physiology textbook. It’s a bit of one of those “have faith” situations.

What Is Their Relationship to Chakras?

chakras meaning

You might already be familiar with the concept of chakras, but did you know that your chakras are closely tied to the science of yogic Nadis?

Essentially, Nadis and chakras are part of the same system. While Nadis are the infinite network of energy pathways through which prana circulates the body, chakras are where the energy actually comes from; the epicenters.

Kind of like your heart in the blood vessel system… if you had multiple hearts. 

The Sanskrit word ‘Chakra’ means ‘wheel’, symbolizing the energy centers that exist within and around our astral body. Traditional yoga recognizes 7 chakras in the human body:

Along with transporting prana energy, the Nadi system also circulates a different, yet equally important cosmic energy from one chakra to another—the kundalini energy (shakti). 

Kundalini Shakti is the serpent-like cosmic force that sleeps at the base of the spine. When activated (or awakened), the kundalini energy flows from our Muladhara or Root chakra to the Sahasrara or crown chakra. It’s believed that Shiva, the deity of supreme consciousness and stillness resides in the Sahasrara chakra. 

When the kundalini shakti travels through the spinal column and enters the Sahasrara chakra, it engulfs and heals all the imbalances in our body, enabling the divine consciousness to influence all the activities in our life, at which point we attain awakening.

The Science Behind Nadis

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According to ancient eastern health sciences such as Ayurveda, every living being functions because of the pranic energy (life force energy) that circulates through their bodies through subtle Nadi channels. 

Nadis follow the same path as our sympathetic nervous system. But on top of this extensive network, there are many more energy channels (like, so many channels that each strand of hair on the body is connected). It’s like a massive river that diverges into multitudes of smaller streams, flowing to different parts of our body.

Just like how Traditional Chinese Medicine makes use of energy pathways called ‘meridians’ to ensure the continuous flow of ‘Chi’ or ‘Qi’ (life force energy), Ayurveda and Yoga make use of Nadis to harness the complete power of prana energy. Prana can only reach every part of your body when the Nadis are strong and clear. But when the Nadis experience blockages, the energy flow ebbs which can lead to physical and mental health complications.

Certain branches of yogic teachings, especially those under Hatha yoga, discuss the balancing of the sun and moon energies in our body to attain the fine harmony between the body, mind, and soul. When performing asanas (yoga poses), mudras (hand gestures), pranayamas (breath control exercises), and bandhas (locks), these energies build up and flow up the spinal cord, merging with the Sushumna Nadi or the main Nadi at the Ajna chakra (third eye chakra), located between the eyebrows.

When this happens, the Sushumna Nadi creates a force that pushes open all the chakras together towards the Sahasrara chakra, laying the path for enlightenment. This experience of liberation is one of the major goals of any yogi practicing hatha yoga.

You can also read up on Nadi Pariksha (analysis), a renowned holistic health assessment method in Ayurveda where the speed and stability of your pulse can determine underlying health problems. In the recent past, more and more studies have been conducted on this pulse-based diagnosis to analyze the three doshas in our body — Vata, Pitta, and Kapha. It shows that an imbalance between the doshas could result in mental, physical, and emotional distress.

How Many Nadis Are There in the Body?

Now let’s talk numbers. Can you guess how many Nadis exist in your body? Innumerable!

According to yogic texts, there are at least 72,000 Nadis that circulate prana in a human body and this number could go beyond 350,000. Since it is humanly impossible to single out each of these Nadis, the experts have categorized them into 14 important Nadis and 3 main Nadis. First, let us cover the 14 important Nadis and the energies they channel to different parts of our body.

The 14 Important Nadis

1. Alambusha Nadi: Begins at the anus, goes through the Muladhara chakra, and ends in the mouth. It renders energy to the organs that eliminate waste.

2. Gandhari Nadi: Begins at the Muladhara chakra and ends at the Ajna chakra. Provides energy to the left eye.

3. Hastijihva Nadi: Begins at the Muladhara chakra and ends at the Manipura chakra. Provides energy to the left limbs.

4. Ida Nadi: Begins on the left side, travels up the Muladhara chakra, and ends at the left nostril. Known as the Chandra (lunar) energy or cooling energy. Feminine in nature. Promotes feelings, emotions, love, and attachment.

5. Kuhu Nadi: Begins at the Muladhara chakra and ends at the Svadhisthana chakra. Renders energy to the genitals.

6. Payaswini Nadi: Begins at the right side, flows through the Saraswati and Pusha Nadis, and ends at the right ear. It is a complimentary Nadi to Pingala.

7. Pingala Nadi: Begins on the right side, travels up the Muladhara chakra, and ends at the right nostril. Known as the Surya (solar) energy or heating energy. Masculine in nature. Promotes perception, reason, discrimination, and analysis.

8. Pusha Nadi: Begins at the Muladhara chakra and ends at the Ajna chakra. Provides energy to the right eye.

9. Saraswati Nadi: Begins at the Muladhara chakra and ends at the Vishuddhi chakra. Powers up the tongue, mouth, and throat.

10. Sankhini Nadi: Begins at the Muladhara chakra and ends at the Ajna chakra. Renders energy to the left ear.

11. Sushumna Nadi: Begins at the Muladhara chakra and ends at the Sahasrara chakra at the crown of the head. Known as the central Nadi or the main Nadi through which prana flows to the other Nadis.

12. Varuna Nadi: Begins at the Muladhara chakra and ends at the Anahata chakra. Renders energy to the whole body through the nervous system.

13. Vishvodhara Nadi: Begins at the Muladhara chakra and ends at the Manipura chakra. Provides energy to the digestive system.

14. Yashaswini Nadi: Begins at the Muladhara chakra and ends at the Manipura chakra. Provides energy to the right limbs.

The 3 Main Nadis 

Out of these 14 important Nadis, ancient yoga gurus have singled out three main Nadis. These three principal Nadis are Ida, Pingala, and Sushumna. Ida and Pingala Nadis are the two major energy pathways that flow on either side of Sushumna Nadi, the main Nadi. 

Ida Nadi: The Passive Left Channel

Known as the ‘lunar energy channel’, the Ida Nadi represents the feminine energies in our body. 

It’s the passive, yin energy channel of the pranic body. It flows on the left side of the Sushumna Nadi, originating from the base of the spine, merging with the Pingala Nadi at the Ajna chakra, and ending at the left nostril.

Ida Nadi deals with our mental energy. Its subtle vibrational quality is mapped with the color white. Linked to the moon, the energies that flow through the Ida Nadi are considered to be passive. People whose Ida energies are dominant tend to be nurturing and intuitive. But they may lack the confidence, certainty, and bravery required to attain worldly awareness.

Pingala Nadi: The Active Right Channel

Known as the ‘solar energy channel’ and the ‘tawny energy channel’, Pingala Nadi represents the masculine energy in our body. It is the active, yang energy channel of the astral body. It flows on the right side of the Sushumna Nadi and has an energy that is complimentary to the Ida Nadi. 

Originating from the Muladhara chakra, the Ida and Pingala Nadis touch each other at each chakra, and finally cross paths at the Ajna chakra. The Pingala Nadi then ends at the right nostril.

Pingala Nadi marks the origin of prana. Its vibrational quality is represented by the color red and it is symbolically linked to the sun. People whose Pingala energies are dominant tend to be Type A personalities who are creative, confident, and upfront. But they may lack lunar qualities like empathy, perception, and self-awareness required to attain spiritual awakening.

Sushumna Nadi: The Central Channel

Known as the ‘most gracious energy channel’, Sushumna Nadi passes through the center of the spine in our pranic body. This neutral channel begins at the Muladhara chakra, flows in between the Ida and Pingala Nadis, and ends at the Sahasrara chakra.

Sushumna represents the perfect balance between the complementary sets of energies in our astral body—solar and lunar, male and female, active and passive. The equilibrium attained by this Nadi through the balanced energy sets facilitates the awakening of higher consciousness.

As this central channel enables yogis to attain spiritual awakening through yoga, it is also called Brahma Nadi—the passage to Brahman or the ultimate being. When our prana flows through the Sushumna Nadi for a prolonged time period, we leave the physical world and enter a state of samadhi.

How Are Nadis Activated?

Now that you about the different Nadis and what they do, it’s time to learn how to activate them and use them to your advantage. 

First off, to activate your Nadis, you need to purify them. This is where Swara yoga or Swara sadhana comes in.

Swara yoga is the coming together of different vibrations that our own breath makes. When we become aware of our breathing patterns, we get a better understanding of how it affects our mind and body.

You can activate the Ida and Pingala Nadis through specific breathing techniques. The Pingala Nadi activates through the right Swara; the breath flow when we inhale and exhale through the right nostril. Similarly, the Ida Nadi activates through the left Swara; when we inhale and exhale through the left nostril.

In order to awaken the Sushumna Nadi, we have to reach an equilibrium of Ida and Pingala Nadi. This only happens after you activate and purity the smaller Nadis (Nadikas) attached to the Ida and Pingala Nadis.

Once this happens, the Sushumna can awaken the kundalini shakti. Unless you attain this fine balance of Ida and Pingala, the central channel will stay closed and the kundalini shakti will remain dormant.

How You Can Incorporate the Nadis into Your Yoga Practice

If you feel like your yoga routine is lacking something but can’t really put your finger on what it is, it might be time to familiarize yourself with some Nadi Shuddhi exercises to purify and cleanse your Nadis. 

If your Nadis are blocked, then your asana practice and meditation sessions will leave you unfulfilled. Here are some options you can explore.

Nadi Shodhana Pranayama/Alternate Nostril Breathing

Nadi Shodhana Pranayama is a simple breathing exercise you can practice to awaken the Sushumna Nadi.

STEPS

  • Sit comfortably on the floor or on a chair. With your right hand, form the Vishnu mudra—the thumb, ring finger, and pinkie raised up, and the index finger and middle finger bent towards the palm.
  • Close the right nostril with the thumb and breathe into the left nostril. Now, close the left nostril with the ring finger and pinkie and exhale out of the right nostril.
  • Do it the other way around for the left side—form the Vishnu mudra with your left hand, inhale into the right nostril and exhale through the left.
  • Continue this cycle for about 20 rounds.

Asanas that Awaken the Sushumna Nadi

Yoga tradition also suggests a few asanas that can stimulate chakras, which in turn can awaken the Sushumna Nadi:

Mantras for Nadi Purification

Along with pranayama and asanas, you can also try out some mantras that might help awaken your Nadis:

  • Bija mantra (Tham ठं)
  • Vayu Bija Mantra (yam यं)
  • Akhand Gayatri Mantra

According to Swara yoga, you need to ease yourself into nadi awakening by focusing on your breathing patterns. The first challenge is to learn how to change the breath flow without using hands to block the nostrils. This can only be achieved through regular practice and focus.

As you develop a routine gradually, you will start noticing subtle changes in your mind and body. With time, you will be able to feel the flow of a hot current of air, which is the prana moving through the Nadis. Gradually, you can venture further into these energy channels, while becoming more self-aware in the process.

Bonus Guidelines:

  • If you are a beginner, make sure that all the exercises you perform are under the guidance of a certified yoga guru.
  • Do not ignore diet restrictions. To get the best results out of your nadi awakening exercises, practice moderation of food and drinks. Try to stick to Sattvika ahara (food) like ghee, rice, barley, plantain, cucumber, green vegetables, etc. Avoid Tamasika and Rajasika ahara like spicy, fried, salty, or pungent foods.

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