A student of the great Indian poet Kabir once asked him, “Kabir, where is God?” His answer was simple: “He is the breath within the breath.” To understand the profound implications of Kabir’s reply, we need to look beyond the physical components of breath—the oxygen, carbon dioxide, and other molecules that stream in and out with our every inhalation and exhalation. Beyond this breath—yet within it—is prana, the universal vital energy that is quite literally the stuff of life.
For those of us who practice yoga, the challenge is to harness this energy so it can fuel our physical, mental, and spiritual development. To do this, we need to look deeply into the mysteries of the mind and the subtle body. Fortunately, the early practitioners of Tantra voyaged into this inner landscape, mapping the many ways energy circulates within us. Among their most important discoveries were the nadis, the vast network of energy channels that makes each individual an integrated, conscious, and vital whole.
Three nadis are of particular interest to yogis. The sushumna (most gracious) nadi is the body’s great river, running from the base of the spine to the crown of the head, passing through each of the seven chakras in its course. It is the channel through which kundalini shakti (the latent serpent power) —and the higher spiritual consciousness it can fuel—rises up from its origin at the muladhara (root) chakra to its true home at the sahasrara (thousandfold) chakra at the crown of the head. In subtle body terms, the sushumna nadi is the path to enlightenment.
The ida (comfort) and pingala (tawny) nadis spiral around the sushumna nadi like the double helix of our DNA, crossing each other at every chakra. If you visualize the caduceus, the symbol of modern medicine, you’ll get a rough idea of the relationships among the ida, pingala, and sushumna nadis. Eventually, all three meet at the ajna (command) chakra, midway between the eyebrows.
The most powerful method of balancing ida and pingala is Nadi Shodhana, alternate-nostril breathing. (Literally, the Sanskrit means “nadi cleansing.”) This practice is effective because the ida nadi is directly connected to the left nostril, and the pingala nadi to the right.
To practice Nadi Shodhana, sit in a comfortable meditative position. Make a fist with your right hand, then partially reextend your ring and little fingers. Lightly place the pad of the thumb on your nose just to the right and below the bridge; lightly place the pads of your ring and little fingers on the corresponding flesh on the left side of your nose. Gently pressing with the ring and little fingers to close the left nostril, exhale fully through the right. Then inhale fully through the right, close it with the thumb, release the left nostril, and exhale through it. Inhale through the left nostril, close it with the fingers, release the right nostril, and exhale through it. This completes one round of Nadi Shodhana.
Excerpt From Yoga Jounal Article, Balancing Act, By James Bailey