Ida, Pingala, Sushumna - Three Main Nadis in Yoga
Learn about these three main nadis in yoga, what they do, and how to influence them.
You will encounter the terms Ida, Pingala, and Sushumna nadis when you start learning yoga techniques like Chandra and Surya Bhedana. Knowing the theory behind the three main nadis helps understand why we practice alternate or single nostril breathing techniques in yoga.
"Ida, Pingala, and Sushumna nadis are the three principal energy channels running from the base of your spine and to the head, opening into the Crown Chakra (Sahasrara), says Vineet Kaul. "Sushumna is in the center with Ida on the left and Pingala on the right of it," he adds.
Prana is life-energy that enters our body through the breath, among other things. Once prana enters our body, it travels through a nerve-like network of nadis or "energy channels." These nadis transport life-energy to every small and big part of out body.
"Nadis penetrate the body from the soles of the feet to the crown of the head. In them is prana, the breath of life and in that life abides Atman (the soul), which is the abode of Shakti, the somic energy of the animate and inanimate worlds." - Chapter 5, Verse 54, Varaha Upanishad.
But from the 72,000+ nadis that exist within us, twenty are well documented in ancient texts, and most spiritual practices focus on three main nadis in yoga: Ida, Pingala, and Sushumna. But why are three nadis more relevant than the thousands of other energy channels in the body?
Nadis, Prana, and Breathing
You need to know two basic concepts before we discuss the role of the three main nadis.
First, the left nostril is linked to the right brain and the right one is linked to the left brain. Secondly, human beings don't breath with both nostrils simultaneously. We have a nasal cycle of 90 minutes that alternates between left and right nostril dominance i.e. one nostril is more active than the other. In yoga, this is understood in the following ways -
Ida nadi is active when your left nostril and right-brain are dominant.
Pingala nadi is active when you right nostril and left-brain are dominant.
In other words, Prana-currents are in Ida when you are breathing through the left nostril. They are engaging with the right brain. Similarly, Prana currents are in Pingala when the right nostril is dominant. They are engaging with the left brain. And, what about Sushumna nadi?
Prana enters Sushumna when Ida/Pingala and the right/left hemispheres are in complete harmony. When prana ascends Sushumna it leads to a feeling of supreme bliss and harmony. Therefore, many yoga practices are designed to balance these Sun/Moon aspects of our being.
Below, we explain each of the three main nadis and their purpose/significance in yoga.
Ida Nadi, the Left or Lunar Energy Channel in Yoga
Ida Nadi is one of the three main energy channels of our being according to yoga anatomy. It originates in an egg-shaped bulb in the pelvic region, travels up the spine, and ends in the head. Ida connects to the left nostril and is also called the left channel in yoga.
Ida's qualities (gunas) are cooling, white, feminine, creative, emotional, and calming. In Western terms, Ida Nadi can be understood as the 'rest cycle' or activity of the parasympathetic nervous system that signals the body to relax and rest.
In yoga anatomy, Ida controls three things, namely -
Biological and physical parts of the left side of the body.
All emotional/ mental processes,
The mechanisms that help relax the body and mind.
Ida Nadi: Meaning
The Sanksrit word Ida (इडा) translates to ‘comfort.’ Therefore, when life-energy flows through Ida, we are in a relaxed or restful state. Ida is associated with the white or blue color and cooling and moon-like qualities such as creativity, imagination, and introversion. Imaginably, Ida is called the Moon Tube or Chandra Nadi. Chandra is Sanskrit for 'moon.'
What happens when you activate Ida Nadi?
Ida is dominant when we breathe through the left nostril, which means prana currents move in the left channel. Scientific research indicates that left-nostril breathing is associated with activity in the right brain hemisphere and parasympathetic aspects of the autonomic nervous system.
The right brain is visual and deals with things using intuition and spontaneity. It's the ideal state for contemplation, creativty, or anything to do with dreams, images, and visualizations. Research studies also suggest emotions are right-brain oriented.
From the sound of it, it would be great to breathe through the left nostril for creative tasks, visualization meditations, turning inward, or processing emotions. That's why it's often said that you can use pranayama like Chandra Bhedana before meditation or better sleep quality.
What happens when Ida Nadi is imbalanced?
In yoga theory, blockages in Ida disrupt the flow of prana and lead to poor physical and mental health. If Ida is blocked (underactive), you may find it difficult to sleep or relax, process your emotions, and feel overstimulated and/or out of tune with your intuition.
How to activate or open Ida Nadi?
Generally, lying on your right side or staying in a fetal position for a few minutes opens up Ida Nadi. It can also be influenced by single or selective nostril breathing techniques like Chandra Bhedana, Chandra Anuloma-Viloma, and Alternate Nostril Breathing (Nadi Shodhana).
Pingala Nadi - The Right or Solar Energy Channel in Yoga
In yoga theory, Pingala Nadi is the energy channel connected to the right nostril. It is a tube-like channel that originates in an egg-shaped bulb (kanda) under the navel. Pingala, located on the right side of the body, runs up the spinal cord in a crisscross pattern along with Ida on the left.
Pingala connects to the right nostril and is called the right channel in yoga. It's characteristics (Guna) are hot, red, masculine, and energetic. In Western terms, Pingala Nadi can be understood as the 'activity cycle' or the activities of the sympathetic nervous system.
In yoga literature, Pingala is associated with three things -
Biological and physical parts of the left side of the body.
Logic, reasoning, and analytical abilities.
Mechanisms that lead to activity or arousal.
What does Pingala Nadi mean
The Sanskrit word Pingala (पिङ्गला) translates to a shade of orange called tawny (orange-brown). It is also the name of one of the door-keepers of the Sun God in Hindu mythology. Pingala Nadi embodies the Sun and is called Sun Tube or Surya Nadi. Surya is Sanskrit for 'the sun.'
What happens when you activate Pingala Nadi
Pingala nadi is dominant when we breathe through the right nostril. That means life-energy currents are in the right channel. Research suggests right-nostril breathing activates the left brain hemisphere and the sympathetic aspects of the autonomic nervous system.
The left brain is linear/logical, in stark opposition to the emotional/creative states of Ida energy. When prana currents are in Pingala, it feeds the sympathetic system and results in an analytical or energetic state. You may also find yourself more adept with language and numbers.
In addition, Pingala nadi dominance would be great for physical tasks, analytical thinking, self-expression, arousal, and doing extroverted things. It’s the heating energy that motivates you and improves organizational skills, among other things.
How to activate or open Pingala Nadi?
Generally, lying on your left side or staying in a fetal position on your right for a few minutes opens up Pingala. It can also be influenced by single-nostril or selective nostril breathing techniques like Surya Bhedana, Surya Anuloma-Viloma, and alternate nostril breathing.
What happens when Pingala Nadi is out of balance?
When Pingala is blocked (underactive) it can lead to a lack of motivation, brain fog, lethargy, and depression. If Pingala is out of balance or overactive, we feel hot, short-tempered (irritable), dry, and restless. Consider this a gist, as there are more aspects to imbalances in Pingala.
Sushumna Nadi - The Central Channel in Yoga
Sushumna is unquestionably the most important energy channel in yoga. It is a three-layered tube, as thin as the thread of a lotus stalk, designed for the passage of Kundalini. Sushumna lies between the Ida and Pingala, originating in the root chakra (Muladhara) and ending at the aperture in the crown chakra (Sahasrara).
In yoga, Sushumna is the central channel of the causal body. It links an ascending series of seven chakras. Sushumna is identified with Bhraman (Absolute) and Shakti in the form of Kundalini. Kundalini can only flow into it when Ida and Pingala nadis are pure and balanced.
What does Sushumna mean?
The Sanskrit word Sushumna (सुषुम्णा) is pronounced suṣumṇā or ‘sue-Soom-na.’ It translates to ‘supremely gracious’ or ‘compassionate’. Sushumna is also called the Brahmanada – the channel of Brahman. It plays a key role in achieving Supreme Bliss. Sushumna is also a name for one of the seven attributes of the Sun that illuminates the waning moon.
The Three Layers of Sushumna
Sushumna is the central channel located in the pranamaya kosha, the astral layer or the pranic body. It has three layers: Sushumna, Vajra, and Chitra. Vajra nadi is located inside Sushumna, starting at the Sacral Chakra, and is responsible for the movement of prana-currents.
The deepest layer is Chitra nadi, located within the Vajra nadi. The opening of Chitra nadi is called Bhrahmdvara – the doorway to Brahman. When Kundalini-energy awakens, it enters this opening to travel through Sushumna to the Crown Chakra.
A yogi who attains this state can see, witness, and experience the ‘Absolute’ or Brahman. However, please note that Brahman here means ‘Absolute,’ not Lord Brahma, the creator in the Hindu pantheon of Gods. Brahman is the underlying reality of all phenomena in Hinduism.
What blocks Sushumna nadi?
The Sushumna channel is filled with nothingness (shunya). A yogi has to awaken Kundalini energy dormant at the base of the spine using various yoga practices. Once awakened, Kundalini enters the Sushumna nadi and rises to the head while piercing the seven chakras. All yoga schools attempt this in different ways, with some pursuing it more actively than others.
What happens when Sushumna nadi is activated?
According to the Vedas, when the Sushumna nadi is activated you can experience Bhraman, which destroys sins, ignorance, and tamas (darkness or dark qualities). It’s a supreme meditative state, radiant as the sun, and a pathway to knowing the Absolute and one's true nature.
Sushumna is the 'vessel' of the spiritual energy force - neutral energy that is not polarized into light and dark, right and left, activity and rest, and all the other dualities that constitute our experience of embodied life. We experience this every day, but only momentarily.
When Sushumna is active, BKS Iyengar says, it “swallows time.” The Shiva Samhita calls it “a fountain of great joy” and the Ksurika-Upanishad says one that experiences it “knows the Veda.”
What is Sushumna breathing?
There is no pranayama called Sushumna breathing in any of the classical yoga texts. Some yoga instructors use the term ‘Sushumna breathing’ for ‘So-hum’ meditation. It refers to a breath-based meditation when you inhale, silently saying the word SO, and exhale silently saying HUM.
Related: Three Bodies in Yoga: Sthula, Sukshma and Karana Sharira
Significance of Ida and Pingala
The human body is organized in pairs. This is evident in the fact that we have two ears, eyes, legs, hands, and so on. If you go deeper, you notice that even the heart has two chambers, the brain has two hemispheres, and the autonomic nervous system has two states.
Physiologically speaking, Ida and Pingala represent the two states of the autonomic nervous system – the sympathetic and parasympathetic state. They also represent the biological duality of activity and rest. Sushumna embodies a state of harmony and non-dualism.
Three Nadis in Yoga and Pranayama
The ultimate goal of yoga is union - the state of Samadhi or enlightenment. But people are unable to achieve this state because of impurities in various sheaths of the body. That’s why we start with Yama and Niyama – the first two steps in the eight-fold path of yoga.
After that, we do asana to clear blockages in the physical body and move on to pranayama to clear blockages in the nadis located in the subtle body. Blocked nadis obstruct the flow of prana. Prana is unable to enter Ida and Pingala, let alone clear those to enter the central channel.
Pranayama can serve different purposes, but one of its main goals is to unblock and balance the three nadis. The major focus of pranayama is to cleanse, unblock, and balance the three main nadis. Blocked nadis can become hurdles in spiritual or day-to-day pursuits.
Based on the school of yoga you follow, you will find kriyas – a set of practices – that consist of asanas (poses), breathing techniques (pranayama), hand gestures (mudras), and body locks (bandhas) to trap and force prana to enter the central channel or Sushumna.
Shat karmas (six purification techniques of Hatha Yoga), mantras, and Ayurvedic Pancha Karmaare are other methods to unblock or purify the nadi channels.
Three Nadis, Chakras, and Kundalini Energy
Both Ida and Pingala weave in and out of the 7 energy plexuses (chakras), thereby having the power to influence these energy centers. In Tantra and Kundalini Yoga, the basic idea is force prana enter Sushumna.
Prana heats the dormant Kundalini Shakti (creative energy) at the base of the spine, forcing it to move up Sushumna Nadi. Kundalini rises in the spine, piercing all the seven chakras, leading to self-realization and a state of Samadhi or self-attainment.
Ida, Pingala, Sushumna in Indic Religions:
In Hinduism, especially Shaivism and Shaktism, these three energies are a consort of the Holy Trinity of Gods – Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva. Ida is the consort of Lord Brahma, Pingala is the consort of Lord Vishnu, and Sushumna is the consort of Rudra (Lord Shiva).
Ida represents inhalation, the equivalent of creation and Brahma.
Pingala represents exhalation, the equivalent of sustenance and Vishnu.
Sushumna represents breath retention, the equivalent of nothingness, and Shiva.
We spoke about left and right brain activity. Please note that the human brain is not dichotomous. In simple words, the right and left brains are equally active on average and both hemispheres communicate with each other in complex ways.
They are equally important for various tasks we perform on a daily basis. The idea of left-brain vs. right-brain thinkers has been debunked by various studies. Even yoga talks about harmony or bringing balance between the two brain hemispheres.
See also, Here's Why Early Morning is the Best Time to Do Pranayama