top of page

Energy & Subtle Body Anatomy

Updated: Nov 17, 2020

Read and Answer Questions.

Prana · The Sanskrit word prana means “life force” (referred to as chi in Chinese).

· We extract prana from such sources as food, light and love.

· Gregor Maehle teaches that although “there is only one prana,” it is in different locations, flows in different nadis and has different functions. These various types of prana are called by different names.

· Maehle explains that shakti, kundalini and prakriti refer to solar prana located in the manipura chakra.

· Bindu, amrita, soma, and chandra refer to lunar prana — often used in reference to inversions — located in ajna chakra.



· “Nad” = flow, motion or vibration

· Tradition says there are 72,000 to 300,000 subtle pathways, or nadis, within and surrounding the physical body.

· Nadis are said to channel prana to every cell of the body, keeping us alive.

· Nischala Joy Devi describes nadis as circulating and distributing “energy to the physical, mental, and emotional bodies (koshas).”

· The ida and pingala nadis are said to spiral around the sushumna, crossing at every chakra, ultimately all three meeting at the anja (command) chakra.

· The ida nadi is said to begin and end on the left side of sushumna. It is the lunar nadi – feminine and cooling – represented vibrationally by the color white.

· Pingala nadi is said to begin and end on the right side of sushumna. It is the solar nadi – masculine and stimulating – represented vibrationally by the color red.

· “Bringing ida and pingala into equilibrium is a major focus of hatha yoga—so important, in fact, that the term hatha symbolizes this balance… Balancing sun and moon, or pingala and ida, facilitates the awakening and arising of kundalini, and thus the awakening of higher consciousness.” – James Bailey

Working with the Subtle Body Some are wide and rushing; others are a mere trickle. When this system flows freely, we are vital and healthy; when it becomes weak or congested, we struggle with poor mental and physical health. The practices of hatha yoga are so effective because they strengthen the flow of prana in our bodies, invigorating the current so that it carries away obstructions that block the free flow of energy. Because nadis—like the chakras (psychoenergetic power centers), prana, and other aspects of the subtle body—don’t show up under microscopes, medical science has relegated them to the realm of the merely metaphorical. But traditional yogis believe that the subtle body is real, and that understanding it and working with it complement and counterbalance the emphasis on gross physical anatomy that predominates our current yoga culture. – James Bailey


· Left side · Feminine · Lunar · Coolness · Emotion, Feelings · Intuitions · Vibrational Color: White

The lunar nadi, Ida, directs the mind, incoming nerve signal and the five senses (jnanendriyas). – Gregor Maehle


· Right side · Masculine · Solar · Heat · Stimulating · Intellectual Reasoning · Somatic Processes · Sympathetic Nervous System · Vibrational color: Red

The solar nadi, Pingala, directs outgoing nerve signals, the body and the organs of action (karmendriyas). – Gregor Maehle


Sushumna Nadi · This central channel only flows when ida and pingala nadis are balanced. · Yoga practices are designed to awaken sushumna so that kundalini can safely ascend. · Sushumna is said to be the path to enlightenment.

When Pingala & Ida are in Harmony The sushumna nadi only comes into play when the pingala and ida are in perfect harmony. It then has the sacred duty to carry the prana through to the higher centers of consciousness (chakras). It does not function as the day-to-day distributor of energy to the physical, mental or emotional bodies. – Nischala Joy Devi


How Yoga Affects Energy Hatha Yoga is the management of prana, life force energy. The primary yoga techniques for working with subtle energy are: 1. Physical practices: asana, bandha, mudra 2. Breath practices 3. Awareness

When students engage in yoga practices, they usually have the experience of their energy flow being stimulated. They will tend to become aware of a felt sense of blockages to their energy flow and a sense of the blockages being alleviated.

We can surmise that there are a variety of potential reasons for this experience of one’s energy being liberated, including: 1. Balancing the nervous system 2. Working the physical body 3. Releasing energy that was used to hold tension in the body 4. Releasing energy that was used to hold misaligned bones 5. Moving fluids


Koshas Model From the Vedic text the Taittiriya Upanishad, comes a model to describe human beings, a tool for mapping our experience of self. The model describes five koshas, translated as “sheaths” and often referred to as “layers” or “bodies.”

1. Annamaya Kosha – Food Sheath or Physical Body 2. Pranamaya Kosha – Vital Sheath or Energy, Prana or Life Force Body 3. Manomaya Kosha – Mental Sheath or Mental & Emotional Body 4. Vijnanamaya Kosha – Intellectual Sheath or Wisdom Body 5. Anandamaya Kosha – Bliss Sheath or Bliss Body

We are a Composite of the Finite & Infinite Yoga asks us to consider that we are not only solely the physical body, [and] not only the thoughts and emotions we experience on a daily basis, but a composite of the finite and the infinite, woven into the fabric of many layers of being. The yogis called these layers koshas. – Yoga Journal

Considered Separately But Are an Interrelated System We describe and often work with the koshas separately but ultimately they are one interrelated system that make up the whole human being. – Beth Gibbs

This model is often called the panchamaya kosha model: · panca = five · maya = illusion of separateness or “that which has a relative reality” · kosha = sheath, treasure or bud (as in bud of a flower)

Five Dimensions in the Play of Illusion Though the soul – atman – is viewed as an unchanging witness, being human manifests through five —panca — constantly changing dimensions, which exist as parts of the illusion of separateness — maya. – Julia Romano


Physical, Astral & Causal Bodies In addition, yogic philosophy describes three bodies—the physical, astral and causal—said to be formed by the koshas:

The Physical Body · Stula sharira · Formed from the annamaya kosha (physical)

The Astral Body · Sukshma sharira · Formed from these koshas: pranamaya (energy), manomaya (mental), and vijnanamaya (intellectual)

The Seed or Causal Body · Karana sharira · Formed from the anandamaya kosha (bliss)


Making Mindful Teaching Choices

When introducing philosophical topics in class, here are some considerations: · Avoid making assumptions about students’ current knowledge and their perceptions of the concept’s validity and relevance.

· Consider taking time to specifically evaluate why you care about the topic, why your students might care, and how you can make it as real and as useful for them as possible.

· Remember that you have the option of using yoga philosophy to guide the way you plan, sequence, speak and teach — but without directly naming or speaking to the concept itself. Perhaps you are teaching in an environment where students may be “put-off” by Sanskrit or the Vedas. You always have the option of translating yogic wisdom into language that that will be most effective with your audience.

· Koshas and chakras are prime examples of concepts that can help to guide your teachings and words without the need to use the word kosha or chakra.


A Metaphorical Map or Model of the Inner Landscape The koshas are a metaphoric “map” of the inner landscape. The model helps to demonstrate the practice of yoga as an inner journey. Yoga therapists typically rely heavily on the kosha model as a guide to choosing yogic tools of healing for their clients.

Following the Kosha Map The kosha map can be used as a guide, to creating an arc of awareness or focus for: · An entire class · A sequence · A meditation · Or even a single asana

Purifying & Integrating the Levels of Our Being The human being can be compared to a precious gem with many facets, and the yoga process involves bringing awareness, purification and integration to the various facets, or levels of our being on a journey of discovery from physical to subtle. These levels of being are known as the five koshas. – Joseph & Lilian LePage


Following are some considerations for incorporating the kosha model in class.

Annamaya Kosha: Physical Body · Begin by becoming aware of the physical body. · In the context of a class, you might begin with asana to bring awareness and remove tension.

Pranayama Kosha: Energy Body · Then begin to shift the focus to the breath as a purveyor of energy. · Bring increasing awareness through such practices as linking breath with movement, through poses that require stamina and breath support, or through specific breath practices.

Manomaya Kosha: Mental & Emotional Body · Bring an increasing focus to mental and emotional activity or patterns. · Longer holds (including Yin Yoga) and hip stretches are some options for inviting this awareness.

The mental body “feeds” on the sense impressions we offer it. If we supply our third sheath with a continual stream of violent TV shows and video games, for example, it begins to crave increasingly aggressive forms of stimulation, and may become more agitated and less sensitive to the suffering of others. If we “stuff” it with too much work or too much play we may experience a form of mental “indigestion,” leaving us feeling harried or exhausted. A harmonious environment, interesting professional challenges, and fun and supportive relationships offer an ideal diet for the mind. A daily session of pratyahara, or sensory withdrawal, leading into meditation provides an excellent inner tune-up. – Linda Johnsen

Vijnanamaya Kosha: Wisdom Body · Teaching meditative awareness in the form of a witness consciousness is a powerful tool that can invite deeper insights into the self. · Some opportunities for this focus can be during a traditional meditation, in long-hold asana, or a restorative posture. This is the path of the intellect in which you are advised to study spiritual truths, contemplate them deeply, and finally incorporate them into the very core of your personality. – Linda Johnsen

Anandamaya Kosha: Bliss Body · At some point in class, many students have a time when all these previous aspects of self seemingly dissolve and they’re left with a feeling of joy, wholeness, oneness, integration or bliss. · Savasana is the classic pose for offering a time to just “be” and integrate, inviting such experiences. · Simply reminding students that they have had such moments – whether in class, in nature or elsewhere – can be a powerful teaching that brings increasing awareness of their potential, choices and priorities. We can awaken our bliss sheath through three practices. The first is seva, selfless service. This opens our heart to our innate unity with other beings. The second is bhakti yoga, devotion to God. This opens our heart to our unity with the all-pervading Divine Being. The third is samadhi, intensely focused meditation, which opens our heart to our own divine being. – Linda Johnsen


“Coming Out’ · You may find it most pleasing to your students to gently bring them back when they have “gone deep.” · An intention can be to gently guide students back to aspects of themselves that may have receded from their awareness during practice. · To do this, employ your tools of choice for re-establishing a sense of grounding. At the end of Savasana, for instance, you might ask students to once again notice or deepen their breath, then invite them to feel specific parts of their body, where they are touching the floor, etc.


Chakras Introduction Introduction · Chakra is a Sanskrit word that means “wheel,” “circle,” “turning” or “disk.” · The traditional Sanskrit pronunciation is “CHUK-ra.” · Life force energy (referred to as prana or kundalini) is said to gather in centers of the subtle body.

· Chakras refer to spinning centers of life force energy found in a person’s subtle body.

· A chakra is said to be a “spinning sphere of bioenergetic activity emanating from the major nerve ganglia branching from the spinal column” that “receives, assimilates, and expresses life force energy.” (Anodea Judith, Eastern Body, Western Mind 2004 p 4).

· While some sources may connect chakras with nerve plexuses and physical organs of the body, they are not considered physical organs.

· The theories related to chakras vary. Different models describe different numbers of chakras, different locations, different colors, symbols, etc. Some traditional writings refer to as many as 88,000 chakras.

· The most widely accepted model is of seven spinning energy centers within the spinal column.


Function · Chakras collect and transmit energy for use physically, mentally and spiritually. · They act as nodes “uniting the psycho-energetic and physical aspects of our being” and can be an “effective map for helping bridge realities of the inner and outer worlds.” – Rick Jarow, Creating the Work You Love 1995 p 26 · “On our journey through life, the chakras are the wheels that take the Self along our evolutionary quest to reclaim our divine nature once again.” – Anodea Judith

The Wheels of Life The body is a vehicle of consciousness. Chakras are the wheels of life that carry this vehicle about—through its trials, tribulations, and transformations. – Anodea Judith

More Theory Imbalances & Healing Practices As a model used to support health, integration and spiritual enlightenment, individual chakras may be described as having particular issues, indicating a need for healing to bring wholeness:

1. Undeveloped 2. Spinning Backward 3. Dormant 4. Weakened, or 5. Blocked

Many practices are associated with healing weakened or blocked chakras, resulting in such effects as increased energy level, diminished anxiety and depression, relaxation, inner peace, improved sleep, addictions more easily resolved, better concentration and memory, clarity of mind, recognition of one’s dharma, and strengthened intuition. According to A Handbook of Chakra Healing, the psychological effects of a chakra “blockage” and a chakra “weakness” are similar. The difference, it says, is that blockages need to be removed whereas weak chakras need to be infused with energy.

Chakra healing practices include:

· Pranayama · Asana · Aromatherapy · Precious Stones · Visualization · Sound · Color · Herbs


Complementary Pairs

· According to A Handbook of Chakra Healing 2002 p 51, chakras are in complementary pairs.

· The energy of these pairs stand in opposition but also work to complete each other.

· As a general rule, where one chakra is dominant, it is especially important to pay attention to the development of its complementary chakra.

· Chakras one and seven, two and six, and three and five are noted as complementary pairs with the heart chakra standing at the center, having no opposite pole.


· Traditionally, each chakra is seen in the form of a lotus with a particular number of petals and a yantra at its center.

· The number of petals corresponds to the number of subtle energy connections (or nadis) said to come and go from the chakra.

· Each petal has one letter of the Sanskrit alphabet upon it. All fifty letters of the Sanskrit alphabet are represented upon the petals of the chakra flowers.


Teaching Considerations

Teaching Mindfully

It can pay to be mindful of how you introduce philosophical topics in class:

1. Avoid making assumptions about students’ current knowledge and their perceptions of the concept’s validity and relevance.

2. Consider why you care about the topic, why your students might care, and how you can make it as relatable and useful as possible.

3. Consider providing context when teaching the chakras and being mindful that you are not presenting them as if they are physical objects that are visible (as they are presented in pictorial depictions.) That is, you might think twice about referencing chakras as if there is a visible and material, yellow spinning wheel in the solar plexus.

4. As you clarify your purpose in teaching the chakra model, we offer many expert teachings here to help you describe the model in a way that is true to the energy model of yoga and is relevant for students of various backgrounds.

5. While many students may be interested in and open to “chakra work,” the teaching of the representations of chakras and the related problems and healing practices can also be introduced without a need for one to buy into a model but rather to simply consider the teachings and try practices to see their effect. That is, while you may or may not specifically state that you are teaching the chakra model, you can guide students to noticing their experiences and coming to their own findings. For example, you might invite students to consider the psycho-energetic aspects of their will, the role of shame, the specific feelings that result from specific pranayama or asana, and so on.


Defining Purpose, Concept & Reality

Please be clear with yourself about your purpose in teaching students about the chakra model. Here are some considerations as you refine your teachings:

The chakras… map out the journey to fulfillment and enlightenment. Yoga is designed to use the energy of the chakras to accelerate that journey. – Sandra Anderson

1. Chakras are said to correspond to the physical, mental and spiritual aspects of our life force. By investigating the model philosophically and by experiencing it through such practices as asana, pranayama, mantra and meditation, we can see for ourselves how the model may help in actualizing potential.

2. Anodea Judith describes chakras as a system that “allows us to reclaim our wholeness” by integrating mind and body and taking us “to new and expanded realms without denying the mundane realities we all face on a daily basis.”

3. Rick Jarow has found the chakra model to be an effective tool in helping people to find right relationship between their inner beingness and their place in the outer world.

4. Jarow describes it as “the most compact, direct, and cross-cultural, energy-body map that I know of.”

5. Swami Satyananada Saraswati describes human evolution as a journey through the chakras.

6. The chakra model can help to describe common experiences, issues and practices that bring about positive change.


Going Deeper: Seven Levels of Wisdom

Joseph LePage interprets Sutra 2.27 Seven Levels of Clear Seeing through the chakra system. He notes, “Patanjali doesn’t state what these seven levels of wisdom are. Vyasa’s commentary outlines seven facets of wisdom, but I have taken a different approach and used the seven chakras to represent these levels. There are several points that support the use of the chakras as the seven levels of wisdom.”

The following is quoted directly from Joseph LePage’s Daily Yoga Scripture Study:

1 – At the first level of clear seeing, we recognize that, as we align with the source energy, the natural laws that guide all things provide for all of our needs spontaneously, allowing us to journey forward in absolute safety. For life itself is infinitely giving, and as we learn to release, gravity takes care of everything; for here we are spinning around the sun at 67,000 miles per hour and yet, miraculously, still on our feet.

2 – At the second level of clear seeing, we learn to honor and embrace intimacy while not identifying with our emotional “needs” so unconsciously, thereby releasing the suffering of loneliness and co-dependency. For our drive toward, emotional bonding is ultimately just an expression of the source energy naturally uniting all of the separate “lonely” pieces of the universe into a mandala of unity.

3 – At the third level of clear seeing, we recognize that the personality is not the destination, but only a vehicle for unfolding our possibilities, allowing us to discover our unique role in creation’s unfolding tapestry. For the source energy infuses every cell and atom in the universe with meaning, and as we align with our own purpose and destiny, we naturally support other beings along their journey of awakening.

4 – At the fourth level of clear seeing, we make peace with our own history, releasing all guilt, resentment and subsequent misery by recognizing that each step in our journey has been an essential part of our learning. For the heart of the universe is infinitely open and welcoming, and suffering exists only to guide our awakening, allowing us to live lightly and easily in deep appreciation for life’s ever-present beauty.

5 – At the fifth level of clear seeing, we release the limiting beliefs that bind us to ways of being in which we mistake the personality’s wants and “needs” with the inherent wholeness of our true being. For all of creation is on a journey toward unity, and beyond the appearance of solidity, there is only the infinite wisdom of the source energy, inviting us to embrace our essential freedom and authenticity.

6 – At the sixth level of clear seeing, we awaken our center of clarity that discerns unity beyond all apparent separation and duality, allowing us to release any remaining doubts about life’s true meaning. For harmony and unity are the very essence of the source energy, and as we enter into wisdom’s stream, we see the Divine in everything, guiding us by grace and synchronicity toward complete awakening.

7 – At the seventh level of clear seeing, there is no second thing as all sense of death and limitation are totally released, allowing all dimensions of our being to align perfectly with the source energy. Now, we can just be ourselves: whole and free with no attachment to a spiritual personality, because a drop of individuality has now entered into creation’s ever flowing stream to merge with the ocean of pure being.


Pranayama Philosophy

The Fourth Limb

Pranayama is presented as the fourth limb in the Eight Limbs of Yoga. It refers to breath practices designed to enhance one’s life force energy.


· The Sanskrit word prana means “life force” (referred to as chi in Chinese).

· Ayama means to “enhance” or “alter.”

· Pranayama, therefore, refers to breath-altering practices that bring about a fuller expression of life force.

· Other descriptions of pranayama include “mastering, “harnessing” or “stabilizing and refining” prana.

Translation Differences

Some sources define pranayama as “breath control or restraint” likely because they are defining prana and yama. Leslie Kaminoff refers to this here:

The Philosophy of Pranayama in a Nutshell


Here we consider pranayama specifically from the angle of yoga philosophy.

Succinct Descriptions

The following is a succinct and practical description of the philosophy of pranayama:

Pranayama is mastery of prana, the universal life force, through the breath. The movements of the breath reflect the state of prana in the body-mind. Irregular breathing is indicative of imbalances or blockages in the flow of prana. Through regulation of the breath, the prana flows in the appropriate measure and locations. – Rev. Jaganath Carrera

A brief way to describe the philosophical purpose of pranayama is:

· The mastery of prana through the breath.


More Detail

· We receive energy in many ways including food, water, the air we breathe and through our connection with nature, people, art and more.

· We expend life force energy when, for example, we move, speak and think.

· Yoga teaches that pranayama is the most effective way to extend and direct prana, our life force energy.

· “A vast capacity of prana is needed to raise the energy from the physical to the spiritual realms.” (Nischala Joy Devi)

· Sutra 2.52 explains that successful pranayama practice “reduces the obstacles that inhibit clear perception.” (T.K.V. Desikachar)


Yoga Sutra Translations

Sutra 2.49: Pranayama


· The [firm posture] being acquired, the movements of inhalation and exhalation should be controlled. This is pranayama. – Sri Swami Satchidananda

· Pranayama is the conscious, deliberate regulation of the breath replacing unconscious patterns of breathing. It is possible only after a reasonable mastery of asana practice. – T.K.V. Desikachar

· The asana having been done, pranayama is the cessation of the movement of inhalation and exhalation. – Swami Satyananda Saraswati

· The universal life force (prana) is enhanced and guided through the harmonious rhythm of the breath (pranayama). – Nischala Joy Devi

· Once harmony with the physical body has been achieved, through interruption of the movement engendered by inhaling and exhaling you attempt to harmonize your energy (pranayama). –

· After mastering posture, one must practice control of the prana(pranayama) by stopping the motions of inhalation and exhalation. – Swami Prabhavananda (

Sutra 2.50: Three kinds of pranayama


· The modifications of the life-breath are either external, internal or stationary. They are to be regulated by space, time and number and are either long or short. – Sri Swami Satchidananda

· It involves the regulation of the exhalation, the inhalation and the suspension of the breath. The regulation of these three processes is achieved by modulating their length and maintaining this modulation for a period of time, as well as directing the mind into the process. These components of breathing must be both long and uniform. – T.K.V. Desikachar

· Pranayama is external, internal or suppressed, regulated by place, time and number and becomes prolonged and subtle. – Swami Satyananda Saraswati

· The movement of the life force is influenced through inhalation, exhalation, and sustained breath. – Nischala Joy Devi

· Exhalation, inhalation, retention, technique, time and number must be very precisely regulated over a lengthy period. –

· The breath may be stopped externally, or internally, or checked in mid-motion, and regulated according to place, time and a fixed number of moments, so that the stoppage is either protracted or brief. – Swami Prabhavananda (

Sutra 2.51: Fourth kind of pranayama


· There is a fourth kind of pranayama that occurs during concentration on an internal or external object. – Sri Swami Satchidananda

· Then the breath transcends the level of the consciousness. – T.K.V. Desikachar

· The fourth pranayama is that which transcends the internal and external object. – Swami Satyananda Saraswati

· A balanced, rhythmical pattern steadies the mind and emotions, causing the breath to become motionless. – Nischala Joy Devi

· The fourth pranayama technique ultimately transcends breath retention after exhaling or inhaling. –

· The fourth kind of pranayama is the stoppage of the breath which is caused by concentration upon external or internal objects. – Swami Prabhavananda (

Sutra 2.52: Removal of the veil


· As its result, the veil over the inner Lights is destroyed. – Sri Swami Satchidananda

· The regular practice of pranayama reduces the obstacles that inhibit clear perception. – T.K.V. Desikachar

· Thereby the covering of light disappears. – Swami Satyananda Saraswati

· As a result, the veils over the inner light are lifted. – Nischala Joy Devi

· The veil covering the light of the true self then vanishes. –

· As the result of this, the covering of the Inner Light is removed. – Swami Prabhavananda (

Sutra 2.53: Mind becomes fit for dharana


· And the mind becomes fit for concentration. – Sri Swami Satchidananda

· And the mind is now prepared for the process of direction toward a chosen goal. – T.K.V. Desikachar

· And fitness of the mind for concentration (develops through pranayama). – Swami Satyananda Saraswati

· The vista of higher consciousness is revealed. – Nischala Joy Devi

· And the mind develops the capacity for harmony with thoughts (dharana). –

· The mind gains the power of concentration (dharana). – Swami Prabhavananda (


Energy & Subtle Body Anatomy Quiz Vocabulary Mix & Match

1. Prana 2. Solar Prana 3. Lunar Prana 4. Prana Vayus 5. "Nad" 6. Nadi 7. Ida Nadi 8. Pingala Nadi 9. Sushumna Nadi A. Movements or Functions of Prana B. Solar, Masculine Nadi C. Subtle Pathway D. Path to Enlightenment E. Shakti, Kundalini, Prakriti F. Life force G. Bindu, Amrita, Soma, Chandra H. Lunar, Feminine Nadi I. Flow, Motion, Vibration

1. What is prana?

2. What are three names for solar prana? Where are these located?

3. What are four names of lunar prana? Where are these located?

4. What are prana vayus?

5. What is the root of the Sanskrit word, nadi?

6. What is the meaning of nadi? How many nadis are there said to be?

7. How do nadis and prana relate?

8. What is the primary function of nadis?

9. What are the 3 primary nadis and how do they relate to chakras?

10. Describe the location and vibration of the ida nadi. Which part of the nervous system does it govern?

11. Describe the location and vibration of the pingala nadi. Which part of the nervous system does it govern?

12. When does the sushumna nadi flow?

13. Why do yoga practices endeavor to awaken sushumna?

14. How are ida and pingala nadis relevant to Hatha Yoga?

15. How are Hatha Yoga and prana related?

16. How do yoga practices impact energy?

17. What are the primary techniques for working with subtle energy?

18. What are some of the ways in which yoga practices liberate energy?

245 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page