Table of Contents  
ORIGINAL ARTICLE
Year : 2015  |  Volume : 47  |  Issue : 1  |  Page : 15-21

Nyasa – A scientific study


1 Research Scholar, Swami Vivekananda Yoga Anusandhana Samsthana (S-VYASA) University, Bengaluru, Karnataka, India
2 Dean, Yoga and Physical Sciences Division, Swami Vivekananda Yoga Anusandhana Samsthana (S-VYASA) University, Bengaluru, Karnataka, India
3 Chancellor, Swami Vivekananda Yoga Anusandhana Samsthana (S-VYASA) University, Bengaluru, Karnataka, India

Date of Web Publication9-Dec-2016

Correspondence Address:
Sarangapani Bashyam
Swami Vivekananda Yoga Anusandhana Samsthana, Bengaluru, Karnataka
India
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DOI: 10.4103/0044-0507.195456

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  Abstract 

Background: Divine worship follows Veda or agama sastras (liturgy) in Hindu lore. Nyasa is a mandatory procedure before every mantra japa (repetition of a mantra) as per agama sastra. In nyasa, the individual places parts of the mantra in designated parts of the body in a sequential order before performing japa.
Aims: The aims of this study are to understand the concept and the diverse practices and to gather scientific evidence of the benefits to the body-mind-intellect of an individual doing mantra japa with nyasa.
Method: Literature available on the subject was studied. Controlled experiments on a limited scale were performed using Electrophotonic Imaging (EPI) device with participants from a Vedic institution, performing daily Gayatri japa (recitation of the most popular mantra) with self as control and cross-over design. EPI was used to measure three parameters, namely integral entropy, integral area, and fractality.
Results: Qualitative outcome of the study is described. Marginal improvements in integral entropy (decrease) and integral area (increase) were observed. Both signify positive outcome due to nyasa compared with relaxation by the control group. There was no noticeable difference in fractality between the two groups.
Conclusion: Because decrease in entropy and increase in integral area are associated with better health, the study can be extended to larger and heterogeneous samples and over longer periods of nyasa practice for more conclusive results.

Keywords: Agama sastra, Electrophotonic Imaging, entropy, fractality, integral area, meditation, nyasa, relaxation


How to cite this article:
Bashyam S, Srinivasan T M, Nagendra HR. Nyasa – A scientific study. Yoga Mimamsa 2015;47:15-21

How to cite this URL:
Bashyam S, Srinivasan T M, Nagendra HR. Nyasa – A scientific study. Yoga Mimamsa [serial online] 2015 [cited 2019 Aug 25];47:15-21. Available from: http://www.ym-kdham.in/text.asp?2015/47/1/15/195456


  Introduction Top


As per sanatana-dharma (the Hindu religion), in the days of yore, people worshipped the divine reciting Vedic chants from the ancient scriptures in tune with the time of the day and seasons of the year. Quite often man worshipped the divine in the form of nature simply in ecstasy or in awe. Iconic worship, either individual or congregational, came later with the advent of agama sastra (liturgy) and tantric form of divine worship. In the preface to the book on congregational worship, Leadbeater describes the thought-form generated when a group of persons perform congregational worship with Gayatri mantra led by a priest (Leadbeater, 2009). Agama sastra lays down elaborate procedures for worship and stipulates strict adherence by the priests for worship of the divine for welfare of the whole humanity. One of the procedures is nyasa, which is ordained as mandatory prior to every mantra japa.

In Yoganidra – a yogic practice of deep relaxation – Swami Mangalateertham (Mangalateertham, 2006, p. 245) writes “the feature of systematic rotation of different parts of the body originates from tantric practice of nyasa.” Deep relaxation technique (DRT) is a salient feature of the integrated approach to yoga therapy (Nagendra & Nagarathna, 2011). In DRT, the person in sava asana (corpse like posture) recites the syllables A, U, and M constituting the Vedic mantra, AUM. Though the word “nyasa” is not explicitly stated, reciting the three syllables while visualizing three regions of the body (below waist, chest, and head) is tantamount to nyasa practice. Further Nagendra, Nagarathna, & Telles (2003) explain the expansion of awareness from gross material body to the subtlest bliss body in five stages for yoga therapy for cancer and pain management caused either by the disease or therapy induced. Read together, there is a promising area of research to use nyasa, an ancient lore from sastra in yoga therapy for cancer.

In this article, the concepts behind nyasa are explored along with the practice of nyasa in case of Gayatri mantra. Results of the first scientific study of effect of nyasa are presented and discussed.

There is a vast gulf in all aspects between the worshipper and the divine. Worship of the divine with all associated grandeur by ordinary mortals with all impurities and defiled by prakrti (nature) is unthinkable, especially when the priest is praying for the whole society. Therefore, sastras prescribe elaborate system of self-purification – both external and internal – before performing the prayer. The priest should set entire mankind before self and undertake the congregational worship (Ramachandrarao, 1990). Nyasa, therefore, is a key component in agama system. There is a plethora of references to nyasa in all three agama sastras – Saiva, Sakta, and Vaishnava (each pertaining to the three deities, Siva, Sakti, and Vishnu).

The word “nyasa” comprises the prefix NI with AS (Sanskrit letters) meaning to throw. The meaning given in Oxford Sanskrit-English dictionary is more descriptive. Nyasa means “to place, to set on or in, to use, to touch.” It also connotes mental consecration or allocation of various bodily parts to “guardian spirits.”

Every mantra is divided usually into six parts as per the standard method and reposited or placed at six places on the body. In Kara-nyasa (nyasa done on hand), the five fingers along with palm and dorsam (considered as one unit) are the six parts. In Anga-nyasa (nyasa done on the body parts), the heart, the forehead, the crown of the head, the parts from ear to the waist, the eyes and around the head are the six places for repositing the six parts of the mantra.

Nyasa is closely associated with dhyanam (meditation). Dhyanam is defined in the Yoga Sutra 3.2 by Sage Patanjali as follows:

Tatra pratyaya eka-tanata dhyanam. (Tr: In that state, oneness is dhyanam).

When the previous state of dharana (concentration) on one object is achieved and continues, dhyanam occurs spontaneously for a length of time. For reaching the state of dharana, a form or a word, known as mantra (a sacred word, syllable, a phrase, or a sentence) is required. Of mantra in agama worship, Varadachary cites Lakshmitantram and Jayakya Samhita and states that mantra is stated to include thinking and meditation on the tattvas (concepts) in addition to its utterance. Varadachary writes about nyasa, “Nyasa means placing, applying or depositing. Mantra is placed on parts of the body. When the nyasa is done, the power of the letter of the mantra which is presided over by a particular deity passes into those parts of the body” (Varadachary, 2001, p. 90).

Thus, the progression in one's practice of iconic worship that emerges is:

NYASA → MANTRA JAPA → DHYANAM → ICONIC WORSHIP

Nyasa is classified as karanyasa and anga-nyasa based on the parts of the body of the worshipper wherein parts of the mantra are placed as described above.

Each mantra is attributed to a particular rishi (sage) who is credited with “capturing” the mantra existing in cosmos in the form of sound beyond the normal human being's audible range. Every mantra is set to particular metre known as chhandas and addresses a specific deity. Another classification of nyasa, therefore, connects rishi, chhandas, and the deity. A third classification is with respect to the aksharas/padas/vakyas (letters, phrases, and sentences). In this classification, we have bijakshara-nyasa, matrika nyasa as elaborated in “Mahanirvana tantra” (Avalon, 1929) and in “Mantra yoga and primal sound” (Frawley, 2012).

[Table 1] summarizes the procedure of kara-nyasa and anga-nyasa while chanting Gayatri mantra. As stated earlier, the mantra is split into six parts, as shown in the table. For kara-nyasa, the six parts of the mantra are placed sequentially on thumbs, index, middle, ring, and little fingers, followed by the palms and dorsams of both the hands. For anga-nyasa, the six parts are placed on body parts the heart, the forehead, crown of the head, from ears to elbows, eyes, and finally, around the head in a circular manner.
Table 1: Kara-nyasa/anga-nyasa for Gayatri mantra

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In kara-nyasa, as the mantra is recited, each finger is touched by the thumb moving from base to the tip of the finger. Index finger is used in the case of movement along thumb. Lastly, one palm is used to swipe across the other palm and dorsam and the palms are reversed. In anga-nyasa, the six parts are touched with various combinations of right hand fingers. The touch presumably improves sensitivity of touch through improved nerve conduction which is another area of research under nyasa.

In Pancaratra agama, shodasa nyasa (Srinivasachariar, 2011) is stipulated. In this, sixteen sets of items from the macrocosm are placed in body parts in a sequence. Some of the sixteen items are 50 Samskrita letters, all nakshatras (stars), time, all sources of waters, deities, and 14 worlds. The effect of repositing 16 items from macrocosm in one's body can be conceptualized and gathered from empirical evidence or from experimental study.

The concept of nyasa is to recognize the various components of macrocosm and visualize them in the body. Simultaneously, it helps in recognizing the function and utility of body parts in the microcosm. The nyasa mantras end with “Namah” meaning salutation. This is a unique way of a super system acknowledging with humility the service rendered by the subordinate systems.

At the conclusion of nyasa, the worshipper is endowed with a divine body for the worship of the divine.

Agama sastras indicate two fold benefits of performing nyasa – bhutasuddhi (purification of five cosmic elements composing the body) and mantrasiddhi (achieving the objectives of the mantras). Varadachary writes in Pancaratragama (Varadachary, 2001): “When the nyasa is done, the power of letters of the mantra which is presided over by a particular deity passes into those parts of the body where it is done. The body of the person doing this gets purified.”

The rationale for undertaking a scientific study of benefits of nyasa practice stems from two angles. Whatever is implicit in sastras should be explored and made explicit for people to understand and realize the beneficial aspect in modern day living of stresses and strains. Scientific evidence will be more convincing to modern generation than simple faith or belief. Second is to advance the borders of science in understanding nature and probably lead to paradigm shifts. The investigator hypothesized that the practice of nyasa before Gayatri mantra japa will not lead to reduction of integral entropy, increase of integral area, and increase in fractality.


  Method Top


Sample

The participants were students of an institution for the study of sastras in the age group of 16–20 years, with regular daily practice of Gayatri for periods ranging from 1 to 3 years. They were all initiated into nyasa for Gayatri mantra by a faculty of the institution. The participants practiced nyasa for 2 days before measurements were made. All participants had good health and were not taking any drugs for any health problems. They are all from similar socioeconomic background and form a homogenous group.

This research is the first of its kind. No guidance for sample size is available. Therefore, it was decided to consider all available students in the institution as the sample. Thus, the study was conducted among 60 participants. All the 60 participants were randomized into experimental and control group with 30 participants in each group. Every alternate participant who came into the laboratory for measurement was assigned to control and experimental group. Though the measurements were obtained for all 30 participants, the data is available for less number of participants due to noisy data, improper finger placement, and drop out of data around some fingers, and hence these could not be included in the study. Finally, researcher could collect data on 29 participants (15 control and 14 experimental) for integral entropy and integral area whereas data on 22 partcipant (10 control and 12 experimental) were analyzed for fractality.

Tools

A device known as Electrophotonic Imaging (EPI) – also known as Gas Discharge Visualization – was used for the investigations (Korotkov, 2002). The instrument consists of a high voltage, high frequency generator whose field was applied to the fingertips of the participants. The field draws out electrons and photons from the body through the finger tips. Because the electric field is applied through a glass plate, the current through the finger is in the low microamperes range and no discomfort is experienced by the participant. Thus, the measurement is entirely noninvasive and safe. Because the fingertips of all fingers represent organs according to acupuncture theory, subtle energy flow of chi or prana (the subtle aspect of air) in the body is monitored through this method. For the current research on the subtle effect of nyasa, EPI was thought to meet the requirement very well.

EPI consists of an insulating glass plate on which the fingers are placed. A CCD camera underneath the glass plate captures the pictures of corona discharge from the fingers when the electrons drawn out create a discharge due to high voltage. The participant places 10 fingers one after the other on the sensor glass plate. The fingers should be dry. The in-built software computes 13 parameters for the ten organs/systems corresponding to the ten fingers and produces plots called EPI-grams. If for any reason any diagram is incomplete or wrongly drawn it shows up and instantaneous re-recording is possible.

The methodology adopted in the algorithms and software for the measurement of parameters by the instrument supplier is discussed below.

Parameters of EPI-gram used for the analysis

According to Korotkov (2002), the image processing application packages available commercially is not appropriate for processing EPI-grams because the tasks are specific for these images. Therefore, a software environment was developed for processing and analyzing EPI-grams, oriented towards the work in different problem domains. In this algorithm, specific threshold values and image brightness along with image uniformity was considered. The parameters of interest, namely, integral entropy, integral area, and fractality are worked through elaborate mathematical formulations, which are mentioned in the literature (Korotkov, 2002).

Details of the parameters

The concept of entropy discovered first for application in thermodynamics has encompassed many other areas such as statistical mechanics, quantum mechanics, information theory, and cosmology to name a few. It is found equally applicable to biological systems. In current research, the instrument captures and records a measure called “integral entropy.” It is a measure of disorder in the system; here, it relates to disorder in the subtle energy in the participant. The disorderliness is related to disturbance in the smooth flow of chi energy (in Traditional Chinese Medicine) in the organs of the body. Similar to prana in Ayurveda, chi is the subtle energy whose availability and uniform distribution in the organs represent health; decreased chi is an indication of disease. This subtle energy, i.e., chi is tracked in EPI and is measured as integral entropy. Integral entropy is mathematically derived from the uniformity of the EPI-gram by integrating EPI images obtained from all the fingers. If it decreases from one measurement to another, it signals positive change and its increase denotes negative change.

Integral area is another parameter for measurement, as recommended by Korotkov. When high voltage electricity is passed through the fingers (for a very short time), electrons are ejected from the finger tips. Depending on the quantity of electrons ejected and their energy level, the integral area of the image varies in size. Higher the area better is the health of the systems/organs corresponding to the particular finger.

From the above, it may be said that the uniformity of discharges is related to integral entropy and the intensity to integral area.

Fractality, the third parameter, is a feature characteristic of self-repetitive shape of wide ranging objects in nature such as clouds, broccoli, and DNA to name a few. It denotes repeatability. Increase in fractality signals positive outcome and decrease signals negative outcome.

Fractality is calculated according to the algorithm of Mandelbrot as a ratio of lengths of perimeters of the image glow, obtained from EPI-grams. Fractality shows degree of irregularity of the external contours of EPI-grams. This is related to the response of the system to energy regulation; low levels indicate poor regulation and higher than normal values indicate saturation of energy regulation (for example, after excessive work load).

Procedure

EPI instrument was used to measure the parameters of the participants performing nyasa followed by Gayatri mantra japa. The control group consisted of participants practicing relaxation before Gayatri mantra japa. The duration of nyasa and relaxation was kept 1 minute. Both the control and experimental groups recited Gayatri mantra 20 times. Self as control method and crossover design was adopted. The approval of the Ethics Committee of the University was obtained before start of the study. Confidentiality of the participants was maintained and withdrawal from the study at any time was explained to all.

Experimental design

Self as control with cross-over from control to experimental has been selected as the study design. This is illustrated in [Figure 1] and [Table 2].
Figure 1: Self as control with crossover design. N/G: Nyasa followed by Gayatri japa; R/G: Relaxation followed by Gayatri japa; (1), (2) and (3) indicates measurement epochs

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Table 2: Research design

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The purpose and procedure of measurements were explained in detail to all the participants together. The participants were given instructions on nyasa by the faculty who is a familiar figure. He explained how to carry out nyasa, Kara-nyasa, and Anga-nyasa. Informed consent was obtained from each participant as per the standard practice. The participants practiced nyasa before reciting Gayatri mantra japa for two days.

Method of relaxation was standardized for 1 minute, about the same time taken for nyasa practice. Before actual measurement, each participant was briefed regarding the steps and the procedure. Any questions/doubts were clarified by an expert who assisted the researcher in subject's own language in addition to English.


  Results and Discussion Top


The results of this study have been presented in [Table 3], [Table 4], [Table 5], [Table 6]. The results showed that both relaxation and nyasa followed by Gayatri mantra produced changes in entropy in either direction when compared with baseline measurement to a small degree. Four out of 29 subjects showed decrease in entropy whereas 6 out of 29 subjects showed increase in entropy in both the groups. Thus, neither nyasa nor relaxation has a marked effect on decrease in entropy. In the remaining 19 participants, decrease in entropy was observed both in nyasa and relaxation. In summary, practice of nyasa does not appear to have significant effect on reduction of entropy compared to relaxation on Gayatri mantra recitation.
Table 3: Integral entropy under experimental and control conditions

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Table 4: Integral area under experimental and control conditions

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Table 5: Fractality under experimental and control conditions

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Table 6: Integral entropy data recast

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A positive outcome of the study is that entropy decrease can and does take place when Gayatri mantra japa is recited preceded by nyasa or relaxation. For some individuals, nyasa may augment the entropy reduction, and for others, relaxation could augment the entropy reduction. It is possible that both nyasa and relaxation prepares the individual for the effect of the mantra.

When we consider integral area, states 3 and 4 [Table 4] together accounts for 55%, which is a good indication of the effect of nyasa. State 2 indicates that relaxation is effective for 38% participants. State 1 where both nyasa and relaxation are ineffective accounts only for 7% participants. In summary, it can be stated that both nyasa and relaxation affect integral area positively, however, nyasa's influence was 17% greater. Thus, the changes observed in the integral area could be due to the practice of nyasa.

Both relaxation and nyasa affect fractality in either direction when compared with baseline measurement, although to a small degree. Both increase fractality in 3 out of 22 participants. Both decrease fractality in 4 out of 22 participants. Thus, neither nyasa nor relaxation has a marked effect on increase of fractality. In the remaining 15 participants, both nyasa and relaxation increased fractality. In summary, practice of nyasa does not appear to have a significant effect on the increase of fractality compared to relaxation on Gayatri mantra recitation.

A positive outcome of the study is that fractality increase can and does take place when Gayatri mantra japa is preceded by nyasa or relaxation. For some individuals, nyasa may augment the fractality increase and for some others relaxation augments the same. It is possible both nyasa and relaxation prepares the individual for the effect of the mantra.

Of the three parameters taken for measurement, entropy results are most promising. Entropy is also researched by scientists belonging to various specializations, statistical mechanics, quantum mechanics, thermodynamics, information theory, and biology. Erwin Schrödinger (Schrodinger, 1967), a Nobel Laureate in physics in a book entitled “What is life” has brought out the importance of entropy of living systems. The book is considered as a valuable precursor to the “birth of molecular biology and the subsequent discovery of DNA.” Readers are particularly referred to Chapter 6 “Order, disorder and entropy.” From considerations of entropy for inanimate and animate matter Jayant Udgaonkar (Udgaonkar, 2001) has stated categorically that nothing can escape the long arm of the second law of thermodynamics. We are, therefore, led to conclude that, of the three parameters measured, results of integral entropy deserve critical evaluation.

The control group carried out relaxation practice for 1 minute followed by recitation of Gayatri mantra 20 times. The experimental group practiced nyasa for the same length of time followed by Gayatri recitation for 20 times. It may be noted that, between relaxation and nyasa, the former is easier to perform. Nyasa has to be learnt and practiced for some time for the learning to take effect, say a month, before it becomes as easy and spontaneous as relaxation. In spite of this condition, nyasa has shown marginally better outcome.

The entropy data presented in [Table 6] shows a small advantage in favor of nyasa. This is encouraging because the results have been recorded in spite of a short time of nyasa practice. With regular practice for a month, the results could be better. Within the limitations of this study, we can conclude that nyasa might be a promising method for decreasing entropy in the subtle energy flowing in the body.


  Conclusion and Recommendations Top


As stated earlier, this is the first scientific study on nyasa. The limitations as encountered and perceived are described below. These might be considered as suggestions for future studies. Though nyasa for Gayatri mantra is simple, a greater familiarity with the practice of nyasa is needed for the learning curve to operate. At least a month of practice of nyasa is recommended to achieve desired results.

It is surmised that relaxation itself is not easy to achieve and at times considered “boring.” Participants may relax better by a number of visuals of different cues and sociocultural settings. Measuring galvanic skin response (GSR) to monitor relaxation during practice could provide objectivity to the measurements.

In this study, the chanting of Gayatri mantra was left to the control of the individual. A better procedure could be used to play an audio-recording with the participants mentally following the recitation. The recording needs to be done only once, which is reproduced to reduce variation in the quality of recitation and the time taken for recitation. The number of Gayatri can also be varied. The participants could be heterogeneous from different subcultures. Basic condition that the participant should be practicing mantra japa remains, as nyasa is coupled to mantra japa. The age group of the participants in this study was incidental. The study should include individuals from different age groups. Future study promises to open vistas of greater understanding of the research topic of nyasa for specific application in yoga therapy for major health problems and promotion of positive health. [12]

Acknowledgements

The authors are grateful to Swami Vivekananda Yoga Anusandhana Samsthana and Veda Vijnana Gurukulam for sponsoring and supporting the study and to Acharya Ramachandra Bhat for giving the diksha of nyasa to the subjects. The research scholar is grateful to Dr. Nagendra for assigning the subject of Nyasa for doctoral dissertation, to Dr. Nagendra and Dr. Srinivasan for guidance in analysis and interpretation of results, to Dr. Balram in planning the experiments and Dr. Sushrutha in measurement and data collection and to the students of the Gurukulam for willingly joining the research as subjects.

Financial support and sponsorship

Nil.

Conflicts of interest

There are no conflicts of interest.

 
  References Top

1.
Avalon, A. (1929). Mahanirvanatantra Tantric text. Madras: Ganesh & Co Madras.  Back to cited text no. 1
    
2.
Frawley, D. (2012). Mantra Yoga and Primal Sound. Delhi: New Age Books.  Back to cited text no. 2
    
3.
Korotkov, K. (2002). Human Energy Field Study with GDV Bioelectrography. New Jersey: Backbone Publishing.  Back to cited text no. 3
    
4.
Leadbeater, C. W. (2009). A congregational pooja for the Hindus. Madras, India: The Theosophical Society.  Back to cited text no. 4
    
5.
Nagendra, H. R., & Nagarathna, R. (2011). Integrated Approach to Yoga Therapy for Positive Health, Bangalore: Swami Vivekananda Yoga Prakashana.  Back to cited text no. 5
    
6.
Nagendra, H. R., Nagarathna, R., & Telles, S. (2003). Yoga and cancer. Bangalore: Swami Vivekananda Yoga Prakashana.  Back to cited text no. 6
    
7.
RamachandraRao, S. K. (1990). Agama Kosa. Bangalore: Kalpataru Research Academy.  Back to cited text no. 7
    
8.
Schrodinger, E. (1967). What is Life. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.  Back to cited text no. 8
    
9.
Srinivasachariar, A. (2011). Sri Padmatantraprayogadarsah. Chennai: Ganesh & Co.  Back to cited text no. 9
    
10.
Swami Mangalateertham. (2006). Yoganidra-altered state of consciousness, Yoga Nidra. Munger: Yoga Publications Trust.  Back to cited text no. 10
    
11.
Udgaonkar, J. B. (2001). Entropy in biology. Resonance, 6(9), 61-66.  Back to cited text no. 11
    
12.
Varadachary, V. (2001). Pancaratraagama. Tirupati: Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanams.  Back to cited text no. 12
    


    Figures

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    Tables

  [Table 1], [Table 2], [Table 3], [Table 4], [Table 5], [Table 6]



 

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