For years, it has been known that Danish Lieutenant JP Muller's books were very influential on yoga as it developed in the twentieth century.* Muller wrote a handful of books on exercise, his most famous called My System.
However, until now we had never realized the extent to which the warm-up series in Bikram Yoga (26+2) so closely follows Muller's exercises in My Breathing System.
Muller's Deep Breathing
The book My Breathing System was first published in 1914. In it, Muller teaches what he calls "Deep Breathing". Muller writes about the importance of learning to breathe correctly saying, "Of course everybody does breathe after a fashion, otherwise they would die. But few understand how to breathe, inhale and exhale, correctly." He writes about the "evils" of shallow breathing and that deep breathing must be taught.
After explaining the concept of deep breathing and anatomical function, he instructs his "Five Minutes' Breathing System". You may recognize the movements!
Muller's Five Minute's Breathing System
"Exercise 1: Full body breathing combined with backward and forward bending of body combined with bending and straightening of both arms simultaneously."
"Exercise 2: One-side full breathing during sideways-bending of trunk, combined with alternative lifting over head and stretching downwards of arms."
"Exercise 3: Full breathing during twisting of trunk to alternate sides, combined with arm-raising and lowering to the sides.
"Exercise 4: Full breathing during arm-raising to front and lowering, combined with quick deep knee-bending, feet apart and without heel-raising."
There are five more exercises in this system, but they are less notable here. One incorporates a common practice at the turn of the twentieth century: rubbing or tapping the body.
The additional exercises are also alternative versions of the ones listed above. For example, side bending is repeated but with an emphasis on pushing the hips to the side and bending one knee. And notably, Exercise 4 (deep knee bending) is repeated but with a heel raise. This becomes like the second part of Chair pose in the 26+2.
While there are many similarities between this and the 26+2, there are of course differences. The 26+2 series places the side bend of the spine before the back and forward bend and does not include a twist.
What is interesting about this, is that a twist would benefit the Half Moon warm-up in the 26+2! It's the missing element in the spinal movements.
Either way, it is quite stunning to see the bends of the spine followed in order by a position like Chair, with the arms held up and forward. It's also interesting to consider this in a book about deep breathing.
Much more could be said about the actual instructions Muller gives and his ideas about the benefits and function of deep breathing. Perhaps we will tackle that in a future blog.
For now, we hope you enjoy seeing these 100+ year old photos of what we have come to recognize as Half Moon and Chair.
*See Singleton's book Yoga Body
Muller, JP. 1914. My Breathing System. London: Athletic Publications, Ltd.
Singleton, M. 2010. Yoga Body. Oxford: Oxford University Press
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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