the history & teachers of ghosh yoga
This lineage of yoga is named after Bishnu Charan Ghosh, the teacher to whom we trace the methods, practices and goals. This type of yoga developed in Kolkata, Bengal and North India. It has substantial similarities with the teachings of Swami Shivananda of Rishikesh. It is closely linked with bodybuilding and freehand exercises called bayam. In many iterations, it is even called yoga-bayam.
Generally speaking, the goals of Ghosh Yoga begin with health in the body and stillness in the mind. It is characterized by its use of stillness during and immediately following yoga postures. This system of tension and release emphasizes relaxation between periods of effort. (This is different from many modern styles of yoga that incorporate Sun Salutes between postures and link postures together.)
Ghosh Yoga uses simple therapeutic exercises to mobilize and strengthen every area of the body, from the eyes down to the toes, including the internal organs and systems. In this way, it resembles physical therapy. It uses postures (asanas) to bring grace and control to the body and stillness to the mind. It uses breathing exercises (pranayama) and meditation to reduce stress and anxiety and begin on the path of spirituality.
Over many decades, variations on these practices from the Bengal region of Kolkata, India, have been passed down through Buddha Bose, Gouri Shankar Mukerji, Monotosh Roy, Biswanath Ghosh, Karuna & Jibananda Ghosh, Bikram & Rajashree Choudhury, Prem Sundar Das, Tony Sanchez and Muktamala Mitra.
In India and Japan, Ghosh yoga has always been individual and prescriptive. Each person/student has different needs and limitations, and the yoga teacher's job is to prescribe to each student the appropriate exercises, asanas and meditations to heal their ailments and develop their physical, mental and spiritual potential.
When it came to the west with Bikram Choudhury in the 1970s, this yoga took on a slightly different form. It became asana based (instead of therapeutic exercises), physically challenging and sequenced. Bikram's Beginning Class 'prescribes' the same 26 postures and 2 breathing exercises for every person. All of Bikram's students---including those who are now well-respected teachers in their own right, like Tony Sanchez, Jimmy Barkan, Emmy Cleaves, Craig Villani and Esak Garcia---follow this model of sequenced asana practice.
A survey of the prominent texts from this lineage finds 113 postures in total, plus about 115 therapeutic exercises that are still taught at Ghosh's Yoga College in Kolkata. This includes instructions from Bose's 1938 text, Dr. Mukerji's 1963 text, Ghosh's 1961 booklet, Monotosh Roy's 1970s book and Dr. Das's 2004 text.
HISTORY & PHILOSOPHY
Even though this lineage draws its name to the early 1900s, many of its philosophies are traditional, drawn from texts and schools of thought that have been around for hundreds or thousands of years. Some of the most obvious history is from the Gheranda Samhita, a traditional text from about 1700, thought to have been written in Bengal. This text describes 32 asanas, 23 of which are present in the teachings of Ghosh and his students.
Some of Ghosh's most prominent students, namely Dr. Gouri Shankar Mukerji, were forerunners in combining yoga and western science. Technology has raced forward in the last 200 years with its ability to monitor and measure things like blood pressure, metabolism, heart rate, oxygen usage and brain waves. It is important for us as yogis to assimilate the knowledge of science, both where it reinforces traditional yoga practices and also where it contradicts them.
Paramahansa Yogananda was born as Mukunda Lal Ghosh. He was Bishnu Charan's older brother. In 1935 when he returned from 15 years in the US, he and Bishnu joined forces an attempt to create a comprehensive education program that combined spirituality, morality, and physical fitness. As part of this effort, they toured India in the second half of 1935. But their attempt was unsuccessful and they couldn't gather the financial backing they needed. Yogananda returned to the West in early 1936.
When Bishnu traveled to Europe and America with Buddha Bose in 1939, he spent significant time at Yogananda's place in California. They taught yoga exercises to Yogananda's followers, as can be seen in several issues of East-West Magazine from that era.