Just as water requires banks before it can become a river, prana requires a path along which to travel. These pathways are the nadis. This Sanskrit word means “little river.” It is hard to pin down just how many of these channels exist in our body. Some ancient texts, such as the Shiva-Samhita, claim there are three hundred and fifty thousand nadis. Many texts claim there are seventy-two thousand. The Tri-Shikhi-Braha-mana Upanishad tells us that the number is countless. That is probably the best way to interpret any large number given in the ancient texts. Whether the number is seventy-two thousand or three hundred and fifty thousand, the sage was most likely advising us that the number was beyond counting.

Despite the large number of nadis detected by the yogic sages, usually only eleven or twelve are named, and of these only three are really discussed. However, even here the texts vary considerably in the descriptions of each nadi. Dr. Hiroshi Motoyama has researched various texts’ views of these channels and has published his findings in his book Theories of the Chakras. We recommend that the dedicated student acquire this book. It will be referred to again.

The three nadis of most importance are:

  • The sushumna nadi
  • The ida nadi
  • The pingala nadi

We will look at the main central channel first.