Elements of Yoga: Chakras, Nadis and Prana…Oh My!

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Elements of Yoga: Chakras, Nadis and Prana…Oh My!

by Carrie Huntley

If you’ve been to a yoga class or two then you’ve probably heard the term prana. And, if you’ve been practicing yoga for a while then you’ve probably heard the term nadi, even if just in the context of practicing nadi shodhanam, the pranayama (breathing technique) that is also referred to as alternate nostril breathing. And, whether or not you’ve ever practiced yoga, you probably have some level of awareness of the chakras since these energy bodies long ago entered the mainstream.  But what do these terms mean? And why do we talk about them in the context of yoga?

Prana: life force or vital energy

Nadis: energy pathways or channels that move prana

Chakras: energy centers, hubs or wheels where multiple nadis come together and prana is received, assimilated and transmitted

We each have approximately 72,000 nadis and over 100 chakras. The nadis originate and terminate at different places throughout our energy body, with the three main nadis: ida, pingala and sushumna. Ida originates at the left nostril, runs up to midbrain (at the brown chakra or third eye) and then runs down the spine in a curve. Similarly, pingala originates at the right nostril, runs up to midbrain and then runs down the spine in a curve opposite that of ida. Sushumna runs straight up and down our central axis, from root through crown. All three of these nadis intersect at the seven main chakras located along the central axis. You are probably more familiar with these nadis than you realize. Consider this as you compare the following images:


The seven main chakras are:

  1. Muladhara (root chakra)
  2. Svadhisthana (sacral chakra)
  3. Manipura (solar plexus chakra)
  4. Anahata (heart chakra)
  5. Vissudha (throat chakra)
  6. Ajna (third eye or brow chakra)
  7. Sahasrara (crown chakra)

When a chakra is balanced, it is able to optimally receive, assimilate and transmit prana. These functions are adversely affected when a chakra is imbalanced, and when one chakra is out of balance it can influence the other chakras.

Chakras can become imbalanced either by excess accumulations or depletions of prana. Imbalances of excess generally relate to attachments and defensive or compensating strategies, while imbalances of depletion generally relate to aversions and avoidance strategies. Depleted chakras need to receive more energy (i.e., address aversions), while excessive chakras need to release energy (i.e., let go of attachments). When all seven main chakras are balanced, energy flows up and down through the chakras, through the body, and exchanges in and out of the body.

So why do we consider the chakras in our yoga practices? One function of yoga is to clear the nadis for good distribution of prana – bringing vitality and health to the mind-body. As the nadis are cleared through asana, pranayama, meditation and skillful actions, the chakras become balanced, cleared and energized. And, while we may not be able to significantly shift the balance of the chakras through a single yoga practice, it’s fun and interesting to learn about them!