Ida, Pingala, and Sushumna - The Three Main Nadis in Yoga

Ida, Pingala, and Sushumna nadis form the basis of yoga and praayama practices. Learn about these three primary nadis, what they do, and how to influence them.

We covered the concept of prana or life-energy in Indic philosophy and anatomy. In What are Nadis, we discussed the energy channels that transport pranic currents in the subtle sheath of the body. Here, we get into the three main nadis yoga: Ida, Pingala, and Sushumna nadi.

The Sanskrit word 'nadi' can have different meanings based on the context. In pranayama, which is what we concern ourselves with, nadis specifically refer to tubes or channels through which life energy flows in the subtle and causal body. In a word, they are the pathways of prana.

"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.

For context, Chinese medicine has a similar concept called meridians for the flow of Qi. Taoism has meditation and breathing techniques to cultivate the flow of Qi in these pathways. Similarly, schools of yoga focus on practices to unblock and purify the three nadis.

But there are over 72,000 nadis. So, why the big whoop around these three in particular?

Our nostrils shift dominance every few hours, and for a fleeting moment, there is equal flow in both nostrils. However, we aren't conscious of this phenomenon. Moreover, it doesn't last long enough to create any memory or experience. Through yoga, we can learn to influence it.

What is Ida, Pingala, and Sushumna?

In yoga, Ida, Pingala, and Sushumna are the three principal channels (nadis) that run from the base of the spine to the head. Sushumna is in the center, with Ida on the left and Pingala on the right. All three originate in the pelvic floor and end by the opening into the Crown Chakra.

Let’s understand each of them before we discuss their purpose and significance in yoga.

Ida Nadi, the Left Energy Channel in Yoga

Ida Nadi is one of the three main channels of energy in the subtle body. It originates in an egg-shaped bulb in the pelvic region, travels up the spine, and ends in the head. Ida is to the left and connects to the left nostril. Thereby, called the left channel in yoga.

In yoga, it is believed that Ida controls parts of the left side of the body, all emotional/ mental processes, and the mechanisms that help relax the body and mind. Its characteristics (Guna) are cooling, white, feminine, creative, and calming.

Ida Nadi: Meaning

In 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. For these reasons, Ida nadi is also called Chandra Nadi. Chandra is a Sanskrit word for the Moon.

What happens when you activate Ida Nadi?

Ida is dominant when we breathe through the left nostril. That means prana currents are in the left channel. Also, scientific research indicates that left-nostril breathing is associated with 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 loves all things artsy and is great for dreams, images, and visualizations. Research studies have also noted that 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 you start meditation.

What happens when Ida Nadi is imbalanced?

In yoga theory, blockages in Ida can inhibit 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 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 Chandra Bhedana, Chandra Anuloma-Viloma, and alternate nostril breathing.

Also Read: Chandra Bhedana Pranayama – Left Nostril Breathing in Yoga

Pingala Nadi in Yoga

Illustration of Pingala Nadi annotated

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 controls parts to the right side of the body, reasoning and analytical abilities, and mechanisms that lead to activity or arousal. Pingala’s characteristics (Guna) are hot, red, masculine, and energetic.

Pingala Nadi Meaning:

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 is associated with the Sun. Thereby, it is also called Surya Nadi or Sun Tube, as Surya is the Sanskrit word 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 that 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, 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.

Also Read: Surya Bhedana Pranayama – Right Nostril Breathing in Yoga

Sushumna or Susumna Nadi

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 (no blockages).

What does Sushumna mean?

The Sanskrit word Sushumna (सुषुम्णा) is pronounced suṣumṇā or ‘sue-Shoom-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.

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.

One can use the shatkarmas (purification techniques) of Hatha Yoga, mantras, and purgation or Pancha Karma in Ayurveda to cleanse the body and unblock the energy channels.

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 balance the nadis and keep them free from blockages. Blocked nadis can become hurdles in spiritual or day-to-day pursuits.

Based on the school of yoga you follow, you will find ‘yoga 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.

Kundalini and Chakras:

Both Ida and Pingala weave in and out of the 7 energy plexuses (chakras), thereby having the power to influence these energy centers. In Kundalini, the basic idea is to make prana energy, which enters us through breathing, to move through Ida and Pingala and into 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.

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.

Parting Thoughts:

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.