Nadis are the blood vessels of the prana flowing through us. It is being suggested that we have over 72,000 nadis. Three of them are mentioned, and considered most important. They are located along the spine: the ida, pingala and sushumna nadi.
Along both sides of the spine lay the ida and pingala nadi which are connected on the physical plane with both our nostrils. Ida is related to our left nostril, while pingala nadi is connected to our right nostril. On an energetic level, ida represents the female (moon) energy and characteristics, and pingala male (sun) energy and characteristics.
Ida and pingala thus represent the principle of duality. Certain qualities in nature have been identified as masculine, others feminine. If your ida is more pronounced, the feminine may be dominant in you (this goes for both men and women). You may be a woman, but if your pingala is more active, the masculine may be more on the surface.
Remember that the practice of yoga is to find balance. Between our inner life and outer life, and female and male energies. The idea is that a person that has not reached enlightenment yet is being swept from one energetic quality to the other, while for the enlightened person the energies have ‘merged’. For a person that has reached the state of enlightenment, the energy is supposedly flowing through the central nadi: sushumna nadi.
The breathing practice of Nadi Shodhana is important to balance your ida and pinggala so that energy can flow through the shushumna and this is why this pranayama is of prime importance to anyone serious about energy work. However there are other ways to balance Ida and Pinggala but this is the most popular and widely known. In Himalayan Kriya Yoga we have discovered that Nadi Shodhana takes too long and there is a way to balance ida and pinggala in less than a minute (Ida-Pinggala Kriya).
The Ida Nadi is white in color. It starts and ends to the left of the Sushumna and is therefore considered part of the left channel of the Nadi system. It is the carrier of lunar energy currents. Ida is feminine in nature and is the storehouse of life-producing, maternal energy. As it nourishes and purifies the body and mind, it is called Ganga (the river Ganges) in tantric scriptures. Like the Sushumna Nadi, the Ida Nadi originates in the kanda, the region below the Muladhara Chakra, but it is also connected with the left testicle in males. The Ida Nadi terminates in the left nostril. In Svara Yoga it represents the left breath, that is, breath flowing in and out of the left nostril. “Left” in Tantra is described as magnetic, female, visual, and emotional in nature.
Aspirants of Yoga are advised to meditate when the Sushumna Nadi is working. If the Sushumna is not working, they are advised to meditate when Ida is operating, that is, when breath is flowing through the left nostril. In the system of Svara Yoga, practitioners observe the custom of keeping the left nostril open during the day so that its sattvik lunar energy will balance the rajasik solar energy that is received during the daylight hours. By creating a balance in oneself, one becomes more relaxed and more alert mentally. The Ida Nadi is responsible for restoring energy to the brain.
The Pingala Nadi is part of the right channel, the carrier of solar energy currents. Like the sun, the Pingala is masculine in nature. It is a storehouse of energy that, according to the Vishvasara Tantra, is consumed in muscular activities requiring physical strength and speed. The Pingala Nadi makes the physical body more dynamic and more efficient, and it is this Nadi that provides added vitality and male power.
Like the Ida, the Pingala is also purifying, but its cleansing is like fire. Concentration on the sun by doing the yogic exercise of Surya Namaskar at sunrise helps to turn the untamed masculine energy of Pingala into constructive energy (Vishvasara Tantra). In Svara Yoga, the Pingala represents the right breath, that is, breath flowing in and out of the right nostril. In Tantra “right” is described as electrical, male, verbal, and rational in nature. The eyes and the sun are related to the intellect and the rational brain. The yogic practice of keeping the right nostril open at night, when solar energy is less strong, maintains the balance of a healthy organism. The Pingala Nadi brings energy down from the center of combustion of the brain where matter (oxygen and glucose) is converted into life-giving energy (prana).
While the Ida, Pinggala and Shushumna are the most commonly known nadis in the body they are not the only ones. According to the Hatha Yoga Pradipica there are 72 thousand nadis in the human body. Chinese medicine has efficiently mapped the body’s energy grid extensively specially for the purpose of health and wellbeing (Chinese Meridians). It is the same system but for Raja Yoga the nadis we are concerned with are the ones that bring about higher states of awareness and result in liberation.
Most of these energy channels are situated close to or on the spine. Within Shushumna itself are more subtle energy channels for the ascent of Kundalini Shakti. Each brings about a more refined experience of the higher self.
These nadis for spiritual liberation also interact with your chakras in specific ways depending on the nature of the energy channel and the consequences of release of energy through the different pathways.
However, in order to obtain access to these pathways, it is necessary for a considerable amount of energy to be flowing through the chakras. Therefore, the first steps to be done by any aspirant is to widen the flow of Prana through the chakras themselves before attempting to access these pathways with the help of a Guru.
Sushumna, Vajrini, Chitrini and Bramha Nadis
The Sushumna is centrally situated and is the only Nadi that passes through the meru danda (spinal column). According to many tantric scriptures, the Sushumna originates in the Muladhara Chakra, pierces the palate at the base of the skull and terminates in the Sahasrara Chakra at the crown of the head. Before it reaches the Ajna Chakra, the Sushumna Nadi divides into two branches: anterior and posterior. The anterior branch goes to the Ajna Chakra before reaching the Brahma Randhra, the seat of supreme consciousness. The posterior branch passes from behind the skull before it also arrives at the Brahma Randhra.
Sushumna is not one Nadi but is made up of three principal Yoga Nadis, which are the subtlest of the subtle. The outermost part of the Sushumna is the fiery red Sushumna, which is beyond the limits of time. Inside it is the lustrous Vajra Nadi, also known as Vajrini, which is of the nature of the sun and of poison. Inside the Vajra Nadi is the pale Chitra Nadi, also known as Chitrini, which is of the nature of the moon and nectar-dropping. Inside the Chitrini Nadi is a void called the Brahma Nadi, which connects to the Brahma Randhra. A yogi’s kundalini experience is a journey of refinement involving going inward and upward these smaller and smaller pathways, each with its own hallmarks and mystical experiences. They say that the Bramha Radra is only available with the grace of the divine while the others are accessible through personal sadhana and Guru’s guidance alone.