Swara Yoga - Part 3: Triune Energy Principle

Swami Muktibodhananda Saraswati

Philosophy and science have proven that nature's creation exists essentially due to the transmutation and transmission of energy. This understanding has enabled twentieth century technology to produce enormous quantities of energy to activate cities all around the globe, which form the mainstay of our modern culture. Similarly, in ancient days, the rishis knew how to manipulate their body's energy so that it could be boosted and utilised for accelerating the evolution of their consciousness.

We can see this natural law of energy transmutation operating on a large scale in our modern day power plants. Nuclear, hydraulic and thermal power stations all use the pressure of rapidly flowing water or rising steam to rotate turbines encompassed in a magnetic field. Thereby energy is released and collected in accumulators. Energy production in the body is based on the same principle. The rishis described how the organs are surrounded by a pranic field, and how respiration generates movement in them via pranic air currents. The energy produced is stored in the main plexuses along the spinal column, which are known as chakras.

Once electrical energy has been accumulated, it can only be released in specific voltages for conduction along suitable wire cabling. In the case of the body, the channels into which energy is released are called nadis. No matter whether the energy is passing along wires or nadis, it has a threefold quality of being either positive, negative or neutral. The channels themselves also take on the characteristics of the particular energy which is flowing through them.

Nadis, the energy pathways

In the Varahopanishad (v.54-5) it is stated that: "Nadis penetrate the body from the soles of the feet to the crown of the head, carrying prana, the breath of life, in which abides the atman, and the source of shakti, the animator of all the worlds." This vast network contains innumerable nadis; references in the Goraksha Satarka and Hatha Yoga Pradipika place their number at 72,000 while the Shiva Samhita states that there are a total of 350,000 nadis emerging from the navel. Regardless of the exact number, these pathways are always depicted as thin threads like those in the lotus stem, hanging down off the supporting spinal column. In fact, the anatomy of the nervous system as described by medical science shows a definite correlation with the descriptions of the nadis as recorded by the ancient yogis.

Recently, the network of nadis has been literally interpreted as being identical with the nervous system. But the Chandogya and Brihadaranyaka Upanishads clearly explain that the nadis are entirely subtle in nature. The word 'nadi' comes from the Sanskrit root 'nad', which refers to the resonating vibrations in a hollow tube.

The existence of the pranic network of nadis is not only a yogic concept. Scientific investigations have shown that stable voltages of electromagnetic currents are emitted from all living creatures in almost exact alignment to the nervous chain. For example, Dr. R. Becker of New York, in a 5 year study, measured and analysed the electrical emissions from the cells lining the exterior walls of the peripheral nerves. He found that a constant current is always being conducted, even though the nerves themselves only react when they are stimulated.

This energy travelling within the nervous system is functionally equivalent to pranic transmission; however, we cannot say that the nervous and pranic systems are in direct correspondence. Science is limited in its scope to what can be measured or analyse on an empirical basis. If we cut open the body, we can see the right and left sympathetic chain but we won't see the subtle nadis conducting energy. Also, various scriptural references seem to indicate that the nadis may have many other functions beyond those of the nervous system.

The Shiva Swarodaya says that out of the thousands of nadis, ten are most significant because they are the connections to the 'doorways' leading in and out of the body. Seven of these nadis have lesser influence. They are: gandhari, connecting to the left eye; hastijihva, connecting to the right eye; pusha, connecting to the right ear; yashaswini, connecting to the left ear; alambusha, connecting to the mouth; kuhu, connecting to the reproductive organs; and shankhini, connecting to the rectum.

Paramount importance is given to the three main channels - ida, pingala and sushumna, which correspond to the parasympathetic, sympathetic and cerebrospinal nervous systems of medical science. These channels have great significance because they are the conductors of the negative, positive and neutral energies.

The negative energy channel

The Swara Shastras describe the negative transmission through ida as the flow of chitta, the mental energy of consciousness. Because the lunar force is said to pass along this channel, it is also called chandra nadi. Ida acts to quieten and cool the body, and its functions correspond to the parasympathetic nervous system.

Ida rules the left side of the body, as it emanates from the left side of the sacro-coccygeal plexus and terminates at the root of the left nostril. From its starting point in the base of the spine, ida spirals upwards, intersecting the vertebral column in the four main plexuses, or chakras. Stimulation of ida nadi, therefore, injects all these centres with negative charges.

Both ida and the parasympathetic system have a pacifying influence on the body and the mind. They introvert and conserve energy for the activation of the visceral organs, promoting enzyme secretion in the digestive tract, increasing peristalsis and emptying the bladder. Through these systems the mental awareness introverts and identification with the ego lessens, enabling the arousal of mental creativity, psychic ability, submission, and other such spiritual virtues. This introversion of the mind happens automatically as ida nadi constricts the pupils and adjusts the lens to bring objects at close range into focus, thus decreasing external input to the visual cortex of the brain. By controlling the flow of air in the left nostril, one can excite or pacify ida, thus establishing conscious control over the negative energy in the body.

The positive energy channel

The dualistic counterpart to ida is pingala. It is the transmitter of prana or positive energy from the sun, and therefore is also known as surya (sun,) nadi. Pingala emerges exactly opposite to ida on the right side of the sacro-coccygeal plexus and terminates at the root of the right nostril. Thus it has dominion over the right side of the body. Pingala also spirals up the vertebral column, intersecting ida at the four main plexuses, and positively energising these centres.

The functions of pingala coincide with those of the sympathetic system by extroverting vital energy and mental awareness, and encouraging the sense of ego. This coincides with the release of adrenalin into the bloodstream, and the consequent acceleration of the heartbeat. The blood vessels in the skin and digestive tract are constricted, causing the blood to be diverted into superficial muscles and organs of action, and slowing peristaltic movement. The pupils are also dilated, allowing a broader range of vision and an increase in the quantity of impressions received by the brain. The awareness is spontaneously eternalised. To consciously control all these functions one need only manipulate the flow of air through the right nostril.

Convergence of ida and pingala

So far we have divided the body into two separate divisions, right and left, positive and negative. In the middle where the adjoining sides meet is an energy field where the two forces become neutralised. This is the domain of sushumna nadi. Sushumna runs straight through the centre of the vertebral column, corresponding in position and function to the cerebrospinal nervous system.

Sushumna also emanates from the sacro-coccygeal plexus along with ida and pingala, but instead of spiralling upwards, it follows a straight course, piercing all the main plexuses. In man's present state of evolution, sushumna is dormant in nearly everybody. Sometimes there is a slight flow of energy, but the power is very weak. The Hatha Yoga Pradipika (ch.2, v.4) explains that this nadi remains dormant "owing to the impurities of the nadis". Once sushumna is opened and the energies of ida and pingala are united through the middle passage, then sushumna becomes the governing power. While sushumna is in a state of inertia, all the other subordinate nadis fall under the positive/negative influence of ida and pingala. While the breath is flowing through the left or the right nostril, either ida or pingala is dominant. However, the balanced flow of breath through both nostrils establishes perfect harmony between the energies, and indicates that sushumna is ready to accommodate the great power of the kundalini shakti.

Symbolism of the triune energy

Quantum physics has shown the basis of matter to be energy. Energy can take many different forms, and the three energies enable nature, or prakriti, to create diverse manifestations. Within each manifestation one of the energies predominates, and determines the particular characteristics of that manifestation. Therefore the positive, negative and neutral aspects of the three nadis can be related to many other energy manifestations in gross and subtle realms.

Ida Pingala Sushumna
negative positive neutral
feminine masculine neuter
yin yang tao
moon sun fire
night day -
cold hot temperate
nectar poison -
space time matter
mental vital supramental
chitta prana kundalini shakti
desire action knowledge
consiousness activity bliss
subconscious conscious unconscious
passive aggressive centred
parasympathetic sympathetic cerebrospinal
subjectivity objectivity -
Yamuna Ganga Saraswati
vishwa (universal creation) tejas (fire) pragya (intuition)
white red black
Brahma Vishnu Rudra
sattva rajas tamas

Sushumna is subtler than ida and pingala, but it also contains within it the three qualities of tamas, rajas and sattva. The deeper you go into sushumna, the more refined it becomes, until you reach the centre which is beyond all three gunas. The exterior superstructure of sushumna is related to tamas, for it is inert. Within this lies vajra nadi, relating to rajas, and within that again is chittra nadi, relating to sattva. Deeper still is the subtlest nadi, brahma nadi, and that is the pathway through which the consciousness is led to Brahman. The aim of swara yoga, and the other different yogas, is to activate all the layers of sushumna nadi by uniting ida and pingala, the dualistic aspects of man's nature and energy, so that his consciousness may be expanded from its present limited state.