We just couldn't get enough of the Subtle Body exploration last month, so Kristen Mack returns for this week's installment of the Yoga Living Project to discuss nadis (energetic channels). Read below for Kristen's insights and suggested practices! As always, if you're interested in contributing material for the blog, email
Ida, and Pingala, and Sushumna... Oh My!
Much like you have a cardiovascular system and an endocrine system that serve to move air, fluids, nutrients, and hormones throughout the physical body through a series of vessels and ducts, many traditional yogis also believe that the subtle body is real-not merely metaphorical. In much the same way, prana (life force energy) is carried through a series of tubelike channels called Nadis. The word nadi comes from the Sanskrit rood “nad”, which means “channel”, “stream”, or “flow”. It is within these channels, that our energetic being is nourished and replenished. Classical texts dating back as much as 3,000 years mention the nadis, although there is some disagreement in the exact number of nadis in the body. The most common account states that there are 72,000 nadis, although other texts describe hundreds of thousands and upwards of millions. Either way, there’s a lot of space for prana to move through us!
Of course, chakras, nadis, and prana can’t be looked at under a microscope, and the ability to accurately and tangibly measure them isn’t something that the medical sciences have been able to do successfully. (Yet!) However, understanding the subtle body helps us as practitioners to have a deeper understanding of ourselves and our inner workings, beyond asana.
Within these thousands of nadis, three come into focus regularly in yoga, particularly in their relation to the 7 main chakras. Sushumna (“very gracious”, “kind”), runs along the spinal column, through the 7 chakras. It begins at the root (muladhara), and continues up through the crown (sahasrara). This nadi does not contain prana, however. Rather, it is the channel through which kundalini shakti rises. Kundalini shakti lies dormant in the root chakra until through yogic practices, the kundalini begins its ascent up to the crown. Thus enlightenment. No big deal, right?
Along with the main channel, there are 2 accessory channels, Ida (“comfort”) and Pingala (“tawny”, “golden”). Ida and Pingala spiral around Sushumna in a double helix (much like our DNA) and cross each other at each chakra beginning at the root and ending at Ajna, or the third eye chakra. Ida begins and ends on the left side of the body. It is known as the lunar, or feminine, and introverted aspects of being with a cooling effect and an open left nostril. Pingala begins and ends on the right side of the body and is known as the solar, masculine, and extroverted aspects and has a heating effect. The 2 nadis can be looked at with regards to the hemispheres of the brain as well. Ida is represented by the right hemisphere, where mental processes occur. Pingala is represented by the left hemisphere, where vital processes occur. No, I didn’t mix up my left and right again! The hemispheres of the brain are contralateral.
So, what does all this mean? Glad you asked!
Yoga seeks to balance. Throughout the day, one of these nadis is always dominant. The dominance switches throughout the day depending on time of day, but typically we will have one nadi be more prevalent throughout our lives. Those of us with Ida dominance tend to be nurturing and introverted. If we do not nurture the Pingala side, we can lack drive and discipline. Those with Pingala dominance tend to have lots of drive and vitality, but can burn out and lack introspection. The ideal scenario is to balance and nurture both sides equally, creating space for the latent kundalini to rise, and in turn to awaken higher consciousness. If you’re into that sort of thing. If you seek to simply find more balance in your relationships, have more longevity in your physical body, and increase your vitality, balancing the sun and the moon is a step in the right direction.
Well, great. How do I do that?
Yoga, of course! Through asana, we can tire the body so we can sit still in meditation and pranayama. Nadi Shodhana (alternate nostril breath), is one of the most powerful ways to bring balance to the Ida and Pingala. Since you alternate breathing through each nostril, it brings a sense of equilibrium to the channels. And done after asana practice, it can help to neutralize any imbalances you may have caused.
Don’t believe me? Try this… Sit quietly and breathe. Notice which nostril is dominant (open) and which one is less so. If the left side is dominant, you can try more invigorating poses (backbends are great for this). If the right side is dominant, try more introspective poses (it doesn’t get more introspective than child's pose). After asana, take a moment and see how you feel. No judgement, just notice. Then do a few rounds of Nadi Shodhana. After completing, again, sit and notice if anything has shifted. You can also use this when you are unable to sleep. Pingala, solar energy, is dominant. After a few rounds of Nadi Shodhana, you might fall asleep a bit easier. If you are feeling sluggish, and need a bit more solar energy, try a few rounds. You might surprise yourself with a bit of yoga magic!
Have fun experimenting!