About 5 years ago, I saw photocopies of Buddha Bose's "Key To the Kingdom of Health Through Yoga, Vol. 1." I was struck by his muscular development and the absence of the deep, impressive contortion that is common in today's yoga competitions and demonstrations.
As we learn more about the history of yoga asana in the 20th century - how it evolved to incorporate a focus on physical health and fitness, acrobatics and contortion - we continue to question our purpose in practicing certain postures and the goals we pursue within them.
Pictured above are four iterations of Dhanurasana (Bow Pose) from the Ghosh Lineage of yoga. Starting in the upper left, they proceed chronologically: Ghosh's first yoga student Buddha Bose (upper left); Ghosh's daughter Karuna in his own 1961 publication Yoga Cure (upper right); one of his greatest students, Dr. Gouri Shankar Mukerji (lower left); and his most famous student in the West, Bikram Choudhury (lower right).
These four pictures cover the entirety of Bishnu Ghosh's career as a yoga instructor. We are struck by two things: their lack of "depth" according to the standards of today's practices, and their consistency through the decades.
It's hard to ignore that these four pictures are almost identical in form and depth. What conclusion can we draw except that this is the ideal and fully-realized form of the posture according to Ghosh's teaching?
LACK OF DEPTH
Current practices of this posture encourage much deeper bending in the spine and deeper extension of the shoulders, even moving the shoulder (glenohumeral joint) into external rotation. Are the deeper versions of this posture better? Are they more beneficial? Is it possible we have lost the purpose of the posture in pursuit of deeper contortion?
Updates: This post was updated in March 2019. The opening sentence was changed to say "5 years" instead of the original "3 years."
Scott & Ida are Yoga Acharyas (Masters of Yoga). They are scholars as well as practitioners of yogic postures, breath control and meditation. They are the head teachers of Ghosh Yoga.
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