The Nadis and Your Gut Feeling

koshas1During his discussions of the effects of a Second Series practice, and in his workshop discussions of the “subtle body,” Tim Miller is fond of pointing out that we’re not talking about something that exists in the empirical world. “If I cut you open,” he says, “and dissect you, will I be able to find your nadis? No.”

The Second Series of Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga is named “nadi shodhana”—often translated as “nerve cleansing.” The “nerves” we’re talking about, though, are the invisible channels that are part of the body of prana, one of the five koshas. The nadis channel prana in that particular body. So the purpose of the Second Series of Ashtanga is to clear these channels in order to make prana flow more freely, and so in turn to allow the practitioner a way to access the less. . .gross aspects of yoga practice.

Gross. I mean, of course, “physical.” Tim’s way of explaining the intersections of the nadis up the central channel—the chakras—often involve very physical explanations, stories, in fact. Such as the journey of Ram down the nerve channel to rescue Sita and return to a state of unity in the seventh chakra, sahasrara, that resides just above the physical head. It’s wonderful to hear this story—the story of the Ramayana—retold as the story of the quest for unity in individual, in the self. He expands and elaborates: It’s also the desire for Siva to be united with the creative force, Shakti. Stasis and energy in balance. A great story.

The first chakra is, of course, muladhara, the root. Way down there. And so by extension, Sita’s journey involves traveling through some nether regions of the gut.

So my ears perked up when, listening to National Public Radio last week, I heard that scientist have found evidence that the microbes in our gut talk to our brain and can drastically effect how we think, even our sense of well-being.

Bet you didn’t see that coming. Gross!

But yes, that’s what they’ve found. I’ve been around long enough to remember when you first started hearing talk of what are now known as “probiotics.” The newer round of research in this area has discovered that microbes found in the human gut can be sorted into kinds, can indicate the kind of diet a person eats, can cure diseases in the form of a microbe transplant (yes, exactly what you’re thinking it might involve), and that our microbes communicate with our brains. From the NPR story:

I’m always by profession a skeptic,” says Dr. Emeran Mayer, a professor of medicine and psychiatry at the University of California, Los Angeles. “But I do believe that our gut microbes affect what goes on in our brains.

They’re calling this interior, invisible landscape “the human microbiome.” The study found that mice that were fed probiotics got, well, happier. Which led them to wonder, how were the microbes communicating with the brain?

A big nerve known as the vagus nerve, which runs all the way from the brain to the abdomen, was a prime suspect. And when researchers in Ireland cut the vagus nerve in mice, they no longer saw the brain respond to changes in the gut.

The vagus nerve is the highway of communication between what’s going on in the gut and what’s going on in the brain,” says John Cryan of the University College Cork in Ireland, who has collaborated with Collins.

Gut microbes may also communicate with the brain in other ways, scientists say, by modulating the immune system or by producing their own versions of neurotransmitters.

So all this got me wondering about the kinds of stories we tell about the practice, mystic, poetic, and scientific. And of the journey that begins with the physical practice of vinyasa, which leads to diet changes and to a sense of well-being and thoughtfulness—and, yes, to an awareness of prana and its journey up the sushumna nadi, and how the practice can make the ways straight.

Posted by Bobbie

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Two Ashtangis write about their practice and their teachers.

One thought on “The Nadis and Your Gut Feeling”

  1. A few years back I heard about a book called The Second Brain (Dr. Michael D. Gershon’s groundbreaking work clearly demonstrates that the human gut actually has a brain of its own ) I was interested in this book because of my daughter’s illness and being completely paralyzed from extreme muscle mass. The stomach is a world of it’s own and I didnt know until i read the book that the stomach has more nerve endings than the brain. Interesting stuff.

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