Advanced Yoga Practices
Lesson 90 - Caduceus Correction and Ida/Pingala Review
Date: Sun Jan 18, 2004 2:29pm
It has been pointed out to me that, while the caduceus is of ancient spiritual origins, it was adopted as a symbol of western medicine only about a century ago. This indicates that perhaps western medicine does not come from such enlightened roots as mentioned in the previous lesson. So, instead of a “renaissance” (revival) of its spiritual connection, medical science will perhaps be discovering the relationship between our physical and spiritual anatomies for the first time. It is likely this will come as more holistic systems of medicine, like ayurveda, merge with western medicine in the coming decades. The focus will shift more toward balance and prevention, and hopefully the medical profession will come to enjoy an existence that is not so crisis oriented. Humanity deserves a break, and so does the medical profession. The master key to good health is in the lifestyle we adopt. It gets down to what you and I do with our lives. And, of course, the medical profession has an important role to play in inspiring and supporting that.
Speaking of inspiring, the reason the caduceus has been mentioned in the lessons has been for the purpose of bhakti — devotion to a high ideal. Whenever you see the symbol of the staff with two serpents rising up around it to that glowing orb, I hope you will be inspired to keep up your daily practices. The caduceus can be used to generate useful bhakti like that. It is a quiet reminder of the reality of the human spiritual anatomy for the medical profession, and for all of us.
Now, let’s open the hood for a few minutes and take a look at the ida and pingala.
As we lift the hood, we see a wondrous tangle of glowing nerves, chakras, and ecstatic energy surging outward. My first impulse is to slam the hood shut and take us all back to doing practices. Enjoying being behind the wheel of the car, you know, watching the beautiful scenery going by, instead of being lost under the hood. But here we are staring at the inner workings, so let’s take a look.
By now, we should be very familiar with the sushumna, the spinal nerve, as we have been using it in spinal breathing. Or at least thinking about using it. For some it has become palpable, as ecstatic radiance has begun to stir in the long thread-like nerve running between the perineum and the point between the eyebrows. We can play with it using the practices we have learned so far. It is quite pleasant – ecstatic, we can say. Others have experienced the expansion of the ecstatic radiance to a much larger dimension. This is when we begin to experience the ida and pingala. As kundalini energy expands the sushumna outward, the ida and pingala are first in line for illumination.
Traditionally, the sushumna, ida, and pingala are considered to be the three main highways of an awakened kundalini. These three nerves regulate the flow of prana through the entire nervous system. This regulating effect is there even before kundalini is awakened. As the awakening occurs, the flow of prana in the sushumna dominates, but the ida and pingala are awakened too. The ida runs up and down through the nerves on the left side of the spine, connecting the perineum with the sensitive tissues high up in the left nostril. The pingala runs up and down through the nerves on the right side of the spine, connecting the perineum with the sensitive tissues high up in the right nostril. Just as the sushumna expands ecstatically to encompass much more than the tiny channel in the spine, so too do the ida and pingala expand ecstatically to encompass much more than the limited physical dimensions of the nerves running up and down the outside of the spine.
This is a key thing to understand about the nervous system. We begin with the limited physical dimensions where the nerves are located in our body. Then, as kundalini awakens and ecstatic radiance rises, the physical dimensions are left behind. So, a nadi, or spiritual nerve, only corresponds with physical nerves in the beginning. As it is awakened, a nadi expands, radiating energy far beyond the physical location of the nerve. There are two ways of looking at this. We can say we are “going within,” traveling in an expanding inner dimension. It feels like that as the sensory experience expands inside. The other way of looking at it is to say we are “expanding outward” in the physical dimension. In other words, expansion on the inner plane is the same as expanding outwardly in the physical dimension. We have to go in to go out. Those who have had kundalini experiences have described the energy going beyond the body as they are expanding inwardly at the same time. Anyone who comes to deep silence in meditation feels this expansion also – going in, but also radiating something peaceful out into the physical world. Whether the experience is the expansion of an awakened kundalini or the expanding silence of pure bliss consciousness in meditation, this is the nadis expanding. Both are different levels of the same thing. It is all the expansion of pure bliss consciousness.
So what does this mean in terms of experiencing the ida and pingala? As these two nerves are awakened by the expansion of the sushumna, they also expand beyond the physical nerves, and are seen to be like whips of ecstatic energy moving out in loops around the spine. They are not doing this statically in one place. They are moving, swirling, so one can barely tell left from right. One is hot, the other cold, and this gives rise to the sensations of heat and cold coexisting in the body. There is a helix-like effect. Imagine a swirling column of ecstatic energy emanating from the center of your spine expanding outward. This is the sushumna. Now imagine it being surrounded by swirling whips of ecstatic energy. These are ida and pingala.
At certain locations along the spine, these three energies converge into whirling vortices in their ecstatic dance. These locations of convergence are the so-called energy centers, or chakras. The sushumna, ida, and pingala are the main energy conduits connecting the chakras. As the nerves awaken, the chakras awaken. It begins as the spinal nerve awakens to an ecstatic radiance. But before any of this, it begins with gentle purification of all the nerves through meditation.
The sequence of awakening in these lessons begins with global purification of the nervous system through meditation, then to gentle awakening of the sushumna through spinal breathing, and finally to more targeted practices aimed at expanding ecstatic radiance to infinite dimensions. Not all approaches to yoga are like this. Some aim to awaken the sushumna straight away, before any significant amount of meditation is done. Others work to balance the ida and pingala first, and then enter the sushumna after that. Others work directly on the chakras first. Whatever the particular approach may be, the final outcome will be the same, a fully awakened nervous system, expanding in radiant ecstasy far beyond the confines of the physical body. All roads lead home, though the routes taken can vary considerably.
Okay, let’s shut the hood and climb back behind the wheel. There are some more controls (advanced yoga practices) we will discuss now that can help speed us along on our way.
The guru is in you.