Symbolism of the ida and pingala

The ida and pingala are called nadis (the Sanskrit word nadi means ‘flow’). In this context, the flow can be physical, nervous, psychic, mental and that of awareness. Understanding of ida and pingala is usually confined to the physical, nervous and pranic (bioplasmic) aspects within the human framework.

Though there is nothing wrong with this limited viewpoint, it is nevertheless a gross oversimplification which misses much of what the ancient yogis were trying to tell us. The ida and pingala mean much more than is widely known. In this chapter we want to give a brief description of all the different levels of meaning behind the symbolism of the ida and pingala.

The two nadis are depicted entwined about the spine or central axis, criss-crossing each other at the chakras. Ida and pingala begin at the same point: the mooladhara chakra of the perineum (see diagram).

The mooladhara chakra corresponds to the stage of human development where awareness begins to unfold. From this chakra the pingala makes a semicircular curve upwards on the right side of the spine. It crosses the spine again at the swadhisthana chakra and proceeds on a similar curved path on the left side of the spine, until it crosses the spine again at the manipura chakra. In the same manner, pingala continues upwards, crossing the spine in turn at the anahata and vishuddhi chakras until it reaches and ends at the ajna chakra at the top of the spine in the middle of the head. This is clearly illustrated on the accompanying diagram.

The ida path follows a similar path as the pingala but in the opposite sense. They are reflections of each other. That is, as the pingala crosses to the right of the spine, ida crosses to the left and vice versa. The important thing to remember is that they cross each other in turn at each of the chakras, as illustrated.

The central axis of ida and pingala is the sushumna nadi. This nadi portrays the path of the mystics, the path of yoga that treads the narrow razor’s edge between the path of ida and the path of pingala. It is depicted as rising straight upwards through the centre of the spine, meeting ida and pingala at the points where they cross at the chakras. The sushumna starts at the mooladhara chakra and passes through all the chakras in turn. Eventually it terminates in sahasrara – the absolute oneness. This is the realm, or non-realm, of nirvana or kaivalya (onlyness). It is within the sushumna that the kundalini rises, the progressive ascent of knowledge associated with higher states of awareness as the chakras are opened up. All these terms have already been discussed.

The three paths are also known asganga (ida), yamuna (pingala) and saraswati (sushumna) after rivers in India, the last being a mythological junction where the two other rivers actually join in Prayag, Allahabad. The ida and pingala indicate time, while the sushumna is the devourer of time, since it leads to the timeless or eternity.

The ida and pingala have many meanings. The following list indicates a few of these characteristics.



breath flow through left nostril

breath flow through right nostril



nervous system

nervous system




energy and action






















There are many more possible characteristics that could be listed. On the spiritual path, it is the integration and harmony of opposites at all levels that is important. The aim is to combine the opposites associated with duality so that they perfectly merge. This is the meaning of the sushumna. It indicates balance and fusion of the opposite principles of ida and pingala. To illustrate this, we will take a few examples from the list we have already given:




tha hatha ha
coolness temperateness heat
subjectivity absolute objectivity
yin tao yang
inaction actionless action action


In spiritual life all mutual opposites must be balanced as one progressively expands awareness. This is symbolized by the crossing of ida and pingala at the chakras. The chakras represent the progressively higher levels of awareness.

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