What are Nadis: A Guide to Energy Channels in Yoga
Where there is energy, there are energy channels. In this post, we get into the details about Nadis - the pathways of life energy. We also look at their relationship with chakras, and how to cleanse or open them to add more depth to your practice.
Whether it's Nadi Shodhana, Sushumna Nadi, or Chandra Bhedana Pranayama, the term ‘nadi’ is frequently used in yoga. It’s a key concept in chakra meditations, Kundalini yoga, and spiritual practices that deal with energy and energy blockages in the body.
"There may be many different schools of yoga, each with its own set of practices. But the goal in each is the same - to unblock nadis and attain Samadhi or spiritual enlightenment," says Yogi Hansraj. "Nadis play play an important role in attaining this harmony of body and mind."
That's great, but what are nadis? We all know about veins and capillaries in our circulation system. They exist throughout the body and carry blood to all parts of the body. Similarly, nadis are energy channels that carry life-energy through the subtle layer of our being.
"Nadis form a vast network like a great river, with smaller streams flowing to different parts of the human body," says Hansraj. "In yoga anatomy, it is believed that there are hundreds of thousands of these channeles in the subtle body, tasked with various roles and function."
However, one of the main functions of nadis is to transport prana or life-energy currents, and that's what we will be focussing on in this post. But before we deep dive into the subject, ensure that you are familiar with the concept of prana. We've covered it in detail previously.
So, What are Nadis in Yoga?
Nadi is a Sanskrit word that translates to 'duct,' 'tube,' or 'nerve'. The term 'nadis' refers to energy channels in the subtle body through which life-energy or prana flows. These channels form an interlaced pattern spanning the body, intersecting the seven energy centers (chakras).
The idea of nadis stems from Indic philosophy, yoga texts, and Ayurveda. In yoga theory, nadis are an important aspect of pranamaya kosha or the pranic sheath, one of the five layers of the human body. This sheath is often called the astral body.
Nadis are to the astral body what nerves are to the physical body. In Tantra and Yoga texts, they are thought to be a subtle temple of the nervous system. These nadi channels transport life-energy currents in the field of the mind (manas) and energize the subtle body.
The gross aspect of nadis are tubes that facilitate the transport of oxygen, water, impulses, and nutrients. At the subtle level, they act as a network that transports prana or vital-energy currents. Ayurveda focuses on the gross aspects and yoga focuses on the subtle aspects of nadis.
Nadis and Chakras:
Now that you have a basic understanding of nadi channels, we need to brieflly touch upon the concept of chakras. In yoga philosophy, nadis are connected to crucial energy discs called 'Chakras.' The English term for chakras is ‘energy center’ or ‘plexus.’
However, the Sanskrit word Chakra translates to a 'wheel,' 'disc,' or 'ring.'
Thereby, chakras are wheels of energy located at seven vital centers along the spine. They represent the major intersections in the network of nadis that pick up vibrations. Chakras connect nadis to the five layers of the body to distribute these vibrations thorough our being.
There are seven main chakras in yoga, namely –
Muladhara or Root Chakra
Svadisthana or Sacral Chakra
Manipura or Solar Plexus Chakra
Anahata or Heart Chakra
Vishuddhi or Throat Chakra
Ajna or Eyebrow Chakra
Saahsrara or Crown Chakra
Chakras are an important aspect of Tantra and Kundalini yoga, especially the Shaiva-Tantra texts. But even great yoga gurus admit explaining the concept of Chakras is tricky. So, we won’t delve into a detailed explanation as we plan to cover it in a detailed post.
How many nadis are there in the body?
The exact number of nadis in the body ranges from 72,000 to 350,000 in ancient Indic scriptures. A large corpus of yoga texts agree upon 72,000. But each nadi braches out into thousands of outlets or smaller nadis called nadika, making it difficult to pin point an exact number.
Puranic texts say the nadis originate from the heart and yoga scriptures state that nadis originate in an egg-shaped bulb – called kanda or kandhasthana – below the navel. A corpus of yoga texts state the bulb is located between the root (Muladhara) and Solar Plexus (Manipura) chakra.
However, there are twenty nadis that are well characterized, and three of them that are of great importance in yoga. We will look at those there in more detail.
The Three Major Yoga Nadis
Despite vast network of 72,000 nadis, three energy channels that get the most attention in yoga:
Sushumna, the central channel.
Ida Nadi, the left channel.
Pingala, the right channel.
These three nadis run from the base of the spine to the head. Sushumna nadi runs straight up the spine while Ida and Pingala nadi form a double helix by crisscrossing around each other.
A major chakra exists at each of the seven points where these three nadis intersect.
Ida Nadi - The Left Channel
Ida Nadi is to the left of the spine and is linked to the left nostril. It represents the nature of the Moon, which is why it is called the Moon tube or Chandra nadi. Ida is associated with feminine attributes, tamas (inertia) and the parasympathetic aspects of the autonomic nervous system.
When prana currents flows in Ida, the body is in rest mode. It can be cleared or balanced with selective left-nostril breathing techniques like Chandra Bhedana Pranayama or alternate nostril breathing (Nadi Shodhana Pranayama).
Pingala Nadi - The Right Channel
Pingala is to the right of the spine and linked to the left nostril. It represents the nature of the Sun, which is why it is called the Sun Tube or Surya Nadi. Pingala is linked to the right nostril. It is associated with masculine attributes and the sympathetic nervous system.
When prana currents flows in the Pingala nadi, the body is in activity or action mode. It can be cleared or balanced with pranayama techniques like selective right-nostril breathing (Surya Bhedana Pranayama) or alternate nostril breathing (Nadi Shodhana Pranayama).
Sushumna Nadi - The Central Channel:
Sushumna is a three-layered nadi in the center of the body. It runs along the spine making a path for Kundalini (creative energy) to rise from the base in the pelvic floor to the crown of the head. In doing so, it unites and pierces through the seven major energy centers in the body.
According to Indic texts, Sushumna contains all the fires of Tejas and represents the nature of Fire or Agni. It is associated with the function of illuminating Sattva (the Absolute). However, one must balance Ida and Pingala nadis to stimulate Kundalini and/or open the Sushumna nadi.
Importance of Nadis in Pranayama:
We can only harness the true power of prana when our nadis are clear. Yoga attempts to achieve this through asana (poses) and pranayama (seated breathwork). Nadis and prana can also be influenced with yoga mudras (hand gestures) and bandhas (body locks).
These yoga practices detoxify and clear the energy channels to facilitate the free flow of prana.
But every school has its own set of practices to unblock nadis. According to Hatha yoga, Crocodile Pose (Makarasana), Cobra Pose (Bhujangasana) and Corpse Pose (Savasana) can improve the flow of specific nadis. You can also balance or clear these channels with breathing.
Pranayama, a collection of yogic breathing techniques, is the fourth step in Patanjali’s eight-fold path of yoga. It is primarily designed to unblock, purify, or optimize Ida, Pingala, and Sushumna energy channels. We’ve covered most of these techniques in our pranayama archive.
Pranayama is also a way to balance the sun and moon energy within the body to achieve harmony. Doing so has many psycho-physiological benefits. But, most importantly, it ignites the Fire called Tejas, which is the key to seeing the ‘Absolute Truth’ and attaining self-realization.
Nadis in Ayurveda
Nadi Vigyan refers to the science of energy pathways described in ancient Indic texts. One of these is Ayurveda, a sister science of yoga that focuses on health and longevity. According to Ayurveda, life-energy (prana) circulates through the body in nadi channels.
We can only function as long as this pranic energy circulates within us. They follow the same path as our sympathetic nervous system. But in Ayurveda, nadis refer to channels in both the physical (gross) and pranic (subtle) layers of the body.
Nadis are understood as nerves spread across the body and attached to brain via the spinal cord. They transport prana and relay impulses. Here, impulses can include sensation, sense-perception, emotions, and biological impulses such as controlling movement of the limbs.
Additionally, human health is diagnosed through Nadi Pariksha or Pulse Diagnosis in Ayurveda. Nadi Pariksha can determine a person’s ailments and disorders. It's an assessment of the speed/stability of the pulse to analyze the three doshas (Vata, Pitta, Kapha) and their imbalances.
Hopefully, this post has provided you with a through introduction to the concept of Nadis. The network of life-energy currents may be present in the subtle sheath of the body. But it effects every aspect of the physical body and mind.
This is an introductory post. For that reason, some concepts have been intentionally simplified. The point is not to conquer the esoteric depths of yoga theory but to make enough sense of it to do pranayama meaningfully.