Even though we can't see them, the energy pathways in our subtle bodies are incredibly potent and have the potential to help us feel our best on all levels. We delve into the Kundalini, Sushumna, Ida, and Pingala energy channels and their potential for bringing about serenity, inspiration, vitality, and even enlightenment in your practise of yoga.
Ancient cultures had a very different perspective on the inner workings of the body than we do today, thousands of years before X-rays and MRIs. Holistic medical practises from the East, such as TCM, Tibetan medicine, and Ayurveda, recognised the existence of unseen energy pathways within the human body. These energy pathways are called meridian lines in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), but they were originally named Nadis by the Yogis of India. You may be familiar with these energy pathways if you've taken a Kundalini yoga class or engaged in pranayama or visualisation, but do you know how to harness their potential?
Pathways of vitality
The human body is said to contain over 72,000 energy meridians that carry subtle currents. These unseen pathways transport prana and Qi, also known as our "life force energy," just like our veins and arteries transport blood and oxygen. Like a blockage or deficiency in the veins and arteries can cause physical problems, the ancients recognised that problems in the Nadis and meridians can cause similar symptoms in the mind and body. Fascia is a connective tissue that is not only responsible for physical health but also has the capacity to hold emotions; think of it as holding 'issues in your tissues,' and you'll have a good idea of what I'm talking about.
According to yogic texts, there are three energy channels that can alter our energetic state and bring Kundalini energy to the crown of the head, where the upper Chakras (powerful energy centres) are located, potentially leading to a state of bliss and enlightenment. Sushumna, Ida, and Pingala are the names given to these three pathways. When these energy channels are activated, whether through breathwork or some other method, it has the same profound effect on the mind and body as the meridian lines.
The awakening of dormant Kundalini
The Muladhara Chakra, our most fundamental energy centre, is located at the base of the spine. Potential energy is said to be accumulating just below this threshold. Think of it as the possibility of experiencing ecstasy and enlightenment at the height of our power and vitality.
The yogis assert that through the use of pranayama, meditation, mantra, and asana, we can open channels for this vital energy to flow freely, allowing us to realise our full mental, physical, and spiritual potential. Many literary works use the image of a coiled snake ready to strike to illustrate this form of dormant energy. Kundalini, which comes from the Sanskrit for "coiled female serpent," refers to this phenomenon. "Shakti" is another name for it. Through yoga, the dormant feminine Shakti energy is reawakened, and then travels upward to the crown of the head, where it joins with the dormant masculine Shiva energy.
Aspect of the Sushumna Nadi
When the Kundalini Shakti begins its ascent, it travels up the spine and out the crown chakra via the Sushumna Nadi. The name, which can be translated as "joyful mind" or "most gracious mind," suggests that when this energy channel is unblocked and functioning optimally, we experience a more positive and uplifting frame of mind. Brahma Nadi is another name for Sushumna Nadi, with Brahma standing for the divine, absolute, or a form of God. Some people may believe that they are more closely aligned with their conception of God or divinity during times of extreme bliss.
It is along this primary subtle energy channel that the seven primary chakras can be found, one at each vertebral level. They are the Muladhara, Svadisthana, Manipura, Anahata, Vishuddi, Ajna, and Sahasrara chakras. When the chakras are'spinning' well and in a balanced state, without any blockages, the potential Kundalini Shakti energy at the base of the spine is free to flow upward along Sushumna Nadi. Chakra meditation, asanas (postures) like twists, inversions, and backbends, and pranayama (breathing exercises) are all meant to clear the channel through which prana (life force energy) can move. Kundalini yoga typically includes a series of kriyas, or ritualised yoga practises, designed to balance the chakras and activate the dormant feminine energy at the spine's base.
Breathing through the nostrils
Pranayama is a set of techniques for controlling and regulating the breath, most of which emphasise nasal breathing. A lot of people don't realise how important of a skill this is. As yoga has grown in popularity in recent years, so have techniques like Patrick McKeown's Oxygen Advantage and James Nestor's book Breath, both of which stress the importance of breathing deeply and regularly.
Humans have adapted to take in oxygen through their nasal passages, where it is filtered for particles and bacteria before entering the lungs. Increased efficiency in breathing improves oxygen levels in the blood, brain, and tissues, and has a calming effect on the nervous system. Nasal passages are opened up and breathing is made easier simply by breathing in through the nose. Those who have trouble breathing often find relief through pranayama.
Nostril: left or right?
The advantages of nasal breathing go beyond the obvious. The nasal passage we use to take a breath can also have a significant effect on our emotional and mental state. Swara Yoga, a traditional yogic practise, is based on a set of cryptic verses that discuss the flow, pattern, and power of the breath. The "The Shiva Swarodaya describes how one nostril will open to let breath in as the other softly closes throughout the day," writes James Nestor in his book Breath. Right nostril "yawns awake" some days to greet the sun, while the left "awakens" on days when the moon is full.
The text claims, and anecdotal studies corroborate, that everyone on Earth experiences the same rhythms of left and right nostril activation (called "nasal cycles"), which are particularly influenced by the sun and moon. Research also shows that the dominant nostril changes throughout the day, most often in response to our emotional state and our immediate surroundings.
Let José de Groot help you find your energetic centre.
Nadi Shodhana is a Pranayama technique that uses acupressure points to balance and clear the Yin and Yang energies of the body, and can be used to either relax a restless mind or stimulate a sluggish one. The release of pent-up feelings, stress, and exhaustion can also be therapeutic.
The Nadis of Ida and Pingala
Both the Ida and Pingala Nadis, located on either side of Sushumna Nadi, contribute to maintaining a healthy equilibrium between the body and mind. These channels, which run from the base of the spine to the third eye (Ajna Chakra), are responsible for transmitting both masculine and feminine energies and are commonly activated by pranayama exercises. These energy pathways between the left and right sides of the body are directly linked to the nostrils.
Pedal Nadi (Right nostril)
When you breathe through your right nostril, you're tapping into Pingala Nadi, which is associated with masculine energy, the sun, and fire. The right nostril breath is used to activate the Pingala Nadi (also called "surya bhedana" or "sun activating" breath). The effects can be seen in increases in heart rate, blood pressure, and other biometrics. The importance of right nostril breathing in activating the sympathetic nervous system (the "fight or flight" side of the nervous system) and getting the body ready for action is shown by all of these effects.
This is helpful if you're feeling unmotivated or exhausted, or if you want to counteract a low mood. When you breathe in through your right nostril, more oxygenated blood is carried to your left brain and prefrontal cortex, the areas of the brain responsible for rational thought, decision making, language, and computation. If you want to get in the zone for an active yoga session or workout, or if you just want to feel more awake and alert first thing in the morning, right nostril breathing is a great pranayama practise to try.
Nadia Ida (Left nostril)
Ida Nadi, which is associated with the moon, the feminine, and coolness or calmness, is located in the left nostril. Ida Nadi is stimulated by chandra bhedana, or "moon activating" breath, which entails breathing primarily through the left nostril. In addition, it stimulates your sympathetic nervous system, also known as the "rest and digest" system. This reduces stress and anxiety, as well as blood pressure and body temperature. This type of breathing also increases blood flow to the right side of the brain, which controls imaginative and emotional processes. If you're having trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, or getting your mind off of stressful situations, try breathing through your left nostril.
Feeling your energy flowing freely? In your yoga practise, what do you think you'd benefit from emphasising the most?