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Nāḍi (Sanskrit नाडी nāḍī = tube, pipe; Tamili//naadi) நாடி = nerve, blood vessel, pulse) are a term for the channels through which, in traditional Indian medicine and spiritual science, the energies of the physical body, the subtle body and the causal body are said to flow. Within this philosophical framework, the nadis are said to connect at special points of intensity called nadichakras. The concepts of a subtle body and a causal body are not recognised terms used in conventional science or medicine.
The word "nadi" is pronounced as "nāḍī", with long vowel sounds and a retroflex 'd'. They are an important concept in Hindu philosophy and are mentioned and described in numerous texts going back about 3,000 years to the earliest scriptures. All texts explains that there are a large amount of nadis present in the human bodies, some claims hundred-of-thousands, some millions. In regard to Kundalini yoga, there are three important nadis: ida, pingala, and sushumna. Ida (इडा, iḍā) lies to the left of the spine, whereas pingala (पिङ्गल, piṅgala) is to the right side of the spine, mirroring the ida. Sushumna (सुषुम्णा, suṣumṇā) runs along the spinal cord in the center, through the seven chakras – Muladhara at the base, and Sahasrara at the top (or crown) of the head. Under the correct conditions the energy of kundalini is said to uncoil and enter sushumna through the brahma dwara or gate of Brahma at the base of the spine.
Several of the ancient Upanishads use the concept of nadis (channels). An early version of the nadi system is mentioned in the Chandogya Upanishad (among several others), which is believed to be about 3,000 years old, comparing and connecting them with the rays of the Sun. When discussing what happens after death for the enlightened, Chandogya Upanishad states:
"A hundred and one are the arteries of the heart, one of them pierces the crown of the head. Going upward through that, one becomes immortal at death. Other arteries, going in different directions, only serve as channels for his departure from the body, ..." (CU 8.6.6)
The contemporary Prasna Upanishad reveals a bit more:
3.6 "In the heart verily is Jivātma. Here a hundred and one nāḍis arise. For each of these nāḍis there are one hundred nāḍikās. For each of these there are thousands more. In these Vyâna moves."
3.7 "Through one of these, the Udâna leads us upward by virtue of good deeds to the good worlds, by sin to the sinful worlds, by both to the worlds of men indeed." (PU Q3)
The later Varaha Upanishad further describes the nadis in Hindu philosphical terms as follows:
"The nāḍis penetrate the body from the soles of the feet to the crown of the head. In them is prāṇa, the breath of life and in that life abides Ātman, which is the abode of Shakti, creatrix of the animate and inanimate worlds." (VU 54/5)
Functions and activities
In the yoga theory, nadis are said to carry life force energies known as prana in Sanskrit. In the physical body, the nadis are channels carrying air, water, nutrients, blood and other bodily fluids around and are similar to the arteries, veins, capillaries, bronchioles, nerves, lymph canals and so on. In yoga theory, the physical body is often referred to as "the gross body" (Sanskrit Sthula sarira) in English.
In the subtle and the causal body, the nadis are channels for so called cosmic, vital, seminal, mental, intellectual, etc. energies (collectively described as prana) and are important for sensations, consciousness and the spiritual aura.
Many nadis are named after their function and the Shiva Samhita mentions a total of 350,000 nadis in the human body. The Samhita further explains, that 14 of these nadis are particularly important and that the three most vital of these are the Sushumna, Pingala and the Ida nadis.
When awakened, kundalini travels upward within Sushumna. The Ida and Pingala nadis are often seen as referring to the two hemispheres of the brain. Pingala is the extroverted (Active), solar nadi, and corresponds to the right hand side of the body and the left hand side of the brain. Ida is the introverted, lunar nadi, and corresponds to the left hand side of the body and the right hand side of the brain (there is a contralateralization). These nadis are also said to have an extrasensory function, playing a part in empathic and instinctive responses. The two nadis are believed to be stimulated through different Pranayama practices, including nadi shodhana, which involves alternately breathing through the left and right nostrils, which would theoretically stimulate the left and right sides of the brain respectively. The word nadi comes from the Sanskrit root nad meaning "channel", "stream", or "flow". Special breathing techniques are supposed to influence the flow of prana within these nadis. According to this interpretation, these techniques will purify and develop these two energetic currents and may lead to the awakening of kundalini.
Ida, Pingala and Sushumna
Amongst these ducts or nadis, three are of the utmost importance: the Sushumna, which interpenetrates the cerebrospinal axis, and in swara yoga is associated with both nostrils being open and free to the passage of air. The lunar channel Ida is pale in color and located on the left side. It is associated with feminine attributes, the moon and an open left nostril. The solar channel Pingala is red in color and located on the right side. It is associated with masculine attributes, the light of the sun, and an open right nostril. Those are the most important nadis. Some tantric texts describe thousand or even millions of nadis.
The medieval Sat-Cakra-Nirupana (1520s), one of the later and more fully developed classical texts on nadis and chakras, refers to these three main nadis by the names Sasi, Mihira, and Susumna.
In the space outside the Meru, the right apart from the body placed on the left and the right, are the two Nadis, Sasi and Mihira. The Nadi Susumna, whose substance is the threefold Gunas, is in the middle. She is the form of Moon, Sun, and Fire even water also; Her body, a string of blooming Dhatura flowers, extends from the middle of the Kanda to the Head, and the Vajra inside Her extends, shining, from the Medhra to the Head.
Sushumna (alternatively known as Susumna) Nadi connects the base chakra to the crown chakra. It is very important in Yoga and Tantra in general. Alternative medicine also refers to Sushumna sometimes. In Raja Yoga or Yoga of Patanjali, when the mind is quietened through Yama, Niyama, Asana and Pranayama the important state of Pratyahara begins. A person entering this state never complains of Dispersion of Mind. This is characterised by observing the movements/jerks in Sushumna, the central canal in the subtle body. The movements indicate the flow of Prana through the central canal and in the process, the sushumna makes the way for the ascent of Kundalini.
Pingala is associated with solar energy. The word pingala means "tawny" in Sanskrit. Pingala has a sunlike nature and masculine energy. Its temperature is heating and courses from the right testicle to the right nostril. It corresponds to the river Yamuna.
Ida is associated with lunar energy. The word ida means "comfort" in Sanskrit. Idā has a moonlike nature and feminine energy with a cooling effect. It courses from the left testicle to the left nostril and corresponds to the Ganges river.
The Ida and Pingala nadis are often seen as referring to the two hemispheres of the brain. Pingala is the extroverted, solar nadi, and corresponds to left hemisphere . Ida is the introverted, lunar nadi, and refers to the right hemisphere of the brain. Ida nadi controls all the mental processes while Pingala nadi controls all the vital processes.
Other traditions and interpretations
Other cultures also work with concepts similar to nadis and prana.
Systems based on Traditional Chinese Medicine work with an energy concept called qi. Qi travels through meridians similar in description to the nadis. The microcosmic orbit practice has many similarities to certain Indian nadi shuddha (channel clearing) exercises and the practice of Kriya Yoga.
Tibetan medicine borrows many concepts from Yoga through the influence of Tantric Buddhism. One of the Six Yogas of Naropa is a cleansing of the central channel called phowa, preparing the soul to leave the body through the sagittal suture. The Vajrayana practice of Trul Khor is another practice used to direct and control the flow of energy within the body's energetic meridians through breath control and physical postures.
Sometimes the three main nadis (Ida, Pingala and Sushumna) are related to the Caduceus of Hermes: "the two snakes of which symbolize the kundalini or serpent-fire which is presently to be set in motion along those channels, while the wings typify the power of conscious flight through higher planes which the development of that fire confers".
Notes and references
- "Light on Pranayama" (Ch. 5: Nadis and Chakras)
- For reference to Chandogya Upanishad 8.6.6 and interpretation as an early form of the occult physiology see: McEvilley, Thomas. "The Spinal Serpent", in: Harper and Brown, p.94.
- Nāḍikās are small nadis.
Udâna are often translated as "out-breathing" in this context. Perhaps a metaphor for death.
- Prasna Upanishad, Question 3 § 6, 7.
- Varahopanisad V, 54/5.
- Other texts explains there are 72,000 nadis in the human body and each branches out to another 72,000 nadis.
- Arthur Avalon, The Serpentine Power (collection of yoga-tantric texts)
- Tommaso Palamidessi, The Occult Constitution of Man and Woman, Bio-energy and the energetic ducts
- Sat-Cakra-Narupana, The Muladhara Cakra, transl. Sir John Woodroffe in The Serpent Power: Being the Ṣaṭ-cakra-nirūpana and Pādukā-pañcaka
- Three fundamental nadis
- C. W. Leadbeater, Chakras, Adyar, 1929
- Chandogya Upanishad, probably 600-900 BCE
- Prasna Upanishad, probably 0-500 BCE
- Varaha Upanishad
- Sat-Cakra-Nirupana, Purnananda Swami
- Shiva Samhita, probably the 1600s
- B. K. S. Iyengar (2010). Light on Pranayama. the Crossroad Publishing Company.