If you practice Bikram Yoga, chances are you already know who Bikram Choudhury is. After all, he founded the Bikram Yoga College of India and is currently spreading his series – 26 postures and two breathing exercises practised in a heated room – around the world. But did you know that long before Bikram was teaching packed classes in Hollywood, he trained at the Ghosh Yoga School in Calcutta under a man named Bishnu Ghosh? Find out more as we take look at some great yoga gurus right here on the Bikram Yoga Vancouver Blog!
Bishnu Charan Ghosh: Bikram’s guru was widely considered a fitness expert. After Bikram crushed his knee and was told he’d never walk again, Bishnu Ghosh helped heal the injury in just six months using a special system of hatha yoga asanas (postures) that he developed for optimal physical and mental health.
But let’s rewind. Bishnu Ghosh studied at the Ranchi School for Boys (founded by his older brother Paramahansa Yogananda), where he learned the yogoda system (including the 84 asanas codified by his brother), which “combines the basic laws utilized by the ancient yogis with the discoveries of modern physiological science.”
Bishnu Ghosh’s time at his brother’s school taught him about the principles of breath control and muscle control. He later learned about muscle development when he trained with the director of the physical education program at Calcutta University.
This mix of yogic and western practices formed the foundation for Bishnu Ghosh’s own program, a kind of “physical culture hatha yoga” for health and fitness of body and mind. First, muscle development, then, breath control and, finally, muscle control are the main components of his system, the power of which he often demonstrated with incredible feats of strength, like running a car across his chest, allowing a man to jump onto his abdomen from 12 feet above and twisting an iron bar into a coil.
While Bishnu Ghosh called his brother his guru (“I myself learned this system of yoga exercises at the Ranchi School for Boys in India, founded by my guru … and brother, Paramahansa Yogananda”), physical culture hatha yoga has a different guru lineage than the yogoda system, which is derived from kriya yoga.
Let’s trace the lineage of physical culture hatha yoga first.
Yogi Swatmarama: This yogic sage is the author of the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, which advocates discipline and purification of the body through hatha yoga. His guru is thought to have been Gorakhnath.
Gorakhnath: This Hindu yogi belonged to the Natha Pantha – the Nath sect. One legend says that Gorakhnath, the “eternal sage” traditionally associated with hatha yoga, has been around for thousands of years watching the welfare of humanity. The Nath Rahasya, which literally translates into the “mystery of the masters,” recounts the birth, work and death of nine Naths (masters), of which Gorakhnath was the ninth, preceded by his guru, Matsyendranath.
Matsyendranath: Physical culture hatha yoga seems to originate from a series of asanas by Matsyendranath, who may have founded the Nath sect in the 10th century. Legend has it that Lord Shiva created Matsyendranath from the five elements of life: fire, water, sky, earth and air. Shiva also passed all his knowledge, thoughts and philosophies onto Matsyendranath, who is acknowledged as the first human teacher of hatha yoga.
Now, let’s look at the lineage of kriya yoga.
Not only did he found the Ranchi School for Boys (now called the Yogoda Satsanga Society of India
), Yogananda is the author of Autobiography of a Yogi, through which many Westerners were first introduced to the practice and teachings of Kriya Yoga, which uses various breathing techniques to accelerate spiritual development. Yogananda was encouraged by his own guru, Sri Yukteswar Giri, to go to America in 1920.
Sri Yukteswar Giri: Sri Yukteswar’s early studies focused on the Christian bible. But after being initiated into the path of Kriya Yoga by Lahiri Mahasaya (who became his guru), he penned a book call
ed The Holy Science, which discusses the unity between the scientific principles that underlie yoga and the bible. He also established two ashrams, or spiritual centres, in India.
Lahiri Mahasaya: Unlike most Indian holy men, Lahiri Mahasaya was married with children and worked as an accountant, choosing to live with his family rather than in a temple or monastery. But when his guru, Mahavatar Babaji, chose him to reintroduce the lost practice of Kriya Yoga to the world, Lahiri Mahasaya did his duty by organizing study groups and initiating all sincere seekers that came to him – from gardeners to postmen to kings – into the path of Kri
Mahavatar Babaji: This wandering Indian monk is a bit of a mystery; his disciple, Lahiri Mahasaya, said he met him while walking in the hills near his home and was surprised to find that Babaji knew his name. Sri Yukteswar also claimed to have met Babaji during a Hindu pilgrimage. Though some point to Babaji as having been Krishna in a former life, nobody knows Babaji’s age, place of birth or real name. His goal, however, seems to have been to spread the word of Kriya Yoga throughout the world through various disciples.