The Three Main Nadis
Ida, Pingala, and Sushumna
Nadis Convey the Life Force
The Hatha Yoga tradition says that there are about 72,000 nadis (subtle channels of prana [energy]) that convey the life force in a human being. Ida, pingala, and sushumna are known to be the three principal nadis. The ending point of the three main nadis is brahmarandhra (the “Brahmic aperture”), at the crown of the head. In the state of nirvikalpa samadhi, an important part of the energies passing through these three channels is absorbed in the single para or amrita nadi.
Ida Nadi—The Passive Channel
Ida nadi means “comfort energy channel.” It is the passive, feminine, yin energy channel in the subtle body. It lies to the left of sushumna nadi, and its energy is complementary to that of pingala nadi. Ida nadi, also known as chandra nadi, begins at a subtle level in muladhara chakra, goes along the back on the left side of the spine, and intersects with pingala nadi in ajna chakra (the coordinator of polarity in the being).
The color white is used to represent the subtle vibrational quality of ida nadi. Symbolically, it is associated with the Moon and is considered tamasic (inert) in nature.
Ida-like individuals have lunar, nurturing qualities but may lack the verve to sustain an active life and dedicated yoga practice. They are full of potential, but unless they develop their solar side, they may never manifest that potential in either worldly affairs or spiritual development.
Pingala Nadi—The Active Channel
Pingala nadi (also known as surya nadi) is the “tawny energy channel.” It is the masculine, active, yang energy channel in the subtle body. It lies to the right of sushumna nadi, and its energy is complementary to that of ida nadi.
Like ida nadi, pingala nadi begins at a subtle level in muladhara chakra. It then goes along the back on the right side of the spine until it intersects with ida in ajna. There are books on yoga that describe ida and pingala nadis intersecting and crossing from one part of the body to another, around sushumna, at the level of each chakra. This image is compared to the winged staff of Mercury (the caduceus). While many interesting correlations can be made between the Eastern yogic tradition of nadis and the caduceus, this description is not correct. In fact, ida and pingala nadis only go through the left and right parts of the torso, respectively. They indeed touch each other at the level of each chakra, but they do not cross from right to left until ajna chakra.
This fact is expressed in Taoism as well, where we find the affirmation that the left part of the torso is more yin and the right part is more yang. It also corresponds with our own observations—we do not perceive the left part of the body as being yin only between muladhara and svadhisthana chakras, and then yang between svadhisthana and manipura chakras, and so on. Actually, none of the traditional yogic texts describes the paths of ida and pingala in an accurate way. There is certainly no discussion of the nadis crossing at the chakras until ajna chakra.
The vibrational quality of pingala nadi is represented by the color red. Symbolically, it is associated with the Sun and is considered rajasic (dynamic) in nature.
Pingala-like individuals have solar qualities, including Type A personalities, lots of creativity, and abundant vitality. Unless they develop their lunar side, they may lack the quietude, introspection, and receptivity necessary to yield to the grace of spiritual awakening.
Sushumna Nadi—The Central Channel
Sushumna nadi, the “most gracious energy channel,” is the neutral energy channel that passes through the spine in the subtle body. It begins in muladhara chakra and goes along the middle of the subtle spine to brahmarandhra at the crown of the head.
Sushumna is the expression of perfect balance and neutrality between ida nadi and pingala nadi, the polar aspects of our being. Bringing ida and pingala into equilibrium means the absorption of the energy in sushumna, which represents a major focus of Hatha Yoga—so important, in fact, that the term hatha symbolizes this balance. Although the word hatha literally means “forceful” in Sanskrit, it is composed of ha and tha, two esoteric bija (seed) mantras. Ha represents the solar qualities of pingala; tha represents the lunar qualities of ida.
Balancing Sun and Moon, or pingala and ida, facilitates the awakening and rising of kundalini shakti through sushumna nadi and, thus, the awakening of higher consciousness. Some yoga teachings hold that as long as either ida or pingala predominates, sushumna stays closed and the power of kundalini lies dormant.
In yoga, we endeavor to make prana (life force energy) run in sushumna nadi, which is also known as brahma nadi. When energy flows predominantly through sushumna for long periods of time, we become “dead to the world,” and enter into samadhi. Symbolically, sushumna is associated with the Fire element (tejas tattva) and it is considered sattvic (harmonious) in nature.
According to the Lalita Sahasranama (a Tantric text devoted to the Goddess), fiery-red sushumna has within it both the lustrous vajra nadi (which is of the nature of the Sun) and the pale nectar-dropping chitra nadi (which is of the nature of the Moon). Chitra (or chitrini) nadi is responsible for dreams, hallucinations, and visions.