What Are Nadis (for)?
Tantric forms of Yoga centre a great deal of their efforts on the correct management of vital energy. Tantrikas believe that vital energy (or life force) operates in our bodies in subtle form at various levels, from the physical to the spiritual.
This is why, in Tantric forms of Yoga, we also work at different levels in order to engage with our life force in all of its forms. The different levels we're speaking of are those of asana, bandha, mudra, pranayama, meditation and mantra, and together they conform a solid roadmap for the energetic and spiritual development of any student of Yoga.
Now, our Nadis are key to the correct management and circulation of vital energy through our bodies; and though we've briefly touched upon them in earlier entries, perhaps it's time we dwell on them a little more deeply, considering the type of stellar role they play in supporting health and facilitating spiritual awakening.
Subtle Anatomy. Building Blocks
If you have a hard time putting an image to the word, you can think of Nadis as a sort of invisible network of channels not too different from those of our physical circulatory system or nervous system, though these are charged with the circulation of spiritual energy beyond our physical body.
Conformed by a network of 72.000 channels, the meaning of the Sanskrit term 'Nadi' is that of 'flow' ('flowing water'); so we can say that our Nadis are the pathways where vital energy or life force flows. Unlike our blood vessels or nerves, however, our Nadis cannot be located on the physical body ––they simply cannot be 'seen.' They exist beyond the physical body, at the level of our subtle body. As Swami Goswami notes, they correspond to the ¨non-nervous, subtle conduction-lines for non-gross experiences¨ (1999, p. 24).
That the Nadis be subtle instead of gross and material does not make them any less real, nor does it mean that they exist in a vacuum. On the contrary. Nadis are very much a part of our subtle body system and, together with our chakras, they are in part responsible not just for the awakening of Kundalini Shakti, but also often for any imbalance that finds manifestation at the level of the physical body.
Indeed, Tantric forms of Yoga take for granted that, in this world we inhabit, there are experiences that exceed the limits of what we can see, hear, say, taste, feel or understand. This insight lies at the heart of most of the deeper philosophical and spiritual teachings of traditional forms of Yoga. Hence, when thinking of Nadis or any other subtle anatomy element for that matter (Chakras, Bodies, energy, et cetera) it is fundamental to keep an open mind and allow our brains to consider the existence of simply more stuff than meets the eye.
Ida, Pingala & Sushumna
Out of this network of 72.000 Nadis, ten are said to be the most relevant and most of these can be found in a region of our subtle anatomy that corresponds more or less to the area of our spinal cord. Still, Nadis are not physical. They're subtle. So take their placement alongside the spine with a pinch of salt.
Tantric forms of Yoga work predominantly with three of the ten main Nadis. Those of Ida, Pingala and Sushumna; and by working with these three, they also engage with a network of three other deeper or more subtle nadis within Sushumna Nadi that have an important role to play in advanced stages of Kundalini Awakening and the spiritualization of the mind in general. These are the channels of Wraja, Chitrini and Brahma Nadi.
One of the most effective methods to work with Ida, Pingala and Sushumna to improve the flow of vital energy through them is the practice of asana (bandha, mudra) and pranayama. When practiced intelligently, asana and pranayama can help revitalise the entirety of our physical vessel, remove existing blockages in any of our Nadis, switch from the sympathetic to the parasympathetic nervous system, balance the flow of energy between both brain hemispheres, and thus, help us attain a more relaxed and more equanimous state of mind. It is for this reason, then, that asana and pranayama conform the foundation of most popular forms of Yoga. They are the kind of practices one must engage in at the beginning of her journey into Yoga so that, once we move on to the more advanced aspects of this philosophy (notably mantra practice and meditation) the entirety of our being may be adequately equipped. We want not only to be able to handle long hours of sitting or chanting, one-pointed concentration, or absorption beyond the senses, but also any spiritual experience resulting from this.
The scriptures tell us that the physical body is the ultimate vessel: a container of vital energy that, when well maintained, can make it a lot easier for any of us to live long enough so as to be able to engage in the type of practices necessary to reach enlightenment. And so, by working intelligently at the level of the physical body, while engaging elements already beyond it, we remove any blockages in our Nadis, any tendencies in our mind and body that may be holding us back, and become Yogis in the full expression of the word: as s/he ¨who is free of blockages.¨
According to the scriptures, then, specific regions of our mind are connected to our Chakras, which are all connected to one another through Sushumna Nadi, which can in turn be accessed by working with the yin & yang or moon & sun energies that circulate through Ida and Pingala Nadi. Therefore, by stimulating these channels directly (by practicing Nadi Shodhana for example) or indirectly, we can affect the ways in which our brain hemispheres operate, the way in which our nervous system sends signal, the kind of thoughts we think, and as a result, our emotions and how we feel.