Bishnu Charan Ghosh (1903-1970) was the younger brother of Mukunda Lal Ghosh, better known as Paramahansa Yogananda. Ghosh was a key figure in 20th-century yoga and played a prominent part in yoga’s development in the west.
In this article we will explore:
- Who Was Bishnu Charan Ghosh?
- Ghosh’s Teachings & Influences
- Ghosh’s Publications
- Ghosh’s Legacy
Who was Bishnu Ghosh?
Bishnu Charan Ghosh was born in India in 1903, the youngest of eight siblings. His parents were disciples of Lahiri Mahasaya and the family grew up with a dedicated practice of kriyā yoga.
He was known to have ill health as a child, which then improved in his teens. It was at this time that he attended the Ranchi School for Boys, founded by his brother Yogananda.
The school was set up to teach not only academic subjects but also yoga, meditation and Yogoda, Yogananda’s ‘unique system of physical development’.
Likely, it was Ghosh’s interest in physical exercise and the influence of his family and older brother Yogananda that led him to the practice of haṭha yoga.
In Autobiography of a Yogi, Yogananda describes various stories of himself and his brother touring around India and the West in the late 1930s to share yoga and Indian physical culture:
“My youngest brother, Bishnu Charan Ghosh, joined the Ranchi school; later he became a noted physical culturist. He and one of his students travelled in 1938-9 to the West, giving exhibitions of strength and muscular control.
Professors at Columbia University in New York and at many other universities in America and Europe were amazed by demonstrations of the power of the mind over the body.”
Ghosh is probably most well-known as the teacher of Bikram Choudhury. Choudhury describes suffering a serious injury to his knee after a weightlifting accident.
He says that despite doctors telling him that he may never walk again, practicing yoga under the guidance of Bishnu Ghosh meant he was able to heal and go on to teach this healing system of yoga postures.
Choudhury began teaching his ‘Bikram Yoga’ class in the US during the 1970s. The popularity of this class soared during the 90s and early 2000s when he created his trainings.
The Bikram Yoga class he developed was based on a simplified version of the postures and sequences taught to him by his teacher, Ghosh.
Bishnu Charan Ghosh died in 1970. His son, Biswanath Ghosh took over his school in India, Ghosh’s Yoga College. The school continues today, now run by his granddaughter Muktamala Ghosh.
What Were Bishnu Ghosh’s teachings And What Were His Influences?
Ghosh was inspired by the physical culture emerging within India in the 20th century.
Although he was well-versed in kriyā yoga through the teachings of his brother, it appears that Ghosh chose to focus on teaching haṭha yoga postures for the results of physical health more than spiritual aspects of yoga practice.
His publication Yoga Cure (explored below) gives instructions for thirty-two postures and describes their physical health benefits. It includes recommendations of postures for specific health conditions, such as diabetes and insomnia.
It’s clear that Ghosh was highly influenced by his brother Yogananda, who taught him much of his early knowledge of yoga.
After he graduated from the Ranchi School, Ghosh attended City College in 1922 where he trained in bāyām under R. N. Guha Thakurta. Bāyām is a Bengali term for exercise which involves dynamic and freehand movement.
It was through these exercises that Ghosh was able to gain weight by building muscle. He then used the strength he had built to return to his yoga practice and develop the yoga sequence he went on to teach.
Ghosh also trained in weightlifting and bodybuilding. He gained popularity through demonstrations of haṭha yoga postures alongside ‘feats of strength’ such as twisting iron bars in coils and allowing a car to run over his chest.
There is evidence that the yoga postures that Ghosh taught were influenced by the Gheraṇḍa Saṁhitā (18th century CE). His publication Yoga Cure and the Gheraṇḍa Saṁhitā both describe 32 postures. Several of the postures appear in both texts.
Another similarity is that the Gheraṇḍa Saṁhitā dedicates a whole chapter to purificatory techniques. Ghosh’s yoga emphasized the importance of purificatory practices and the benefits of yoga for health.
However, there are some differences which indicate that Yoga Cure was not influenced by this text alone.
Bishnu Ghosh’s Publications
Bishnu Ghosh was the author of two publications:
1. Muscle Control and Barbell Exercise (1930)
2. Yoga Cure (1961)
1. Muscle Control and Barbell Exercise, 1930
Ghosh was inspired by the physical culture emerging within India in the 20th century. His earliest publication Muscle Control and Barbell Exercise (1930) teaches muscle isolation practices and weightlifting.
There is no āsana mentioned at this time, however, abdominal control practices identical to nauli and uḍḍiyāna are described and demonstrated in photos.
Bāyām is a general term in Bengali for “exercise” and to describe dynamic and freehand movement. Its exercises rarely have specific names.
The term “Yog-Bāyām” is used to distinguish positions held in stillness, comparable to āsana. (see Pajunen) Modern yoga has arguably evolved to now blur the distinction between moving or ‘flow’ postures and poses held in stillness.
In his book, Calcutta Yoga, Armstrong notes that bāyām would have been practiced daily within the Ghosh household and that B C Ghosh practiced bāyām at City College under his teacher Rajen Guha Thakurta in 1922, prior to publishing Muscle Control and Barbell Exercise.
2. Yoga Cure
Yoga Cure was published by Ghosh in 1961, it describes 32 āsanas including photos (demonstrated by Ghosh’s daughter, Kurami Karuna Ghosh).
As the title suggests, the booklet pays attention to the physical health benefits of the postures. Many references in the book confirm that the subject of health was of great importance to his teachings.
The āsanas described are very similar to Bikram Choudhury’s ‘floor series’, the second half of a Bikram yoga class sequence. It was Bishnu Ghosh who developed the technique of alternating effort and rest.
This is clearly demonstrated in a Bikram/ Hot Yoga class where each posture is followed with a return to neutral posture and stillness, or śavāsana.
Both of these publications have recently become available to access as a downloadable PDF via Ghosh Yoga.
Bishnu Ghosh’s Legacy
Bikram Choudhury and the ‘Eighty-four Asanas’
Bikram Choudhury was a student of Ghosh in Calcutta. It was Choudhury who Ghosh sent to Japan to begin teaching his yoga system outside of India.
Later, Choudhury moved to Hawaii and then California, it was here that he developed his own classes based on what he had learnt studying under Ghosh.
The twenty-six postures and two breathing exercises well-known as a Bikram Yoga class are described by Choudhury as a ‘beginners class’, suitable for all levels.
Although not advertised on studio schedules, long-term Bikram yoga practitioners and Bikram teachers may be invited to join an ‘advanced’ class. This class consists of eighty-four postures, including within it the twenty-six from Bikram’s ‘beginners class’.
Eighty-four is a significant number which is often referenced in yoga and regularly appears in the Ghosh lineage. Various sources confirm that traditionally, the number eighty-four signifies sacredness and completeness. (See Eighty-Four Asanas, Bühnemann 2007)
Experienced students of Choudhury went on to create their own yoga trainings, often consisting of eighty-four āsanas, such as Esak Garcia and Tony Sanchez.
In his book 84 Āsanas: Level 1, Sanchez states “[The 84 āsana series] has evolved over the centuries from an original series yet to be identified. It is believed to originate from a system codified around the 10th century AD, by Yogi Matsyendranath, founder of the Nath sect.”
Sanchez’s connecting theory here is that Yogananda and Sivananda spent time together practising the eighty-four āsanas.
He states that this is not documented, however, that the teachings of Sivananda originated from Yogi Matsyendranath, the chief disciple of Gorakhnath who was the guru of Yogi Swatmarama, author of the Haṭhapradīpikā. (See 84 Āsanas: Level 1, Sanchez 2012)
Established in 1924, Ghosh’s Yoga College in India continues to run under the guidance of Bishnu Ghosh’s granddaughter Muktamala Ghosh. Here, yoga is taught as a therapeutic practice with postures connected to specific health conditions.
‘Ghosh Yoga’ is taught by Ida and Scott at their yoga school based in the US. They have trained at Ghosh’s Yoga College in India and travel to teach at studios as well as online.
Their teachings are also based on their research into Bishnu Ghosh, his publications and the publications of his students Dr Mukerji, Monotosh Roy and Dr Das.
Want to go deeper?
Purchase a digital copy of Bishnu Ghosh’s original Yoga Cure
Calcutta Yoga by Jerome Armstrong
Yoga Body by Mark Singleton
Eighty-Four Āsanas by Gudrum Bühnemann