If you practice yoga, you’ve likely heard of chakras. These whirling vortexes of energy are a very popular part of yogic subtle anatomy. But have you heard of nadis? These equally important aspects of the subtle body don’t seem to get quite as much recognition.
The word nadi literally translates to “flowing water” or “river.” And these powerful “rivers” are believed to flow through our bodies in astronomical proportions.
Ancient yogic texts disagree on the actual number of nadis in the human body, but many texts say that there are upwards of 72,000 that flow through the body!
In essence, this number is likely not meant to be taken literally, but – instead – is meant to signify a number that is beyond counting. One could argue that there are an infinite number of nadis within the human body.
What Are Nadis?
But what exactly are nadis? This is not so easy to answer because they aren’t tangible cells that we can place under a microscope for inspection.
Instead, they are subtle energy channels through which prana or life-force energy flows. In the same way our physical veins carry blood through our circulatory system, the nadis are believed to be subtle channels that carry energy through our being.
If you’re not exactly sure what prana is, read Prana: Demystifying Life Force Energy
Despite there being an uncountable number of nadis in the body, there are three that are said to be of the utmost importance.
These three major “rivers” criss-cross around each other to create a double helix pattern (similar to the shape of our DNA). At each point that all three major nadis intersect, a major chakra is formed.
Curious about the chakras? Read Chakra 101: An Introduction to the 7 Chakras
These Are the 3 Most Important Nadis of the Body:
All three of these major channels begin at the base of the spine and run up or along the central axis of the body (the spine).
1. Sushumna Nadi
Sushumna Nadi is considered to be the single most important energy channel within the body. This central channel runs from the base of the spine up to the crown of the head – along the central axis of the core.
It is believed that there is a sacred, coiled serpent energy that lives in each and every one of us. Typically, this energy (known as Kundalini Shakti) lies dormant at the base of the spine, coiled three and a half times around the Muladhara Chakra (Root Chakra).
Once awakened, Kundalini Shakti rises up the central channel of Sushumna, activating every chakra in its path, to reach its true home at the Sahasrara Chakra (Crown Chakra). When this happens, we reach enlightenment.
Want to learn more about Shakti energy? Here Are 5 Ways to Tap Into Your Inner Shakti
Ultimately, it’s believed that when Sushumna Nadi is balanced and active, we find true harmony in ourselves and we are fully awakened to the Divine.
2. Ida Nadi
Ida Nadi begins at the base of the spine and then runs up the central axis of the spine criss-crossing over Sushumna Nadi at each major chakra, and eventually, terminates in the left nostril.
Ida is associated with the lunar side of our bodies and our beings. It is the “yin” side that is considered to be softer, darker, more feminine, and more mysterious.
Because it terminates in the left nostril, it is also associated with right brain dominance, which is theorized to lean toward creativity and artistry.
3. Pingala Nadi
Pingala Nadi also begins at the base of the spine at the Root Chakra. It then runs up the central column of the spine, criss-crossing around Sushumna and Ida Nadis at every major chakra. Pingala eventually terminates in the right nostril.
This channel is associated with the solar side of our bodies and our beings. It is the “yang” side that is considered to be stronger, lighter, more masculine, and more obvious.
Because it terminates in the right nostril, it is also associated with left brain dominance, which is theorized to learn toward analytical and methodical thinking.
How Can You Stimulate and Activate Your Nadis in Your Yoga Practice?
Even if you haven’t heard of nadis before, you may be surprised to find out that you’ve likely manipulated these energy channels in your yoga or pranayama practice before.
Any practice that utilizes the concepts of sun and moon energies (sometimes called yin and yang or ha and tha) would manipulate and activate the nadis.
Also, pranayama practices such as Nadi Shodhana (literally meaning “channel cleansing breath” or often called Alternate Nostril Breath) specifically target the nadis – they’re even in the name!
By alternating which nostril we breathe through, we isolate the Ida and Pingala Nadis to create greater balance between them.
We can also target the nadis by working with the chakras in our practice. By awakening and activating specific chakras, we inevitably also awaken and activate the nadis that intersect at that energy center.
Furthermore, Ida and Pingala Nadi are also associated with our sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems – respectively our fight-or-flight and rest-and-digest responses.
When we are more activated (such as when exercising), our fight-or-flight response kicks in and we stimulate Pingala Nadi. When we are more relaxed (such as when practicing Restorative Yoga), our rest-and-digest response turns on and we stimulate Ida Nadi.
The Takeaway on These Powerful Energy Channels
You probably work with and affect your nadis more often than you even realized, so you don’t necessarily need to change the way you typically practice yoga to be able to benefit from the subtlety of the nadis and their flowing system.
Ultimately, all yoga practices that fall under the huge umbrella of Hatha Yoga (which is basically all physical forms of practice) have the same goal in mind: to awaken the Kundalini Shakti.
So whether you’re aware of it or not, your entire practice is very likely geared toward activating, awakening, and balancing your nadis. This, in turn, helps to awaken the serpent energy within you, which allows you to reach enlightenment.