The word nyasa means 'to place'. It is a practice in which specific mantras are 'placed' and felt at different parts of the body. It is the traditional form of yoga nidra used by yogis throughout the ages and still practised by almost all Hindus.
Nyasa is described in various scriptures such as the Brihad Yoga Yajnavalkya Smriti and the Yogataravali, as well as many upanishadic and tantric texts. The Aruneyi Upanishad (verse 5) advises all wandering sannyasins to practise nyasa at all times - to chant Aum and to place it mentally at different parts of the body. More specific and ritualistic forms of nyasa are described in the Mahanirvana Tantra. They include the following:
Matrika nyasa in which the letters of the Sanskrit alphabet (matrikas) are placed on different parts of the physical body of the sadhaka while chanting the corresponding sound.
Hridayadi sadanga nyasa literally means the placing of the hands on six different parts (sadanga) of the body beginning with the heart (hridaya). Specific mantras are chanted as follows: when touching the heart chant namah; when touching the head swaha\ at the crown lock chant vasat and so forth.
Kara nyasa in which mantras are placed and chanted on the fingers, thumbs and palms of the hands. (Note: most forms of yoga nidra that we teach include this type of nyasa, but without the mantras).
Vyapaka nyasa, all pervasive (vyapaka) nyasa. This form is so called because the energy of the mantras is distributed throughout all the parts of the body, together with awareness. Specific mantras are placed and felt on the head, mouth, heart, etc.
Nyasa is widely practised by Hindus throughout the world. A well-known practice is called angvinyasa (nyasa ofthe different limbs of the body). It is described in various scriptures, including the Durga Saptashati. Almost all Hindu puja (worship), whether for Kali, Durga, Shiva or Saraswati, start with this type of nyasa. Specific mantras are chanted and associated with different parts ofthe body. The practice starts as follows and continues with specific mantras for each part: Small linger: Aum Kannestha Abliyam Namahe Second finger: Aum Anamikastha Abhyam Namahe
Third finger: Aum Madhyama Abhyam Namahe Fourth finger: Aum Tarjaneem Abhyam Namahe Thumb: Aum Angushtha Abhyam Namahe
It is a ritual which has far reaching benefits. It is intended to induce pratyahara in preparation for dharana.
All these methods of nyasa are very powerful. They can be either external (bahir) where the parts of the body are physically touched, or they can be internal (antar) where the mantras and awareness are mentally placed. A vast selection of mantras is utilized, includingTam, Phut, Hrim, Krim, the Gayatri mantra and so forth. The bija (seed) mantras of the chakras can also be utilized - Lam, Vam, Ram, etc. - and rotated throughout the six chakras. The mantra chanting and rotation of awareness harmonizes the nervous system, balances pranic flows and renders the mind one-pointed. Each part of the body is systematically charged with the energy of the mantras. The whole body and mind are purified and prepared for meditation.
Yoga nidra has been adapted from the traditional practices of nyasa by Swami Saty-ananda to meet the needs of modern man. The mantras have been omitted so that yoga nidra can be practised by all people regardless of religion, language and tradition. Though devoid of mantras, yoga nidra has been carefully designed so that it retains its power to transform the personality and receptivity of the practitioner. The emphasis has been transferred from mantra chanting (nyasa) to rotation of awareness (yoga nidra). Mantras such as Aum or the guru mantra can, however, be chanted at each centre of the body during yoga nidra if required. Both methods, nyasa and yoga nidra, have their advantages. Possibly in the near future we can reintroduce the practice of nyasa, with mantras, and propagate them on a large scale. This will supplement the present widespread practise of yoga nidra.
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