Last night the new class of students began their training here in Kolkata, India at Ghosh's Yoga College. The first night is simple and informal, with Muktamala (Bishnu Ghosh's granddaughter) showing videos of her father and grandfather, and then giving a brief tour of the school.
In the picture above, Muktamala is in the center, facing the group wearing a green dress. She explains some of the many pictures hung around the school, snapshots of history and personality that document the lineage.
"This is my grandfather's room," she tells the group. "He used to sit here on a mattress and instruct the students."
The walls are covered with photos of Bishnu, Yogananda and many of the prominent students of the school, including Bishwanath Ghosh, Buddha Bose, Jibananda Ghosh, Prem Sundar Das, Dibya Sundar Das, Baishali Champati and Rajashree Chakrabarti (Choudhury). The history here is palpable.
"We don't modernize the school," Muktamala says. "We want to keep it traditional and original. You can feel the vibration of my grandfather in this room."
It is surprising and wonderful that, yet again, we are headed to India. We will stay for nearly a month on this trip, traveling to distant corners of the country to visit places we haven’t yet been. The trip will happen in three parts.
As always, we will fly into Kolkata, home of Ghosh’s Yoga College and many friends of ours. We have spent lots of time in Kolkata over the years, and it is a home away from home. Especially since the Ghosh family treats everyone with such hospitality.
After a few days we will head west to Pune and Lonavala. Pune is the home of Iyengar and his yoga. We are excited to visit the legendary library there. Lonavala is the home of the earliest known yoga laboratory, where they studied the physiological effects of yoga all the way back in the 1920s. For scientifically minded yogis like us, Lonavala is a kind of mecca.
Then we will return to Kolkata to welcome a new class of trainees at Ghosh's Yoga College. It is always a treat to pick people up at the airport in the middle of the night and usher them through their first few hours in the sensory extravaganza that is India.
Then we are off on a historic excursion to Varanasi, Haridwar and Rishikesh. These are some of the oldest and most sacred locations in India, resting aside the Ganges and at the feet of the Himalayas. It is impossible to say what experiences await us, but travel never fails to be surprising, enlightening and humbling.
We will write more in the coming days!
Por ahora no debería ser sorpresa que Bishnu Ghosh era un levantador de pesas. Fue influenciado en gran parte por Eugene Sandow, considerado como el padre del fisicoculturismo moderno. Vemos mucha influencia en el levantamiento de pesas de Ghosh no solo por su énfasis en la fisicalidad en la práctica de asana, pero también en la terminología usada por sus estudiantes. Esto es mucho mas notable en el uso del término más discutido que nunca “bloquea la rodilla”, y en el constante enfoque en la contracción y relajación de los músculos.
Bishnu escribió en esta publicación de 1930 Control Muscular y Ejercicios de Pesas (coescrito por Keshub Ch. Sen Gupta y disponible aquí), que él era bastante delgado en su juventud. Después de haber estudiado levantamiento de pesas, tuvo la oportunidad “de ver al Señor Chit Tun controlar sus músculos enormes y bien formados”. Ese fue el comienzo del interés de Bishnu en las enseñanzas de Chit Tun.
Walter Chit Tun vivió en Calcuta y fue el líder del movimiento de la cultura física. La influencia que tuvo en Bishnu y Sen Gupta fue tan profunda que hasta tomaron prestado el titulo “Ejercicio de Pesas” del libro de Chit Tun para usarlo en su propia publicación.
Chit Tun explico en su libro que “movimientos rápidos nunca desarrollan o incrementan los músculos a gran medida” y “en orden para obtener contracción total, los movimientos deben de se hechos de una manera lenta, de una manera enfocada”.
Después, en instrucciones detalladas a lo que llamo Ejercicio V (fotografiado arriba):
“Pausa por uno o dos segundos. Ahora levántate lentamente a posición original respirando al mismo tiempo”.
¿Suena familiar para algunos de ustedes practicantes de Utkatasana?
“Cuando las rodillas estén bloqueadas, contrae los músculos del muslo fuertemente por dos o tres segundos”.
Sen Gupta tomo mucho prestado de aquí para su libro colaborativo con Bishnu. El instruyo “regresa otra vez a posición original donde contraerás y después relajaras los músculos de tus muslos. Exhala cuando te sientes y respira cuando te levantes, esto desarrollara los músculos de tus muslos”. Y finalmente “numero de veces de ser tomadas – 20 veinte”.
Bishnu explico en la sección de control muscular de su libro, que “uno debe tener músculos grandes antes de empezar a controlar. Mucho ya se a dicho sobre el desarrollo de los músculos en la parte anterior” refiriéndose a la sección de ejercicios de pesas. Después, notablemente antes de instruir técnicas individuales de control muscular, el instruyo:
“Levanta tu cuerpo con los dedos de tus pies, de esta manera contrayendo los músculos de las pantorrillas. Después contrae los músculos de los muslos y el glúteo mayor…Ahora trata de contraer todos estos músculos simultáneamente y espera un tiempo en esta posición contraída y trata de averiguar si hay algún musculo no contraído.
Aunque muchos yogis han dejado el uso de las pesas o nunca les ha interesado en primer lugar, nuestra practica sigue siendo profundamente inmersa en el desarrollo de contracción y relajación muscular. Esta es una parte integral en la practica de asana en el linaje de Ghosh y debería ser aceptado tanto como en sus raíces históricas, y los efectos positivos que tiene en la salud física.
The word pranayama is used quite a lot, but often not given the explanation or gravity it deserves. Pranayama is the practice of controlling your life force, which is most easily understood as the breath. It is a subtle practice, falling somewhere between physical practice and mental. It is easy to confuse this with just breathing, standing breathing exercises, or the act of focusing on the breath, however the practices of pranayama are very specific and need specific technique. Pranayama includes practices such as Kapalbhati, Alternate Nostril Breathing and Even Counted Breathing. These are not done standing or in challenging physical postures. They must be done while the body is seated and relaxed. Pranayama is worth incorporating into your practice and study for many reasons. Here are a few:
4) Moves us beyond the postures - When we begin a yoga practice, we start by manipulating the body and practicing postures known as asanas. This is extremely challenging and rewarding as we build strength, control, health and balance. At a certain point however, we start running the risk of associating too strongly with the look and feel of our body. Our ego starts to associate our self-worth with the execution of our postures. For this reason it's important we start incorporating breath practices as they take us beyond associating purely with the physical body.
3) Balances the nervous system - You may have noticed that as you go through your day, one nostril may be somewhat plugged at any given time. This is because your sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems are stimulated through the use of your right and left nostril! Breathing through your nose can help regulate your body temperature, stress level, digestion and many other functions. When we consciously manipulate this through Alternate Nostril Breathing, we can actually bring a sense of balance to our nervous system. Amazing right?!
2) Moves us closer to meditation - Many of us are keen to work on meditation. It is an increasingly popular practice for which science continues to confirm as being beneficial to our well being. While other traditions of practice believe meditation to be a beginning practice, the yogis explain that the mind cannot be controlled without first mastering the control of the body and then mastering the control of the breath. For many of us who practice asana and want to meditate, we should look to pranayama first... the missing link!
1) Uses the two systems of breathing - There are two ways in which the body breathes: abdomen and chest. Many of us heavily favor one of the systems over the other. While this is usually not a conscious decision, it can affect our digestion, posture, sleep, mood and stress level. Developing pranayama practices help us understand the systems of breathing and give us a chance to develop whatever system we haven't been using.
There are many physical and mental benefits to practicing pranayama. It will have a calming effect on us while taking our practice to the next level. Let's do it!
Teaching yoga is a complicated task. Like practicing, it requires an understanding of what we're trying to do, how best to do it, how to navigate any barriers before us, and constant reassessment as to whether or not we're on the right path.
Teaching requires not only that we understand what to teach and how to teach it, but also that we help navigate the experience for the student, providing encouragement and a sense of discipline while drawing from our own experience and knowledge. This makes teaching a constant, on the spot, juggling act.
While we need not be teachers in order to practice, we need to be practitioners in order to teach. When we take students on the path of yoga, we must have already been to the places that they will soon visit for themselves. When they have doubts or questions, we must know how to respond. When they make progress we should be there to guide them further. Anything and everything that comes up for the student is ours to respond to. We show them how to begin, and then stay with them and guide them as they progress.
It's important that we treat teaching and practicing as two separate entities. They require very different skills and as we develop in both areas, they in some ways become more separate.
To develop our teaching, we can learn more about the physical practices making us better able to decide what and how our students should practice. By learning to adjust what words we say and how we say them, we can use our own energy to take the students to new places. By carrying ourselves in a certain way or offering adjustments, we can teach the student to experience a posture in a new way. We can learn how to read the signals our students give us, so we know when tough love is necessary or when a gentle approach is more appropriate.
As practitioners, we are used to learning and practicing. We know that's how we progress. Teaching is no different. We should seek out learning experiences, understand what makes a good teacher, and work to be the best we can be.
You've heard the phrase practice makes perfect. Then, at some point it was probably qualified as perfect practice makes perfect. The simple truth is that practice makes more of whatever we're practicing whether it be physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, etc. To complicate the situation, all of those elements are at play whenever we are practicing anything.
When we practice asana, we are focused on the physical body, but we are also cementing our relationship to the practice, the thoughts in our mind, what we think about how we are doing, and an infinite number of other situations.
Simply put, the practice of yoga should be noticing these patterns and detaching from them. When we practice asana, we first learn to notice something like what postures we love and what postures we hate. If we're able to remove these mental associations, we can make progress without deepening our reactions. Without this crucial piece of the practice, we are deepening the control that the mind has on us, rather than softening it.
As teachers these patterns become more obvious. You start to observe where people put their mat day after day, how they fix their shirt after each standing backbend, how they do a small backbend after Standing Head to Knee, or how they are always thirsty before Triangle. These patterns represent all of the things we've practiced without meaning to. If these are the external patterns, you can imagine how complicated it is on the inside!
As practitioners, we have to do this work ourselves to the best of our ability. We have to notice what we are practicing and adjust accordingly. Otherwise we spend a lot of time working in the wrong direction. Practice makes practice.
Crow Posture is a common arm balance, holding the body perched on the arms with the legs tucked underneath. It is usually the first arm balance taught in yoga classes, because it's relatively easy to get into and it allows a simple, step-by-step approach to balancing on the hands.
HOW TO DO IT
Start by standing, then bend forward and put your hands on the floor a little bit in front of your feet (see the picture "Setup 1" above on the left). Bend your knees and squat down a little; it will also help to bend your elbows. Put your knees on your arms above the elbows. Keep them there. It helps to squeeze the knees together, like you are pressing them onto the arms. This will prevent them from slipping down.
Now shift your weight forward into your hands (picture "Setup 2) above middle). More and more weight will come into your hands and arms. At first you may not be strong enough to hold your whole body's weight on your arms. This is ok, just keep practicing and getting stronger. It may take weeks or months to build the strength. If your wrists hurt from the pressure, do short little sets, just a few seconds at a time.
Once most of your weight is in the arms, lift one foot at a time (pictured "Setup 3" above right). This will build more strength in the arms while also moving you closer to balance. If it is easy to lift one foot at a time, lift both feet off the floor and balance just on your arms.
This week marks three years since the publication of 3 books: Buddha Bose's lost manuscript of 84 Yoga Asanas, the Beginning Ghosh Yoga Practice Manual and the Intermediate Ghosh Yoga Practice Manual.
For anyone who doesn't already know, the manuscript for this book was created in 1938, containing more than 90 beautiful pictures of a young Buddha Bose. Bose was Bishnu Ghosh's first great yoga student in the 1930s. The manuscript contained instructions for 84 asanas and 10 mudras, but was never published for unknown reasons. Over many decades, it made its way to England and then the US, where Jerome Armstrong found it in a collection in Connecticut. We received permission to publish it and got funding support from hundreds of yogis on Kickstarter. The first edition is now sold out, and we are working on putting together a second edition that is smaller and easier to handle.
BEGINNING PRACTICE MANUAL
After teaching for a few years, it became clear that older people and beginners could use some simple instruction in accessible and beneficial postures. This book is a significant down-level from Bikram's class, intended for ages 60 and up, injured or true beginners. It includes some great therapeutic postures that build health and strength; ones taught by Bishnu Ghosh and Buddha Bose but overlooked in the past few decades. We are proud of this book, since it opens the practices to an underserved community.
INTERMEDIATE PRACTICE MANUAL
All of our book writing can trace itself back to this volume, the Intermediate Practice Manual. It is inspired by and draws heavily from our study with Tony Sanchez. It is meant for capable and comfortable yoga practitioners who are ready for some more complexity and depth in their practice. It has more than 50 postures, taking the yogi from a proficient beginner to the precipice of higher yogic practice.
We never imagined ourselves as authors or historians, but the path of life is strewn with unexpected obstacles and opportunities. In celebration of their anniversary, we are offering 20% off purchases of these three books (or their digital downloads) with the coupon code "3years".
Next time you are offended by someone else's words or actions, see if you can notice the separation you feel from them; that moment when you feel: "I am not you. We are so different." The sense of a separate self is strong in these moments. There is nothing that promotes and strengthens our sense of "I"-ness quite like other people, especially when we disagree with them.
Notice your own sense of rightness---even superiority---in these moments. We all experience it. This sense of "I" is called asmita, and according to the yogis it is one of the most powerful afflictions of the mind (Yogasutras 2.3). Normally, as we walk through everyday life, we aren't aware of this "sense of self." We just treat it as our deepest identity, and it informs our interactions with the world, people and ideas.
Once we witness the separateness we feel, what are we supposed to do?
As with many things in yogic practice, awareness is half of the battle. Once we become mindful of this "sense of self" that defines our identity, we begin to see it everywhere. It is there in both agreement and disagreement, and even in our quietest moments of self-reflection. This "I"-ness is our mind's creation of who we are, who we are not, and who we want to be.
The goal is not to avoid offense. The goal is to realize this tendency in ourselves, and then to explore and deconstruct the conditioning that has created our "sense of self." This is why getting offended is so illuminating. When we feel offense, it is because we have a strong sense of "I"-ness that is conflicting with the other point of view.
The "I"-ness is what we want to pursue, not the offense or the point of view that brought it on.
When we explore our own sense of self and our beliefs about right and wrong, we often find that they are constructions that were taught to us by parents, teachers or society at large. The beliefs we take for granted most are the ones that call for the deepest consideration.
So next time you get offended, use it as a mirror to understand your "self" better.
The inherent relationship between teacher and student is a flow of knowledge--in the form of information or facilitated experience--from teacher to student. The teacher (hopefully) has more experience and knowledge of the subject at hand, and her job is to determine what lessons are appropriate for the student and then to impart those lessons.
You may hear some say that they get a lot from teaching.
Without a doubt, there are things to be learned from the process of teaching. If we are attentive and observant, we can increase our awareness of different people, points of view, mental and physical conditions, and the effects of our teachings upon them. Not to mention that a student may bring something to our attention that we were oblivious to before. A teacher can always learn. But that is not the inherent role of the teacher, and teaching should not be approached as such.
Teaching is inherently a form of service; of giving. Not taking.
Whenever we find that we are unfulfilled by our teaching, we must check our motivation. What are we hoping to gain from teaching? I would suggest that we should not hope to gain anything by teaching, rather to give.
POWER & EGO
Whenever we stand in front of a room of people with their attention focused on us, it is almost inevitable that our ego grows. We find pleasure in the admiration and power. We must be careful of this.
Teaching is an act of giving, which is why "burnout" is so common. We give and give to our students until there is nothing left. We feel empty and soon resent the act of teaching and perhaps the students themselves. Why don't they do what we say? Why don't they give us more?
But it's not their job to give to us. It is our job to give to them.
To avoid burning out, here are three things you can do.
1) The first is the simplest but most profound. It is a change of mentality: realizing that the students are not there for you, you are there for them. Just this little mental shift can flip our relationship with teaching and our students. Don't seek to get anything from your students or teaching. Find ways to give.
2) Teach less. It is common for teachers to spend too much time teaching. Inevitably they give too much of themselves, feel empty and then lose their passion. Perhaps they even quit. Instead, teach less. As one of our teachers said, "It is an ultra-marathon, not a sprint." Ideally you will still be teaching in 30 years and offering your students the gems of wisdom that can only come from such long experience.
3) Find ways to "fill up." What recharges you? What makes you feel alive? What inspires you? Do these things, as they will make you calm and happy and eager to embrace the service of teaching. And they will prevent you from looking to your students for inspiration. Some people recharge with a personal yoga practice (but this has to be separate from your teaching!). Others travel or read or paint or play music. Find what makes you happy and do that. It will improve your teaching.
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.
- Understanding Chair Posture
- 5 Reasons To Backbend
- Lock the Knee History
- Why Teaching Is Not a Personal Practice
- The 113 Postures of Ghosh Yoga
- When You Take a Class, Take the Class
- Should We Be Teaching Advanced Postures in a Beginning Class?
- The Yogi Becomes Invisible
- Bow Pose (Dhanurasana)
- The Oxygenation Myth
- The Art and Skill of Teaching