Everything that has a physical form also has a subtle, energetic form - including our bodies! Most people have heard of the chakras by now (energy centers that run along your spine), but a lesser-known aspect of subtle anatomy is the nadis.
Since this is an energetic science, there is some debate over exactly how many channels are present, but according to Tantric wisdom, our bodies consist of 72,000 nadis! Out of the 72,000, there are fourteen that are predominant, and three that have the most impact. Here we are going to discuss the three main ones: Ida, Pingala, and Shushumna. These three channels start at the base of our spine and run vertically through our energy field - the Shushumna nadi is the most powerful channel and runs through the central axis of our body (the spine); the Ida and Pingala flank the left and right of it respectively. Sometimes these channels can become blocked due to trauma or stress, which results in mental, emotional, and physical dis-ease. Learning how to work through these blockages so prana can flow freely is paramount to well-being.
The Ida nadi is associated with the left side of our body and is considered the lunar side. It is feminine, cooling, soft, intuitive, and associated with sleep, the dream state, and the unseen world. The Ida nadi is related to the parasympathetic nervous system (also known as the rest + digest response). Some symptoms of a blocked or imbalanced Ida nadi are depression, introversion, sluggishness, and lack of discernment.
The Pingala nadi is associated with the right side of our body and is considered the solar side. It is masculine, warming, active, and focuses on outward growth and expansion. The Pingala nadi is related to the sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight). Some symptoms of a blocked or imbalanced Pingala nadi are anger, insomnia, anxiety, and irritability.
The Shushumna nadi is the most powerful and important channel. It carries kundalini shakti energy upwards as it is awakened through spiritual practice. As your awakening unfolds, it connects your lesser self to your higher Self, where you are all-knowing, limitless, supported, free, and filled with love. The Shushumna nadi only flows freely when the Ida and Pingala nadis are balanced and clear, which is why it is so important to our well-being on a holistic level.
*The Ida and Pingala nadis start and end to the left and to the right of the Sushumna respectively, moving in spirals like the DNA helix, each place they intersect a chakra is formed. This pattern is also similar to the medical symbol of the two snakes moving up a winged staff - coincidence? 🧐 I think not!*
About every ninety minutes or so our dominant energy changes. You can tell by noticing which nostril has blocked or restricted airflow - the left nostril correlates with the Ida nadi and the right with the Pingala. If the airflow is even, it is a sign that you are in balance and the Shushumna nadi is flowing freely. The amazing thing about our bodies and energy is that we can consciously impact them to bring them to alignment.
Pranayama is one of the most effective ways to bring balance to the nadis. Specifically, through the practice of Nadi Shodhana, which literally translates to clearing/purifying the channels! This practice is also known as Anuloma Viloma or alternate nostril breathing. Using your right hand, fold down your middle and index fingers towards your palm. Place your thumb up to your right nostril, and your ring finger up toyour left. Cover your right nostril with your thumb as you breathe through the left. As you exhale, cover your left nostril and let it out through the right. On your next inhale, keep your left nostril covered as you breathe through the right. Next, cover your right nostril and exhale through the left. Continue this for about a minute to start - with more practice you can extend the length.
Yoga is also a great way to bring balance to the nadis. All forms of yoga are oriented towards awakening Kundalini Shakti, and they all deliberately impact the nadis. If you want to get more specific, yin/restorative practices would stimulate the Ida nadi, whereas ashtanga or bikram may stimulate the Pingala nadi.