Understanding our nervous system
The Sanskrit word, “Nadi,” derives from the root, Nad, which means flow, motion, vibration.
These nadis are creative energies of the subtle body. Just as the negative and positive forces of electricity flow through complex circuits; in the same way, vital force and mental force flow through every part of our body via these nadis. There are 72,000 nadis in the body with three main channels up the spine, right, left, and centre. These are known as ida, pingala, and sushumna. The left nostril is connected to the ida network of nadis; the right nostril is connected to the pingala network of nadis; and when both nostrils flow together, the main channel, or sushumna network, is stimulated. They connect at special points of intensity called chakras. When these nadis flow freely, we are vital and healthy; when it becomes weak or congested, we struggle with poor mental and physical health.
THE NERVOUS SYSTEM
The brain and the spinal cord, along with the nerves emanating, constitute the nervous system of the body. The nervous system is divided into two main systems: the central nervous system (CNS) and the peripheral nervous system (PNS). The central nervous system consists of the brain and spinal cord. Peripheral nervous system consists of the nerves, which gather information, while others transmit orders. Peripheral nervous system is divided into two systems: somatic nervous system and autonomic nervous system. Somatic nerves participate in the organism’s relationship with its external environment. Autonomic nerves are more involved in regulating vital internal functions.
The autonomic nervous system is divided into two categories: sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system. The sympathetic nervous system goes into action to prepare the organism for physical or mental activity. The activation of the parasympathetic nervous system causes a general slowdown in the body’s functions in order to conserve energy. The Nadis determine the nature and the quality of the nervous system, with its extensive network of nerves and plexus covering the entire physical body. A healthy nervous system is the secret of vitality and rejuvenation.
THE GROSS and SUBTLE BODY
The subtle, or sukshma body, is within the gross or physical body. The gross body cannot do anything without the astral body. Every gross centre of the body has its astral centre. Ida, pingala, and sushumna nadis originate from the mooladhara chakra – at the anus and the root of the reproductory organ. From there, they separate and proceed into different directions to meet again at the ajna chakra located at the root of the nose between the eyebrows and approximately 2-1/2 inches into the brain. Ida nadi emerges from the left side of mooladhara and spirals upwards to the spinal cord, passing through each chakra in turn, forming a criss-cross pathway, which terminates at the left side of ajna chakra and ends up in the left nostril. Pingala nadi emerges from the right side of the mooladhara chakra and passes in an opposite manner to that of Ida, terminating at the right side of the ajna chakra and ending up in the right nostril. Sushumna nadi is the spiritual channel that terminates at the sahasrara chakra, at the crown of the head. So, it is clear that the gross body and the subtle body have a close relationship with each other. Practically, we can feel the desired effects that are produced through Yoga, pranayama, and meditation between these two centres.
IDA NADI / SYMPATHETIC NERVOUS SYSTEM
The word, “Ida,” means “comfort” and is located on our left sympathetic nervous system. It begins and ends on the left side of sushumna. Ida has a moonlike nature and female energy with a cooling effect. It is also known as the chandra or moon nadi. It courses from the right testicle to the left nostril and corresponds to the Ganges River. Ida is the introverted (passive), lunar nadi and controls all the mental processes and manages our emotions.When Ida is flowing, the breath will be more in the left nostril and the mental energy is dominant. At that time, any kind of mental work may be undertaken. It is like nectar, and gives strength and nourishment to the soul and the body. If Ida flows for a long time, beyond the normal schedule, this signifies some imbalances in the mental processes.
On a physical level, the left channel controls the left-hand side of the body and the right hemisphere of the brain. People, who make excessive use of this channel, are emotional, often dwell on the past, often feel guilty and are easily dominated by others. In extreme cases, they may fall prey to lethargy and depression because this channel feeds also into the skull area; pressure on the brain becomes excessive. The entire system is thrown off balance causing problems, such as mental breakdown, epilepsy, and senility (decay of the brain).
PINGALA NADI / SYMPATHETIC NERVOUS SYSTEM
The word, “pingala,” means “tawny” and is located on our right sympathetic nervous system. It begins and ends to the right of sushumna. Pingala has a Sunlike nature and male energy with a heating effect. It is also known as surya or sun nadi. It courses from the left testicle to the right nostril and corresponds to the Yamuna River. Pingala is the extroverted (active), solar nadi and controls all the vital processes and manages our physical energy. When pingala is flowing, the breath will be more in the right nostril and the physical / vital energy is dominant. At that time, any kind of physical work may be undertaken. It is responsible for the growth of the body. If pingala flows for a long time, beyond the normal schedule, this signifies some imbalance in the pranic body.
On a physical level, the right channel controls the right-hand side of the body and the left hemisphere of the brain. People, who make excessive use of this channel are aggressive and have a dominating (ego). In extreme cases, the entire system is thrown off balance – causing problems and is often blinded by ego; and then decisions and actions taken, not only disrupt the lives of others, but also lead to heart disease
SUSHUMNA NADI & PARASYMPATHETIC NERVOUS SYSTEM
The Sushumna nadi is located on our central parasympathetic nervous system, which is also known as middle path. The central channel begins in the triangular bone or sacrum and rises along the spinal column, until it reaches the top of the head. When ida and pingala nadis are purified and balanced, and the mind is controlled, then sushumna, the most important nadi, begins to flow. The physical organs and mental organs function simultaneously; this indicates that the mind is blissful, calm, pure, and balanced. The spiritual energy is in power and time is good for concentration, meditation, and worship. A person, entering this state, never complains of dispersion of mind. When sushumna flows, kundalini awakens and rises through the chakras. In subtle body terms, the sushumna nadi is the path to enlightenment.
At a physical level, this channel coordinates our involuntary or autonomic nervous system activities, such as heart beat, breathing, and reflex. We do not have conscious control over these activities. The parasympathetic nervous system, together with the sympathetic nervous system, constitutes the autonomic nervous system. It is responsible for our spiritual evolution and our physical, mental, and emotional balance.
BALANCING IDA and PINGALA
All activities are influenced by the flow of these nadis, which alternate approximately every sixty to ninety minutes. When there is a disturbance in the natural cycle, and the proper nostril does not open, body chemistry becomes disturbed – thus affecting physical, emotional, and mental state. For example, during sleep, Ida nadi flows. If pingala flows at night, sleep will be restlessness and disturbed. It may result in numerous adverse physiological changes, such as hypertension, anxiety, acidity, and ulcers. Likewise, while taking food, pingala nadi flows. If’ Ida flows while taking food, the digestive process may be slow, causing indigestion. To counter these changes, we should follow certain techniques to activate the parasympathetic nervous system. The parasympathetic nervous system counteracts the stress effect, calms you down, slows the heart rate, increases digestion, and so on.
NADI SHODHANA PRANAYAMA
Nadi shodhana pranayama is the simple act of changing the breath from one nostril to the other, reversing brain hemisphere dominance and altering chemical reactions taking place throughout the organism. Changing the breath helps the prevention of disease.
Sit in a comfortable position steadily. Keep the palm of the right hand facing the face. Bend the first two fingers next to the thumb inside. Now, put the right thumb on the right nostril and the last two fingers of the same hand should be used to press the left nostril. Remember, for the practice of this Pranayama, always start and finish the breathing from the left nostril.
1. Breathe in through the left nostril. Close the left nostril with the ring and little fingers and breathe out through the right nostril.
2. Breathe in through the right nostril. Close the right nostril with the thumb and breathe out through the left nostril.
3. This completes one round of Nadi Shodhana.
4. Make 10-15 rounds like this.
Article by Dr Rita Khanna
Dr. Rita Khanna’s Yoga Shaastra Studio
(An Exclusive Yoga & Naturopathy Therapy Studio)
Ph: 040-65173344, 09849772485