By now, it should be no surprise that Bishnu Ghosh was a weightlifter. He was largely influenced by Eugene Sandow, considered to be the father of modern bodybuilding. We see much of Ghosh’s weightlifting influence not only by his emphasis of physicality in asana practice, but also in the terminology used by his students. This is most notable in the use of the ever debatable term “lock the knee” and the constant focus on muscle contraction and relaxation.
Bishnu wrote in this 1930 publication Muscle Control and Barbell Exercise (co-written by Keshub Ch. Sen Gupta and available here), that he was quite thin in his youth. After studying weightlifting, he had the chance “to see Mr. Chit Tun controlling his huge and shapely muscles.” That was the beginning of Bishnu's interest in Chit Tun's teachings.
Walter Chit Tun lived in Calcutta and was a leader of the physical culture movement. The influence he had on Bishnu and Sen Gupta was so pronounced that they even borrowed the title “Barbell Exercise” from Chit Tun’s book to use for their own publication.
Chit Tun explained in his book that “quick movements will never develop and increase the muscles to any great extent” and “in order to obtain full contraction, the movements must be done in a slow, concentrative manner.”
Later, in detailed instructions for what he called Exercise V (pictured above):
“Pause for one or two seconds. Now rise slowly to original position breathing in at the same time."
Sound familiar to any of you Utkatasana practitioners?
"When the knees are locked, contract the muscles of the thigh very strongly for two or three seconds.”
Sen Gupta borrowed much of this for his collaborative book with Bishnu. He instructed, “come back again to the original position where you are to contract and then relax your thigh muscles. Breathe out when you sit down and breathe in when you stand up this will develop your thigh muscles.” And finally, “No. of times to be taken — 20 Twenty.”
Bishnu explained in the muscle control section of their book, that “one should have big muscles before he starts controlling. Much has already been said about the development of muscles in the previous part” referring to the barbell exercises section. Then notably, before instructing individual muscle control techniques, he instructed:
“Raise your body on your toes, thus contract your calf muscles. Next contract the thigh muscles and gluteus maximus…Now try to contract all these muscles simultaneously and wait for sometime in the contracted position and try to find out if there is any muscle left uncontracted.”
While many yogis have either ditched the use of barbells or never taken to them in the first place, our practice is still deeply immersed in the development of muscle contraction and relaxation. This is an integral part of asana practice in the Ghosh lineage and should be embraced both for its historical roots and the positive effects it has on physical health.
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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