Nadis are channels or tubes in the human body that carry prana. “Nad” means channel. Prana is also known as energy or life force. In Yoga, nadis are the channels of pranic or Kundalini energy. These energy channels can be found in both the physical and the subtle body. The subtle channels or Yoga Nadis are the channels of mind and the channels of Chitta, the feeling of self or being. The Nadis are not only channels, but also nerves (snayu). The gross channels of subtle energy are visible as vessels, cords or tubes, including acupuncture meridians, nerves, muscles, arteries, veins, lymph, etc. When an aspirant of Kundalini Yoga starts activating the Kundalini energy through various kinds of pranayamas, and meditations, the nadi system is vitalized. This is not only beneficial for health but it also promotes spiritual growth and understanding.
Kundalini is a force of withdrawal, pratyahara. We must reverse our external involvement and attachments to some degree for it to function and uplift it along the energetic spine. The practitioner of yoga with awakened kundalini or a strong power of prana really develops their curative power as a healer by touch, voice, or presence. This energy is very powerful, and it must be with caution that we try not to manipulate this energy, but allow it to flow through. The Hindu tradition honours the “Divine Mother” as the source of kundalini Shakti. Be careful not to claim it as your own. This attachment will cause harm.
To open the chakras requires grace, not wilful power or force. If you attempt to awaken kundalini without purifying the body and mind, it becomes disturbed and unwanted illusory and physical experiences may arise. Whilst many of these experiences may be perceived as kundalini problems, some may just be pranic and mental disturbances. One must purify the mind, otherwise experiences and physical/emotional urges for the lower chakras may interfere. It is important to have a solid grounding in the lower three chakras, as these will have a corresponding effect on the heart and third eye.
Therefore it is important that you follow Ayurvedic lifestyle routines, good living environment, and correct attitudes, morals, and ethics (yama and niyamas), and a solid asana and meditation practise daily.
Breathing and the Nadis
We can determine through which nadi our energy flows more freely, by testing the flow of breath in the predominant nostril. Please note this flow changes on a three hourly basis in normal healthy individuals. When the breath is predominate in the right nostril, left brain functioning is activated. When the breath is in the left nostril, right brain functioning is activated.
The functioning of the nadis also relates to left and right brain functioning.
Right nostril breath predominant: Left brain function rational, independent, aggressive.
Left nostril breath predominate: Right brain function emotional, sensitive, receptive.
When energy in both Ida and pingala is equalized, then kundalini awakens and prana enters sushumna, bringing the subtle body into perception. The health of the subtle body is based on a healthy flow through these two nadis. Pranayama techniques such as alternate nostril breath can help with this flow.
Chitta nadi governs nadi channels functioning all over and is the source of original prana. Chitta nadi originates from the spiritual heart and then flows up to the crown of the head and down again to the spiritual heart. It is very closely related to sushumna, which is the governing channel of the subtle body, and to Kundalini, which is the awakened flow of energy through sushumna. Free flow of energy through Chitta nadi causes the free flow of Kundalini through sushumna, specifically from heart to head region. Chitta nadi governs the flow of thought. For those who direct their attention within, the Kundalini starts to awaken and begins to move. The movement of energy inwards from head to heart via Chitta nadi is best channelled by meditation, pranayama, pratyahara (control of the senses) or mindful living. Pratyahara works to inhibit the outward flow of energy, so the inward flow can be developed. One pointed concentration (dharana) is the concentration of energy within Chitta nadi. Meditation (dhyana) occurs when the flow of energy is continuous through this channel. Samadhi occurs when the flow is without obstruction.
The 14 channels of the subtle body
All nadis begin at the base of the spine, follow the course of sushumna, and branch out from the spine at certain points. The subtle body is said to contain 72,000 nadis. Whilst that is truly awesome in scale, Tantra Yoga identifies the basic 14 nadis that relate to mind-body function of which the following three are the most important. These three main nadis relate to the primary energy channels in the body.
3 Main Nadis
Sushumna: Sattvic in nature, sushumna may also be called the astral spine. It is located in the spinal canal of the physical body, and controls the functions of various chakras along the spine. The flow of prana Shakti or awakened kundalini activates the channel. Its flow may be very limited in some people. The Sushumna generally remains dormant when the other nadis flow strongly and is activated only when the breath comes through both nostrils simultaneously. It can also be activated through pranayama and Swara Yoga, and operates automatically at dawn and dusk, calming down the system and making meditation easy.
Ida: When sushumna is not yet awakened, the energy flows through Ida and pingala alternately. They run to the left and right of sushumna, interweaving from the base of the spine to the region of the third eye, ending at left and right nostrils. The flow through this nadi provides inspirations of vision and speech, and devotion to life and makes us more caring and loving. As it nourishes and purifies the body and the mind, it is also called Ganga in Tantric scriptures. When Sushumna is not working, activating the Ida Nadi is the best way to facilitate meditation. The left nadi has lunar, feminine, cooling, kapha, tamasic properties. The flow through this nadi provides inspirations of vision and speech, and devotion to life and makes us more caring and loving. The left nadi operates mainly throughout the night-time. Breathing through the left nostril can slow the metabolism and yogis are said to be able to remain underground for long periods of time with this practice.
Pingala: The right nadi has solar, masculine, heating and pitta properties. The flow through this nadi provides motivation, spark, drive and the pursuit of higher knowledge. It carries solar, male energy, adding vitality, physical strength and efficiency. It also purifies like Ida Nadi, but cleanse like fire. It is activated by the breath in the right nostril where it stimulates the left side of the brain. The flow through this nadi provides, motivation, drive and the pursuit if higher knowledge, and operates mainly throughout the day time. Breathing through the right nostril means that yogis can speed up their metabolism and heart rate, also said to improve function of eyes and ears.
Placement of Nadis
The Nose (2)
- RIGHT: Pingala “the RED” branches from base of the spine to the third eye and ends at right nostril, supplying prana to it and governing the right nasal passage.
- LEFT: Ida “the Inspirer”. As above and ending at left nostril – It governs inspired or visionary speech, and causes whole body to be nourished through prana
- Ayurveda: The channels to the nose can be stimulated by direct pressure to either side of nostrils. Nasya with oils, aromatherapy with mint or cinnamon
- Pranayama: Nadi Sodha Pranayama (Alternate nostril breathing)
- Meditation: Anapana (attention on nasal passage from Vipassana tradition)
The Eyes (2)
- RIGHT Pusha“The Nourisher” branches from the third eye and goes to the right eye, supplies prana to the eye. Yoga suggests the soul (atman) dwells in the right eye during the waking state.
- LEFT: Gandhari “A musical Note”. As above to left eye – Promotes dream and creative vision.
- Ayurveda: Apply pressure to points around the eyes particularly centrally above and below eyes is ideal (triphala ghee ideal). You may also massage ajna (third eye) using sandalwood oil.
- Asanas: eye exercises
- Mudra: Trataka (concentrated gazing), shambavi mudra (eyebrow centre gazing), nasikagra (nose tip gazing)
- Mantra: Om
The Ears (2)
- RIGHT: Payasvini: “full of Juice” branches from the third eye and goes to right ear, supplies prana to ear and governs eustachian tube. It is said that from the right ear we hear the inner sounds.
- LEFT: Shankhini “like a sea shell”. As above to the left ear and left Eustachian tube – It is said to make us receptive to higher influences.
- Ayurveda: Apply massage to ears and pressure to lobes (brahmi oil ideal)
- Asanas: Childs pose, karnipadmasana, sarvanghasana.
- Pranayama: Bhramari Pranayama (Bumble bee breath)
- Mantra: Om
The Extremities (2)
- RIGHT: Yashasvati “Abounding in glory”. Comes from root chakra to the navel chakra and branches out to supply prana to right hand and foot, coming to centre in middle of hand/foot, radiating out to five fingers or toes. Yoga suggests there is a strong healing energy in the right hand, as like the right eye which often relates to the soul.
- LEFT: Hastijihva “The Elephants Tongue”. Runs from the root chakra to the navel chakra where it branches out, and as above to left hand and foot.
- Ayurveda: Herbal oil massage applied to hands, feet, fingers and toes is important as it is the easiest nadi to manipulate externally. Through the hands and feet we can manipulate the whole pranic flow of the body. These channels govern the secondary chakras which lie at shoulder, elbow, wrist, hand, knee, ankle and foot. We can even massage the limbs to increase pranic flow through these nadis.
- Asanas: all asanas, but particularly those that deal with the navel
- Pranayama: Bhastrika (bellows breath).
- Bhanda: Uddiyana
- Mantra: Ram
1. Alambusha “Barrier or limit”. Runs from centre of root chakra, to the tip of rectum and supplies prana to organs of elimination. It ends at anus, and relates to root, earth chakra, and is connected to apana.
- Ayurveda: massage of the rectum, or application of herbs and oils to this site. This is the second most important channel after sushumna. Vata imbalances may be treated here by medicated enema called basti.
- Asana: Karnipadmasana, Garlands pose.
- Bhanda: Mulabhanda
- Mudra: Ashwini
- Mantra: Vam
2. Kuhu “the Hidden or new Moon”. Runs from base of spine to sacral chakra, supplies prana to reproductive organs, and connected urinary organs. Finishes at tip of penis, or vagina, and relates to sex or water chakra and is connected to apana.
- Ayurveda: Point above the perineum, or the point above the penis, as well as by oil application to the urethra (men and women). Bhrami oil applied here is best for gaining control of sexual function.
- Asana: Baddha Konasana, Horse pose, Malasana
- Bhanda: Mulabhanda
- Mantra: Lam
3. Vishvodhara “the Carrier of All”. Runs from base of spine to the navel and then to the stomach, supplies prana to digestive organs. It finishes at the navel, and relates to solar and fire chakra, and has its connections in samana.
- Ayurveda: Massage to abdomen, around navel with herbs and oils and ginger oil, paste. Good internally taken digestive herbs are also great course of action.
- Asana: Shalambhasana (locust), Dhanurasana (Bow)
- Pranayama: Bhastrika with Uddiyana bhanda to finish.
- Mantra: Ram
4. Varuna “the pervader”. Runs from base of spine to heart chakra and supplies prana to entire body through respiratory systems (breathing), circulatory systems (blood), and the sebaceous (skin) systems. It finishes at the skin. It is related to heart or air chakra and to vyana vayu. This nadi allows for a deeper knowing in the heart to manifest.
- Ayurveda: Massage to whole body can be applied with application of herbs and oils to skin, particularly to back of body at region of heart chakra
- Asana: Garudhasana, hand stand, bakasana (crow).
- Mudra: Hridaya mudra
- Mantra: Yum
5. Sarasvati “The goddess of speech”. It runs from the base of the spine to the throat chakra. It goes to the tip of the tongue mouth and throat, supplying prana here. It is related to throat or ether chakra, udana vayu, and gives rise to the powers of speech, wisdom, and mantra as its name suggests.
- Ayurveda: Application to tongue not possible, so apply oils to neck and throat
- Asana: Simhasana
- Mudra: Kechari Mudra (Tongue to roof of mouth)
- Mantra: Hum
6. Sushumna “The Very Blissful”. It runs from base of spine and root chakra to top of head, energising the spine, the brain and nerve tissues. It also supports our bones. Most interestingly, at the region of the third eye it collects the energy of all other nadis, and particularly the eight left-ride side nadis. Of the five pranas, it is connected to prana vayu.
- Ayurveda: Apply pressure to crown of head with massage of scalp (brahmi oil ideal)
- Asanas: rabbit pose headstand.
- Pranayama: Sushumna breathing
- Mantra: Shreem