Bishnu Charan Ghosh and His Influence on Modern Postural Yoga

Bishnu Charan Ghosh and His Influence on Modern Postural Yoga

 by Bonnie Knight

Introduction

Elizabeth De Michelis gives a definition of Modern Postural Yoga in her book  A History of Modern Yoga as “a stronger focus on the performance of āsana (yogic postures) and prānāyāma (yogic breathing) .”[1]  This paper will take a look at one particular yogi named Bishnu Ghosh and his influence on Modern Postural Yoga.  The name Bishnu Ghosh is seldom heard among the names of yogis considered to have influenced our understanding of Modern Postural Yoga even though he is a contemporary to other well known Modern Postural Yoga teachers such as B.K.S. Iyengar and Pattabhi Jois.  Bishnu Ghosh provides a linkage to the ancient tradition of Kriya Yoga through his family, as well as the development of the physical culture movement in modern  India through his creation of the Ghosh College of Physical Education.    He has also influenced the modern hatha yoga practices known in the western world through one of his students, a well known Modern Yoga teacher, by the name of Bigram Choudhury.

In her book  A History of Modern Yoga Elizabeth De Michelis presents a theory of the development of Yoga from the 1950s to our current time period.  The first phase described as the Popularization Period takes place primarily in the 1950s to the mid-1970s.  Yoga was becoming more popular in the West due to the many different Yogis who traveled to Europe and the United States.   Yogis were giving public appearances and showing the power of āsana yoga through demonstrations.  This was also a time when many interested western students were traveling to India and then returning with their own experiences of learning yoga.[2]  Yoga was beginning to be shown as a practice for health with numerous health benefits.  The Consolidation Period began in the mid-1970s into the late 1980s.  Various teaching schools which had developed in the Popularization Period either matured or ceased to exist.  The surviving schools continued to increase their student participation with emphasis on the physical aspect of the practices, health benefits and therapeutic healing aspects.  Most students would not have a direct contact with the originating Guru though the Guru was still honored and revered.

The final period described by De Michelis is the Acculturation Period from the late 1980s to our current time.  This period brings an increased level of “professionalism” to the training of yoga teachers by the particular schools. This includes a “tendency towards technical specialization, standardization and/or institutionalization, and renewed efforts to cover efficiently and propagate the more immediately practical applications of the practices”.[3]

The story of Bishnu Ghosh follows these three developmental periods and the changes in Modern Postural Yoga.

Kriya Yoga and the Ghosh Family

Bishnu Ghosh’s parents were devotees of their guru Lahiri Mahasaya, a follower of Kriya Yoga and a disciple of a realized and perfected Siddhi Yogi master known as Babaji Nagarji.  This lineage of this Kriya Siddhantham Yoga can be traced to a mythological figure known by the name Siddha Agastyar, the patron saint of southern India’s Tamil Nadu.  The Tamil tradition holds that at the time of Shiva’s marriage to Parvati on Mt. Kailas the assemblage of gods and goddesses was so great that the equilibrium of the planet was disturbed. To restore the balance Lord Shiva asked Agastyar to travel from Mt. Kaliash to southern India.[4]  Agastyar became established in southern India and it is said he had twelve disciples to whom he taught the different arts and sciences and who were afterwards instructed by him to teach others.  According to M. Govindan  “Agastyar is considered one of the most famous of holy men in India.  He is considered a sage and ascetic yogi and the oldest teacher of ancient times. Though less than five feet tall, he was a fighter, a famous hunter and an archer, who triumphed over barbarous enemies, and whom like Hercules, of ancient Greece, none could approach in eating and drinking.”[5]  The story of Agastyar is even told in the epic Mahabharata where his connection with southern India is presented.[6]  Traditionally Agastyar is considered the father of the Tamil language and grammar, and the royal chaplain of the divine line of the Pandiyan rulers of ancient Tamilagam.[7]  There are hundreds of writings addressing various areas of science that are ascribed to Agastyar. They cover topics on medicine, chemistry, pharmacy, astronomy and surgery. Agastyar was known as a physician and had the same prominence amongst the Tamils as Hippocrates does with the Greeks.[8]  Agastyar is known to have promulgated an “integral” system of yoga, a scientific art of God union and perfection, which became known as Kriya Yoga through his writings and teachings.  This is the knowledge that Agastyar taught his disciples who are known as the “18 Siddhas of Kriya Yoga” tradition. Babaji Nagaraji,  one of the great disciples of Agastyar, became known as the fountainhead of Kriya Yoga Siddhantham in the modern age.[9]

Kriya Yoga is known as the yoga performed with awareness.   The word “kriya” comes from the Sanskrit root of “kri” meaning “action” and “ya” meaning “awareness”.   It is also known as “integral yoga” bringing about an integration or complete transformation for an individual in all of the five major planes of existence; physical, vital, mental, intellectual and spiritual.  The practice slowly strips away the layers of conditioning which prevents the individual from having an universal vision. The body is seen as a vehicle or temple of Divine manifestation. One cares for the body not for its own sake but as an expression of the Divinity.[10]

The Kriya Yoga defined by Babaji consisted of a series of techniques and practices grouped in five major categories of Hatha Yoga, Kundalini Pranayama, Dhyana Yoga, Mantra Yoga and Bhakti Yoga.  Each of these categories corresponded to each of the five major planes of existence and are thought to have progressively manifested toward the subtler life force of each individual where the emergence with the Divine would be experienced.

The ideals of Kriya Yoga are stated to believe that:[11]

o             the human body is a temple of God

o             man is a miniature representation of Paramatama (Supreme Intelligence)

o             the purpose of life is to realize God and to manifest that realization in all planes of       existence

o             it is possible for man to maintain eternal youth according to the Siddhas

o             when stimulated by yogic practices the principal psycho-energy centers, known as the              chakras, are awaken to one’s higher spiritual faculties.

It is said that Babaji sat for forty eight days in meditation chanting Agastyar’s name continuously until he appeared before him.  When Agastyar eventually appeared to Babaji he initiated him into the secrets of Kriya Yoga through the teachings of the Kriya Kundalini Pranayam known as Vasi Yogam.   After Babaji’s initiation Agastyar directed him to go to the Badrinath in the upper regions of the Himalayan mountains  to “become the greatest siddha the world has known.”  [12]  Babaji spent 18 months practicing the yoga Kriyas taught to him by Agastyar and entered into the state known as soruba samādhi where the Divine descends and merges creating a transformation of the spiritual, intellectual, mental, vital and physical body.  It is said that at the moment of his transformation Babaji’s body ceased to age and sparkled with a golden luster of divine light.[13]  Since attaining this state Babaji’s stated mission has been to assist suffering humanity in their quest for God realization.[14]

One of the many devoted followers of Babaji was Lahiri Mahasaya who was initiated in Kriya Yoga in 1861.  Babaji requested that Lahiri Mahasaya remain a householder to serve as an example for those seeking Self realization.  [15]  It is Lahiri Mahasaya who became the guru of the Ghosh family and initiated them into the Kriya Yoga practices

The Ghosh Family

Bishnu Ghosh was born in Lahore, India in 1903 as the youngest of eight children born to Bhagabati Charan Ghosh and Gyana Prabha Ghosh.  Among his siblings was a brother known by the name Mukunda Lal who would later be known to the world as Yogananda, the founder of the Self Realization Fellowship Society.  Bhagabati Charan Ghosh and Gyana Prabha Ghosh were devotees of Lahiri Mahasaya and Kriya Yoga as taught by him.  Sri Yukteswar, a disciple of Lahiri Mahasaya, was also known to the family and became the guru who taught Mukunda Lal the secrets of Kriya Yoga.  It is said that Sri Yukteswar was directed by Babaji to send his disciple, Mukunda Lal, to America to teach Kriya Yoga in 1920.  When Mukunda Lal left for American he became known by the name Yogananda and is credited for the creation of the Self Realization Fellowship Society centers throughout the world.[16]

Prior to leaving for America Yogananda had developed the first Yogoda school in Ranchi India in 1917.  In his book, Autobiography of a Yogi, Yogananda provides the following insight;[17]

“the idea of right education for youth had always been very close to my heart.  I saw clearly the arid results of ordinary instruction aimed at the development of body and intellect only. Moral and spiritual values, without whose appreciation no man can approach happiness, were yet lacking in the formal curriculum.  I determined to found a school where young boys could develop to the full stature of manhood.  My first step in that direction was made with seven children at Dihika, a small country site in Bengal.  A year later, through the generosity of the Maharaja of Kasimbuasza, I was able to transfer my fast growing group to Ranchi, a town in Bihar about 200 miles from Calcutta.”

Bishnu Ghosh, Yogananda’s youngest brother, was one of the first seven enrolled students at the Yogoda School and is quoted in the Autobiography of a Yogi stating, “I myself learned this system of yoga exercises at the Ranchi School for Boys in India, founded by my Guru (spiritual preceptor) and brother, Paramahansa Yogananda.”[18]  According to Yogananda the Ranchi students were taught yoga meditation and a unique system of health and physical development  whose principles he discovered in 1916.  The Yogoda system combined the basic laws of Kriya Yoga with a practice focused on the 84 asanas.  [19]

Yogananda, as a disciple of Sri Yukteswar and an initiate of Kriya Yoga, would have learned the 18 essential asanas of Kriya Yoga.  The Kriya Yoga practices taught to Sri Yukteswar by Babaji included Hatha Yoga (the 18 asanas), Kundalini Pranayama, Dhyana Yoga, Mantra Yoga and Bhakti Yoga.

The source of the 84 postures that Yogananda taught as part of the Yogoda system is not known though the number 84 traditionally signifies completion and in some cases sacredness.   According to the author Gudrun Buhnemann, in his book titled Eighty-four Āsanas in Yoga, A Survey of Traditions, “the number 84 continues to hold special symbolic significance for authors of ancient and modern Yoga texts, who honour this number in their āsana systems”.[20]

Bishnu Ghosh

Bishnu Ghosh was born June 24,1903 as the youngest of eight children.   He followed his older brother and enrolled in the Ranchi School of Yogoda to began his training with Yogananda in the Yogoda System.   In 1920 Yogananda departed India for his travels to America.  He would not return to India until 1935 after having completed the charter of the Self Realization Fellowship under the State of California as a nonsectarian, nonprofit corporation designed to exist perpetually.  As he departed he told his followers; “I shall be back, never shall I forget America”.[21]  The Ranchi School of Yogoda continued on in Yogananda’s absence under the oversight of his disciples.

Bishnu Ghosh also left the Ranchi School of Yogoda at this time to enroll at the University in Calcutta at the age of 22.  It is at the University where he began his training in physical education with Professor Thakura.  His training at the University followed the guidelines of physical culture which had been well established in India since the 1100s.  Physical culture focused on diet, lifestyle and training.  The training primarily used the “nal” rough stones that would have a hole in the center that served as a handle so that the “nal” could be used to perform exercises.

Emergence of the Indian Physical Culture – other influences

The modern era of Indian Physical Culture developed from the late 19th Century through the 1930s.  In the 1918 book titled Indian Club Exercise: With Explanatory Figures and Positions Photographed From Life, by author Simon D. Kehoe , the introduction provides  the following statement;

“As the name implies, the Indian Club is an institution of India. In sketches of Indian life,           by missionaries and travelers, we have accounts of the various national sports and            pastimes of the                natives, in which mention is made of the swinging of heavy war clubs of            wood, in various graceful and fantastic motions; that the performers of this exercise     exhibited great muscular development and herculean strength.

Officers connected with the British Army in India also give accounts of these Indian     recreations. The exercise is in great repute among the native soldiery, police and others    whose caste renders them liable to emergencies where great strength of muscle is             desirable…….Beside the great recommendations of simplicity, the Indian Club practice             possesses the essential property of expanding the chest and exercising every muscle in            the body concurrently.”[22]

This time period began the great crossing over of ideas from the East to the West, and from the West to the East.  Simon Kehoe’s perspective was of being a witness to this form of Indian exercise.  To the Indian native this was a form of hatha yoga, a physical exercise regime linked to the principles of a  yogic lifestyle.

At this same period of time there was also a tremendous crossover of the gymnastic traditions being developed in the Scandinavia countries which would find their way to India and the British Army fitness routines.  In the early 1900s the concept of physical education became viewed as part of the  overall education of an individual.  The systematic development of these programs developed hand in hand with concepts regarding adult education, standards for personal hygiene in home, school and in daily life.[23] The idea that physically strong bodies equaled healthy mental and emotional states took root.

India also received from the West the work of Christian missionaries.  One Christian organization that gained a foothold in India was the YMCA (Young Men’s Christian Association) known to promote wholesome living and the power of physical education as a socializing agency.  H.C. Buck, Chairman of the YMCA, founded the Vyayam quarterly in 1929 which popularized Indian sports and exercises.  This helped to elevate the Indian Physical Culture to a position of social and moral respectability while postural yoga became an integral part of the YMCA physical education system.  The Indian version of the YMCA took on its motto to be “education through the body not of the body, intended to contribute to the development of the three fold nature of men – mind, body and spirit.”  This threefold nature of man is symbolically represented in the YMCAs logo which is an inverted red triangle.[24]

By the time Vivekananda wrote his seminal treatise Raja Yoga in 1953 a view of Hatha Yoga as meaning a physically strong appearance was being accepted by the western world.   For the Indian nation emerging as a free, democratic nation no longer under the rule of the British Empire there was a sense of what Vivekananda phrased as “muscular Hinduism”.[25]   Joseph S. Alter provides this quote from Vivekananda that was recorded in the publication RSS Organizer;

“You will understand the Gita better with your biceps, your muscles, a little stronger.                 You will understand the Upaniṣads better and the glory of the Ātman when your body             stands firm upon your feet and you will feel yourselves as men. What I want is muscles           of iron and nerves of steel inside which dwells a mind of the same material as that of   which the thunderbolt is made. Strength, man-hood, kshatriya-virya plus brahmteja.”[26]

Other contemporaries of Yogananda and Bishnu Ghosh were also influencing the view of hatha yoga in the public eye.  Most notably Bombay based Sri Yogendra (1897-1989), Swami Kuvalayanada (1883-1966) and T. Krishnamacharya (1888-1989) with his teachings centered at the Mysore Palace.

Sri Yogendra was particularly effective in bridging the East to West dissemination of the descriptions of what constitutes Hatha Yoga, explaining the benefits, and providing instruction for the techniques.  He is notable for using Western terminology and anatomical references through his numerous books on Yoga published by The Yoga Institute, Santa Cruz, Bombay India, which is said to have launched the scientific Yoga movement in 1918.[27]  In his book Yoga Āsanas Simplified he writes;

“all the yoga exercises and processes characteristically aim at nervous control, purification and coordination rather than at muscular display and strength; and as such urge towards poise and control of the body and the mind, through non-violent and non-fatiguing type of physical education.  Physiology of exercise has revealed how neuromuscular education by the habitual exercise of effort-cum-endurance can bring about maximum of contractibility of the whole muscular system and, in consequence, raise the tone and enlarge the field of efficiency. When this simple truth is applied to the internal organs – as happens to be the case with yoga physical culture – it is no wonder that physical efficiency becomes multiplied and the height of biologic perfection is ultimately achieved.  Such unique achievement in physical culture is possible through no other systems, as far as they are known today, except and only through the scientific technique of Yoga.”[28]

Ghosh College of Physical Education

Bishnu Ghosh as well was emerging as a well known yogi in this time period of Modern Indian Physical Culture development.  Bishnu Ghosh established the Ghosh College of Physical Education in 1923 based on the foundation of the Yogoda system of 84 āsanas that he learned from Yogananda.   The official Ghosh website (www.ghoshyoga.com) states that a single source for the 84 āsanas has yet to be found.  Author Gudrun Buhnemann is also in agreement with that statement and provides more context to the historical references to 84 āsanas.

Buhnemann states that there are at least two historical texts that describe or enumerate 84 āsanas. The earliest text is the Hatharatnāvalī by Śrinivāsa from Āndhra South India dated between 1625 and 1695 CE.  This text is strongly influenced by the Hathapradīpikā which it frequently quotes.[29]  An older text, Jogapradipakā written in 1737, by Jayatarāma a resident of Vrndāvan in North Indian text also describes 84 āsanas.   The difficulty in locating the source of the 84 āsanas is seen in the way traditionally yoga texts divide listings of āsanas into;

1) āsanas in the tradition of sages such as Vasiṣtha; and

2) āsanas as taught by Yogins such as Mastyendra(nātha).

Mastyendranātha is traditionally considered to be the founder of hatha yoga and is featured prominently in some of the Siddha lineages.

Buhnemann provides in his Appendix several listings of 84 Āsanas and their source.  The lists he shares comes from Hatharatnāvalī, Jagapradīpakā, Hanūmān Śarmā 1935, Gangādharan Nair 1962, Svāmi Svayamānanda 1992, and the Yoga Challenge System (Ghosh College).[30]

He concludes in his writing “thus we do not have access to an ancient tradition of eighty-four āsanas, or to a tradition from which modern āsana system can be derived. There is also no evidence that such a tradition ever existed”.[31]

In a philosophical explanation the Ghosh website quotes the commentary of Swami Muktibodhananda Saraswati’s 1985 translation of the Hatha Yoga Pradipika; ” the main objective of Hatha yoga is to create an absolute balance of the interacting activities and processes of the physical body, mind and energy. When this balance is created, the impulses generated give a call of awakening to the central force, which is responsible for the evolution of human consciousness. If yoga is not used for this purpose, its true objective is lost”.  This statement reinforces the roots of the Ghosh family lineage with their Kriya Yoga gurus Lahiri Mahasaya and Sri Yukteswar and the Kriya Yoga principles.

Bishnu Ghosh’s  website also states “what is desirable in body culture is the harmonious development of power over the voluntary action of muscles and the involuntary processes of health, lungs, stomach and other organs and important glands”.  This statement echoes the writings of Sri Yogendra and his tradition of Integral Yoga.  B.K.S. Iyengar’s book Light on Yoga (Yoga Dipika) ,published in 1966, helped popularize the yoga practice known as Iyengar Yoga by describing the therapeutic and health benefits of each yoga posture.  As a contemporary of Iyengar’s would we know the name Bishnu Ghosh as well as we know the name Iyengar if Bishnu Ghosh had been able to popularize a similar book?

The description of the practice in the Ghosh website places great emphasis on the “physical” part the “Ghosh” system.  The description of “Muscle Control – Contraction and Relaxation” is the basis for all the movements of the system, even those that are described as yoga āsanas.   The focus is on a process described as “muscle control – contraction and relaxation”.  The results of this system gave Bishnu Ghosh the muscle body structure of a “body builder”.  Mark Singleton writes in Yoga Body  that “one of the earliest and most successful photographic do-it-yourself books on hatha yoga reconceptualized as gymnastics, hygiene and body building” was a 1928 book titled “Yogic Physical Culture or, the Secret of Happiness”.[32]

For Bishnu Ghosh, a devotee of the Indian Physical Culture,  there may not have been a separation between the physical body and yoga.  Just as the Indian YMCA motto was “education through the body not of the body, intended to contribute to the development of the three fold nature of men – mind, body and spirit” the mis-appropriated viewpoint of the Indian Physical Culture being merely “body building” could be a misconception by non-Indians.  The picture of Bishnu Ghosh striking poses in the 1930 book “Muscle Control” looks exactly like a body builder.  Singleton includes additional pictures of various other yogis (including Iyengar) in yoga postures side by side with “body builders” in similar stances.  As the well known phrase goes “it is all in the eyes of the beholder” for interpretation.

Bishnu Ghosh continued building his “Ghosh College of Physical Education” in India and in 1939 traveled to the United States where he gave public demonstrations of yoga and lectured at Columbia University, New York.  Similar to other yogis traveling to the United States the yoga demonstrations were focused on the “magical powers of yoga” by demonstrating feats of strength such as having an elephant walk over their bodies, etc.  He returned to India and traveling only one more time in 1968 to Japan where he gave extensive lectures and demonstrations on yoga.  Bishnu Ghosh died in India at the age of 67 in 1970.   His brother and personal guru, Yogananda, had died in Los Angeles, California in 1952 at the age of 59.

Bishnu Ghosh’s disciple – Bikram Choudhury

Bikram Choudhury (Bikram) trained extensively with Bishnu Ghosh and learned the Ghosh system of 84 āsanas.   In his book; Bikram’s Beginning Yoga Class published in 2000, he honors his guru Bishnu Ghosh in his “acknowledgment” page stating “the building of his school, and the opening of Bikram’s Yoga Colleges of India around the world by my certified teachers, the legacy of my Guru, Bishnu Ghosh, is being fulfilled.”[33]  Bikram, while in India, trained and won many different Hatha Yoga and body building competitions.  Bishnu Ghosh utilized Bikram to demonstrate the power and strength of hatha yoga in public demonstrations similar to the way Krishnamacharya had B.K.S. Iyengar and Pattabhi Jois perform yoga āsanas demonstrations.  Bikram states that Bishnu Ghosh sent him to Mumbai to teach hatha yoga to sick people.  It is from his experience in Mumbai where Bikram decided to design a system of teaching hatha yoga as a class for groups of people.  He believed that this would allow him to help more people who needed to learn hatha yoga.[34]  This system developed by Bikram became the seed of the practice that is widely known to the world as the Bikram practice.

Bishnu Ghosh directed Bikram to leave India and to teach hatha yoga to the world.  Bikram traveled to Japan and Hawaii where he taught extensively and ultimately came to the United States where he has remained.  He developed his Bikram Beginning Yoga Class of 26 postures as a 90 minute practice completed in a heated room.  He also created his own yoga teacher training program that teaches individuals to teach his 26 posture class.  These teacher training programs are taught over a nine week course and have been held in the United States, Hawaii, Mexico and Asia.  He authorizes his teachers to open studios which operate under his name of Bikram Yoga.  These studios are allowed to teach the Bikram class by teachers who have earned their teaching certificate through the Bikram Yoga College of India teacher training program.  The Bikram Yoga studios are not allowed to offer any other style of hatha yoga practice or other forms of yoga than the official Bikram 26 posture practice completed in 90 minutes.

Bikram shares a warning in his books Introduction where he states;

“Hatha Yoga has been badly abused in the West. A number of yogis came to the West to teach Hatha Yoga. They and their disciples destroyed the Hatha Yoga System as it has been known for thousands of years. These yogis knew true Hatha Yoga, but because of their lack of faith in the Hatha Yoga system and the Western people, they have ruined Hatha Yoga in the West.  Ruined it even down to the three basic principles of freezing the body in the posture for the prescribed number of seconds, proper control of the breath while in the posture according to the posture, and following the posture with the minimum of twenty seconds in savasana, complete relaxation.

These yogis and their disciples failed to recognize that because of the cultural differences between the East and the West, teaching methods that worked in the East could not work in the West. Rather than change the method by which they taught, they changed what they knew to be true into something that merely resembles Hatha Yoga, but does not deliver the goods. The damage that these yogis did by not holding to Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras has caused damage far beyond those whom they taught.”[35]

As an individual trained by Bikram Choudhury in 2002 in the nine week Bikram Yoga teacher training course I find his warning interesting.  His training did not include any understanding of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, did not include yoga history or philosophy, and did not provide any in-depth lectures of his own Bishnu Ghosh or his Guru’s Kriya Yoga lineage.  The hatha yoga that Bikram teaches is greatly removed from the source of Kriya Yoga that guided the Ghosh family in their devotion and practice of Yoga.

Conclusions

In conclusion, the historical timeline from Bishnu Ghosh to Bikram follows the theory of Modern Postural Yoga presented at the beginning of this paper by Elizabeth De Michelis.  Bishnu Ghosh came from a family devoted to their gurus and to Kriya Yoga.  He became a student of his older brother and learned a system called Yogoda.   His older brother then left India and traveled to the United States and became known as the guru Yogananda who founded the Self Realization Fellowship Society centers across the country.  Bishnu Ghosh continued to study yoga and became immersed in the Physical Culture activities of India.  He then created his system of yoga taught at the Ghosh College of Physical Education.  Bikram Choudhury was one of his many students who gained recognition by winning  many yoga competitions and brought Ghosh’s yoga system to the United States.  Bikram Choudhury established what he learned from Bishnu Ghosh under the name “Bikram Yoga” and developed the “Bikram Yoga College of India” to train students to become yoga teachers.

The Popularization Period of 1950s to 1970s was the time that Bishnu Ghosh was developing his system as the Ghosh College of Physical Education.  It was also the time that Bikram Choudhury was being trained by him.  Bishnu Ghosh was becoming known by his participation in the Indian Physical Culture as well as his own travels outside of India giving “yogic demonstrations” increasing the popularity of Yoga.

The next period of Consolidation from mid-1970s to 1980s coincides with Bishnu Ghosh’s death in 1970 and with Bikram’s exposure outside of India while traveling in Japan, Hawaii and the United States.  Bikram was developing his own school and teachings with the focus on the health benefits of the Bikram practice.  Though he would continue to honor his guru Bishnu Ghosh he did not attribute what he was teaching as the “Bishnu Ghosh” yoga practice, but instead named it after himself.

The final period that De Michelis describes is the Acculturation Period from the late 1980s to date.  She describes this period of having an increased level of professionalism attached to the various teaching schools through the creation of Associations, Alliances and Teacher Certificate programs.  The particular guru of a school may no longer be the direct teacher to the student.  The students enrolled in the teacher training programs will be learning from those “who have learned from other” senior teachers.  Continued focus on the “health benefits” of hatha yoga as a variety of “specialty” areas emerge such as yoga for a variety of disease managements (i.e. multiple sclerosis) or for mental health (i.e. yoga for depression).

Bikram Yoga and other physical centric “yoga” practices have strongly shifted the meaning of a “yoga practice” from what is described in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras as being a practice to gain samadhi to a pure physical activity.  In the book Gurus in America, edited by Thomas A.Forsthoefel and Cynthia Ann Humes, quote the writings of Mike Featherstone from his book Consumer Culture and Postmodernism (London; Sage 1991) 112-113.  Featherstone writes “individuals are able to select from a plurality of suitably packaged bodies of knowledge in the super-market of lifestyles. The tendency in modern societies is for religion to become a private leisure pursuit purchased in the market like any other consumer lifestyle”.  This aptly describes one view of modern yoga in America’s consumer lifestyle environment.  He further states “in consumer culture the human body ceases to be a vessel of sin or an unruly vessel of desire that must be discipline and mastered – rather, the body is proclaimed as ultimate source of gratification, enjoyment and fulfillment.  In the growth of a consumer society with its emphasis on the athletic/beautiful body we see a major transformation of values from an emphasis on the control of the body for ascetic reasons to the manipulation of the body for aesthetic purposes.  The new consumptive ethic taken over by the advertising industry, celebrates living for the moment, hedonism, self-expression, the body-beautiful, freedom from social obligation.”[36]

Those of us who practice and teach yoga find ourselves bumping against this “consumer lifestyle” described by Featherstone.  Just as it has from the beginning of time the understanding of what yoga means, what it involves and how it is described will continue to be redefined and re-evaluated.  The search for the “true” meaning of yoga may come from the writings of ancient India, from the teachings of different Gurus and enlightened individuals, and may be viewed from a variety of angles and philosophical investigations.  Ultimately the meaning is what you make of it yourself.  The sacred text of India are no ordinary writings.  They hold the “truth” because their writings have held up to the test of time and human evolution.  I remain hopeful that the emphasis on the pure physical aspect of hatha yoga will become more tempered by increased understanding that the physical body needs to be settled primarily to allow the process of real transformation to take place.  Once the physical body is more comfortable then the realization of who we truly are, and what our real nature is, becomes more apparent.  Once we awaken to these realizations then we are less likely to suffer because we know that the transitory experiences of life are never perfect and always changing.  This is the Kriya Yoga, the yoga of awareness, as taught by the perfected ones and practiced by the Ghosh family.  This is also the practice known as Integral Yoga that focuses on the practices to care for our body not for its own sake but as an expression of the Divine.  And lastly, this is the yoga practice of Yogananda – the practice that is a self realization that we are the Divine, we are of the Divine’s creation, and we can achieve this self realization while we are living this life.

We may now be at the cusp of the next period of Modern Postural Yoga.  It remains to be seen if the pendulum will swing back to a meaning of Modern Yoga that will re-align with what we already know to be the Truth of Yoga.  I remain hopeful.
[1] Elizabeth De Michelis, A History of Modern Yoga (Continuum; London/New York, 2004) 187.

[2] Ibid.191.

[3] Ibid. 192-193.

[4] M. Govindan, Babaji and the 18 Siddha Kriya Yoga Tradition (Kriya Yoga Publications; Quebec, Canada 1991) 99.

[5] Ibid. 100.

[6] Ibid. 101.

[7] Ibid. 103.

[8] Ibid. 106.

[9] Ibid. 109.

[10] Ibid.170

[11] Ibid. 169.

[12] Ibid. 64.

[13] Ibid. 67.

[14] Ibid. 68.

[15] Ibid. 71.

[16] Sananda Lal Ghosh,  Mejda (Self Realization Fellowship; USA, 1980) 13-17.

[17] Paramahamsa Yoganada, Autobiography of a Yogi (Self Realization Fellowship; USA, 1946) 288.

[18] Ibid. 290.

[19] Ibid. 292.

[20] Gundrun Buhnemann, Eighty-four Āsanas in Yoga, A Survey of Traditions (D.K.Printworld; New Delhi1, 1955)26.

[21]Paramahansa Yogananda, 418.

[22] Simon D.Kehoe, The Indian Club Exercise; with Explanatory Figures and Positions Photographed from Life (American News Company; New York, 1913) publishers introduction page.

[23] Dixon, McIntosh, Munrow, and Willetts, Landmarks in the History of Physical Education (Routledge Library Editions; London. 1957) 105.

[24] Mark Singleton, Yoga Body The Origins of Modern Posture Practice (Oxford University Press; Oxford, 2010) 92-93.

[25] Joseph S.Alter, Yoga in Modern India (Princeton University Press; Princeton, 2004) 174-175.

[26] Ibid.175.

[27] Sri Yogendra, Yoga Physical Education, (The Yoga Institute; Bombay. 1947) 25.

[28] Sri Yogendra, Yoga Āsanas Simplified (The Yoga Institute; Bombay. 1959) 57-59.

[29] Buhnemann, 27.

[30] Ibid 147-165.

[31] Ibid. 144.

[32] Singleton, 126.

[33] Bikram Choudhury, Birkam’s Beginning Yoga Class (Putnam; New York. 2000) v.

[34] Ibid. xii.

[35] Ibid.xii.

[36] Ṭhomas A.Forsthoefel and Cynthia Ann Humes, Gurus in America (Suny Press; New York, 2005)184-185.

Works Cited

Joseph S. Alter.  Yoga in Modern India. Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2004.

Gudrun Buhnemann.  Eighty-four Āsanas in Yoga, A Survey of Traditions (with Illustrations).  New Delhi: D.K. Printworld (P) Ltd. 1995.

Bikram Choudhury.  Bikram’s Beginning Yoga Class. New York: Penguin Putnam, Inc. 2000.

Elizabeth De Michelis.  A History of Modern Yoga.  London: Continuum. 2004.

J.G. Dixon, P.C. McIntosh, A.D. Munrow and R. F. Willetts.  Landmarks in the History of Physical                Education.  London and New York: Routledge. 1957.

Thomas A. Forsthoefel and Cynthia Ann Humes.  Gurus in America. Albany: State Universiy of               New York Press.  2005.

Sananda Lal Ghosh.  Mejda.  U.S.A.: Self Realization Fellowship Publications.

Govindan, M.A. Babaji and the 18 Siddha Kriya Yoga Tradition. Quebec, Canada: Kriya Yoga Publications.  1991.

B.K.S. Iyengar. Light on Yoga.  New York: Schocken Books. 1966.

Simon D. Kehoe.  The Indian Club Exercise: With Explanatory Figures and Positions       Photographed from Life. New York: American News Company. 1913.

Mark Singleton.  Yoga Body, The Origins of Modern Posture Practice.  New York, Oxford           University Press.  2010.

Paramahanda Yogananda.  Autobiography of a Yogi.  U.S.A.; Self Realization Fellowship             Publications. 1946.

Shri Yogendra. Yoga Asanas Simplified. Bombay: The Yoga Institute. 1959.

Shri Yogendra. Yoga Physical Education. Bombay: The Yoga Institute. 1947

Websites:

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