Nadis are pathways of pranic, mental and spiritual currents, which form a matrix throughout the physical body. They provide energy to every cell, organ and part through their vast network, carrying prana back and forth in every direction. Nadis are not physical, measurable or dissectible structures within the body, but channels of energy which underlie and sustain life and consciousness. In higher states of consciousness the nadis can actually be seen as flows of energy, as described by the yogis.

Major nadis
Out of the thousands of nadis, which include all the major and minor flows, seventy-two are considered important. Out of these seventy-two, ten are considered to be major. Among the ten major pranic flows, three are most significant: ida, pingala and sushumna. These three major nadis are situated in the spinal column and pass through every chakra. Ida nadi is the mental channel, pingala nadi the vital channel and sushumna nadi the spiritual channel. Ida, pingala and sushumna are the three main channels for the distribution of energy throughout the entire pranic network. Maximum pranic charges flow through them and they impact the entire network instantly; they are the high voltage wires that conduct the energy from the substations or chakras situated along the spinal column to all the other nadis.

Location of the nadis
The system of kundalini yoga describes mooladhara chakra as the main plexus of the pranic body from which the nadis emanate. Ida, pingala and sushumna originate here and then ida and pingala flow alternately, coiling around the spinal passage from left to right, while sushumna flows straight up through the middle. Ida emerges from the left of mooladhara, pingala from the right, and sushumna flows
straight up through the centre.
From mooladhara chakra, pin-gala curves to the right and crosses swadhisthana, goes to the left to mani-pura, then to the right to anahata, to the left to vishuddhi, to the right to ajna at the top of the spine and then straight to sahasrara. Ida follows a similar path, but on the opposite side. As pingala crosses to the right, ida crosses to the left and so on (see diagram). As ida and pingala cross over at each chakra, their energy currents branch off via the network of nadis to all the respective organs and parts of the body. In this way the matrix of nadis carries these two opposite forces to every cell, organ and part of the body.

Ida governs the left side of the body and pingala the right. This can be explained with the analogy of a magnet. If a magnet is cut in half, either end of the magnet assumes opposite polarity. Similarly, the body is polarized, so that pingala governs the right side and ida the left. The central axis of ida and pingala is sushumna. This nadi is the mystical path of yoga that flows in between ida and pingala. Sushumna rises straight up through the centre of the spine, meeting ida and pingala at the points where they cross the chakras, and uniting with them at ajna chakra.
Sushumna is the pathway through which the kundalini rises, and thus forms the basis for the progressive awakening of higher knowledge. However, this pathway remains dor-mant in most people until a higher state of evolution is reached. The inner structure of sushumna comprises three subtler nadis, which become active when sushumna is awakened. Inside sushumna is vajra nadi, within which lies chitra or chitrini nadi, and at the centre is brahma nadi, the subtlest flow. Brahma nadi is so called because the higher centres of consciousness are directly activated via this channel. When the kundalini shakti passes through this channel, transcen-dental experiences take place.

Link with flow of nostrils:

Ida and pingala dominance is directly related to the flow of breath in the nostrils. If one checks the flow of breath at any moment, one will usually find that one nostril is more open than the other. When the flow of breath is stronger in the left nostril, it indicates that ida is dominant; when the flow is stronger in the right nostril it indicates that pingala is dominant. When one is sleepy or drowsy, one will notice that the left nostril is flowing. When one is physically active, the right nostril begins to flow predominantly.

Link with koshas:

The ida force is the subtle energy that controls the manomaya and vijnanamaya koshas, whereas pingala controls the annamaya and anandamaya koshas. In pranamaya kosha, the ida and pingala forces reach out in both directions. The thoughts and mental experiences that remain confined to manomaya kosha, or the mental dimension, are known as ida activity until they become physical. Desires, thoughts, emotions and feelings are given form and direction by the force of ida. Vijnanamaya kosha, the body of psychic and intuitive knowledge that one gains through sadhana, is also an aspect of ida, the mental force. Extrasensory powers, such as clairaudience and clairvoyance or telepathy, are developed within the range of ida. The range of pingala, the vital force, is experienced as physical vitality in annamaya kosha. In anandamaya kosha, the awareness which remains even in the deepest state of meditation, after the dissolution of all the samskaras and karmas, is the result of an awakened pingala. The awareness in samadhi is pingala energy; this is the subdest aspect of prana.

Sushumna: the neutral channel
When the two forces of ida and pingala are balanced, the third channel of sushumna becomes active. It is a fact that when two opposing forces are equal and balanced, a third force arises. By striking a match against a corrosive surface, fire is created. By bringing positive and negative currents together, machinery can be operated. Similarly, when the body and mind are united, a third force arises. This force is called sushumna, the spiritual energy. The working of these three forces can also be understood through the analogy of an electromagnetic circuit with the north pole being ajna and the south pole mooladhara. Ida is the negative charge, pingala the positive charge, and sushumna the neutral.
At each node of ida and pingala there is a concentration of energy, which forms pulsating patterns in the horizontal plane. These nodes are the chakras, force fields that expand and contract, depending on physical and mental activities. When there is an intensity of energy between ida and pingala, the chakras manifest in the form of light and sound. This manifestation occurs to a minor extent in normal breathing, but much more during pranayama practices such as nadi shodhana, and meditation. While ida and pingala conduct mental and physical energy, sushumna conducts a higher form of cosmic energy. The pranic and mental energies are finite, whereas the energy of sushumna is infinite.
When sushumna is active, the breath flows through both nostrils simultaneously. Normally this happens only for a few minutes when the breath dominance changes over from one nostril to the other, which usually takes place every ninety minutes. Sushumna flows after practising pranayama, prayer and meditation, and also when one is about to commit a criminal act. When sushumna flows, the whole brain operates, but only half of the brain is active during the flow of ida or pingala. At the time of sushumna, both karmendriyas and jnanendriyas, physical organs and mental organs, function simultaneously and one becomes very powerful. Feelings of equanimity and steadiness arise, because sushumna is the conductor of mahaprana, the kundalini energy. Meditative states dawn spontaneously, even in the middle of a traffic jam. The flow of sushumna is considered to be the most favourable for any type of sadhana.

By: Swami Niranjanananda: Taken  from the book Prana & Pranayama.

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