In the previous article, we talked about Pranamaya Kosha and pranic energy. Pranamaya kosha is one of the five koshas of our existence, and it’s also the link between the physical body and the other three subtle bodies. The pranic energy is moving throughout our system. The pathways through which the pranic energy is moving is known as “nadis”. In this article, we’re going to talk about the nadis and its relationship with kundalini.
“Nadi” is a Sanskrit word coming from the root “nad” which means “flow”. There are two kinds of nadis. They are gross (or physical) nadis and subtle nadis. The gross nadis include nerves, vessels, tubes, lymphatic system, etc. All of these are the physical part. The subtle nadis are invisible energy channels. They are again divided into two categories: manovahi” nadis and “chittavahi” nadis. “Manovahi” nadis are related to the mind, and “chittvahi” nadis are related to the sense of being, or sense of oneself.
Totally, there are more than 727 million nadis in the body. Out of the 727 million nadis, 72,000 nadis have been identified by the ancient medical system in India known as “Ayuveda”. Out of the 72,000 nadis, 108 nadis are considered as important. Many ancient yogi practices named 14 of these 108 nadis. Out of these 14 nadis, there are 3 nadis which are called “yoga nadis”. These 3 yoga nadis help us realize the true divine potential within us. These three yoga nadis are “sushumna”, “ida” and ”pingala”.
Sushumna begins at the base of the spine and goes all the way up to the crown of the head. It is the most important nadi in our system. Let me explain why. Inside all of us, there is a divine potential. This divine potential is known as “kundalini”. Kundalini is nothing but extremely concentrated pranic energy. Even though we all have this energy, not all this energy is active at all time. This divine potential is usually sleeping at the base of the spine.
The objective of studying about this kundalini energy as well as chakras is to learn how to awaken this sleeping divine potential within us and guide it all the way up to the crown of the head. When the kundalini reaches the crown of the head, that is when we’re set to experience “enlightenment”. “Enlightenment” is called by different names in different traditions. For example, in Buddhist tradition, it is known as “nirvana”. In certain other traditions, it is known as “divine kingdom”. Awakened kundalini processes through one particular nadi, which is the sushumna. That’s why sushumna is considered as the most important nadi.
Besides sushumna, there are two important nadis. The one on the left side is called ida; and the one on the right side is called pingala. Ida and pingala both begin at the base of the spine as sushumna does, and criss-cross with each other along sushumna for several times and ultimately come to the mid point between the eyebrows. Wherever the three nadis intersect, there is a chakra, or energy center. Then from the point between eyebrows, pingala goes down and exits the right nostril, and ida goes down and exits the left nostril. Only sushumna continues till the crown of the head.
As we just mentioned, the right nostril is known as pingala, and the left nostril is known as ida. Pingala is also called surya nadi. It is rajasic in nature. So when you’re breathing through the right nostril, the constituent elements in the body are burn and the energy is created, then you tend to be active. Ida is also known as Chandra nadi. It is sattvic in nature, which means your mind will be more focused when the left nostril is flowing.
Even though we have two nostrils, for most of the time, we’re breathing only through one nostril, either left or right, rather than two. Usually we breathe 15 times per minute, which translates to 900 breaths per hour. Out of these 900 breaths, only about 10 breaths happen to both nostrils. For the rest of the time, we’re breathing either through right nostril or through left nostril. When you’re breathing through the right nostril, the pingala is flowing; when breathing through the left nostril, ida is flowing. It is easy for you to check which nostril is flowing right now by placing a finger just below the nose and breathing out forcefully to the finger.
Interestingly, our breathing cycle is related to the moon phases. During the first nine days of waning moon (from full moon to new moon), right nostril is dominant. And for waxing days (from new moon to full moon), left nostril is dominant. We also have a certain rhythm of breathing everyday. Usually for 60-90 minutes, one of the nostrils will be flowing. Then it switches to the other nostril to flow for another 60-90 minutes. When the dominant nostril switches from one to the other, there is a very brief interval when the breaths flow through both nostrils.
Whenever both nostrils are flowing, the sushumna is flowing. And meditation happens best when your sushumna is flowing. So in yoga practice, especially in pranayama, they teach you techniques on how to bring it to both nostrils flowing whenever you want. Sushumna automatically flows on certain specific occasions, such as at the time of dawn or dust. This is the reason why in yoga philosophy, they always teach you to meditate at dawn time and dust time. Dawn is usually two hours before the sunrise, which means about 4AM to 6AM in the morning. Therefore, it’s considered the most powerful time to meditate.
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