Pre-1970s, the tradition of asana in the Ghosh lineage is not one of sequenced practice. It is easy to think of a "sequence" and a "system" as the same thing, but they are actually quite different.
SYSTEM OR SEQUENCE
The system of yoga in the Ghosh lineage uses exercises, postures, breathing and meditation to accomplish goals of health, physical prowess and spiritual progress. Traditionally these are individualized for each person in order to best accomplish their goals while taking into consideration their strengths and weaknesses. Only a select few would learn all of the positions for the purposes of athleticism, entertainment and teaching.
In the West, we have come to think of yoga practice as "sequenced," or in a set order. We tend to inflate the value of practicing things in the same way and same order, partly because that is what suits the Western yoga studio model. But the system of Ghosh yoga is actually designed to adapt to each student, and we overlook this profound element when we "sequence" our yoga classes, teaching the same exercises to young athletes as we do to elders.
For those of us consistently thinking of asana in terms of classroom sequences, this is a challenging idea to truly understand. It doesn't fit in our classroom model, and we generally aren't trained to read bodies and understand illness, injury and healing to the degree in which we'd be able to safely and benefically adjust.
A BEGINNING SYSTEM
There have been several attempts at presenting simple asana for the sake of general health. Above are the charts of Nilmoni Das, who won the title of Ironman in 1935 from Hindu Mahasava. His school is blocks away from Ghosh's College of Physical Education in North Kolkata. He dedicated his life "to the building of body and mind of the youths of Bengal." His books and charts are hugely popular in Bengal and still sell several thousand copies per month (according to his son, Swampan Das). While this isn't specifically a "sequence," it is referenced instead as a "system;" a general presentation of simple movements made for the general public. Ideally, these positions would be selected more carefully by a trained teacher so that the practitioner can work on specific health issues. But when a teacher is not available, one would be able to reference materials like the ones presented above in order to practice on their own.
"A FEW EXERCISES"
In Buddha Bose's Key to the Kingdom of Health Through Yoga (Vol. 1) from 1939, he states that "Those who hope to specialize in this line may learn all the Asanas, but for average individuals of all ages, a few exercises should be chosen, suitable to the person's physical condition, age and bodily build." He presents what he considers to be 24 simple postures and goes on to say "It is better to gradually increase the duration of practice of each exercise than to try to practice a large number of them in one brief period of time."
Bishnu Charan Ghosh's book Yoga Cure, from 1961, contains 32 beginning exercises. While they are presented with instructions for practice, he states that "the good habits of health must be carried out under control of a teacher so long habit is not formed." There is another advertisement that follows later in the book, stating that issues such as "Polio cases, Rickets, Corpulent Boys and Girls of all ages" can be taken care of by "Experienced Instructors and Lady Instructresses."
There are several other examples from Ghosh lineage instructors such as Dr. Gouri Shankar Mukerji and Prof. (Dr.) P.S. Das, whose books continue in the same vein. While it's easy to think of a "sequence" and a "system" as the same thing, they are quite different. The order of practice matters, but we have simplified and overemphasized "sequenced" practice for the sake of efficiency. It is worth considering that everyone's constitution is different, demanding different exercise, order and approach.
For the purposes of practicing yoga, keep your stomach light. Some people do best without eating or drinking for 2-3 hours prior to practicing. Others find that hunger hinders their ability to relax and focus, preferring to eat something light within an hour or two before practicing. Use your best judgment and find what works for you. In general, easy-to-digest foods are best, like fruits and vegetables. Nuts and seeds are great too.
Always drink plenty of water before and after practicing yoga postures. Listen to your body and give it what it needs to function.
Try reducing your caffeine, alcohol and sugar intake. They give little nutritional benefit while being difficult for the body and mind to digest. You might also try reducing dairy, eggs and wheat, as they are common low-level allergens. No matter what, practice, even if you don’t follow these nutritional guidelines.
Get plenty of sleep, at least 7 hours per night. Sleep is where our body and mind regenerate. Our metabolism and physical and mental functions of the body need sleep in order to work properly. If you are tired or exhausted, rest. No amount of food, stimulants or yoga can replace sleep.
Excerpt from the Beginning Practice Manual.
Scott & Ida are Yoga Acharyas (Masters of Yoga). They are the head teachers of Ghosh Yoga. This blog is about their experience with yoga practice, study and teaching.
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