I am often asked how I came across this collection by Buddha Bose. How could such an important collection of yoga demonstrations and instructions remain hidden for over 75 years? When you consider that Bishnu Charan Ghosh, the founder of this style of yoga and teacher of Buddha Bose, published no instructions on yoga and left just a handful of photographs, it becomes even more special; a find, a treasure, a lost key.
After so many months, the amazement I felt when first uncovering this body of work has worn off a bit, replaced by a sense of purpose and a desire to continue uncovering what lies in the depths of this historical movement. I have moments of renewed astonishment, especially when witnessing people’s reactions as they learn of this lost work. So, after many inquiries into how this all began, here is my story.
In 2013, I attended a teacher training with Tony Sanchez on the Baja Peninsula. Tony talked about the yoga of Bikram Choudhury’s 26+2 system as being part of a wider Ghosh Yoga system of asana and pranayama practices. Curious about the bigger picture, I began to search for more information and found that Bikram was selling a book by Buddha Bose online. I ordered a copy and began practicing according to Bose’s instructions.
Here is what I wrote about the experience:
“I’m hesitant to attribute it too much to the Bose book, but given the changes I’ve noticed since I started applying his method to my home practice about 3 weeks ago, it seems applicable. There’s a quote in Benjamin Lorr’s book (Hellbent) that I re-read last week, and it hit me as summing up what I am learning.”
“That true balance means exactly 50 percent of the time, less is more.”
“This seems like a total contradiction, but when I started doing the sets and reps as explained by Bose, I got in touch with a softness of the transition, and my expectations of the asana changed. Maybe it’s that one goes deeper the 3rd and 4th set (not stretching but mentally relaxed); maybe the longer Savasana is at work (taking the edge off more); maybe that this way takes up to 10 minutes for each asana; maybe it’s a pace one sets up for doing 4 sets rather than 1 or 2-- no need to push it too soon, lots of time here, not striving. It just seems to slow me down enough to really be in the moment with the yoga.”
I wrote that in May 2014 while practicing according to Buddha Bose’s instructions as they are laid out in Volume 1, which he titled ‘Key to the Kingdom of Health through Yoga’ in 1939. Myself, along with Scott, Ida, and others were sharing this information via a Facebook group called “Bishnu Ghosh’s 84 Classic Asanas” administered by Brian Monnier. Finding Buddha Bose’s Volume 1 and discussing his method started to add meaning to what Tony Sanchez had talked about during our training the previous winter.
I was hooked, so I began to search for more information on Buddha Bose. I wanted something beyond the beginning practice we all know by heart, and something more than just a large list of 90+ asanas. I wondered whether Volume 1 was part of something larger, thinking there would be no reason for the “Volume 1” label if this were not the case. I happened across a couple of photographs of Buddha Bose which looked similar to those in Volume 1 and started thinking that if there was a larger collection, it was important to find it.
One article I found from 1939 referred to a public demonstration in London of 83 Asanas done by Buddha Bose. Wow, I thought, add Savasana and that makes 84. Some time later, through a string of internet search terms, I happened upon a clue that struck gold. In the last paragraph of an art show review I found a reference to a photographic collection of “Yoga Asanas” done by Buddha Bose with 95 different photographs. I thought, “It exists! There is something beyond Volume 1, perhaps Volume 2!” And so the search began for the art dealer. This led to a dead end, until I was able to uncover that he’d moved from San Francisco to Connecticut. After a few exchanges with him, he sent me the following description of the collection:
Album: “Yoga Asanas” Anonymous, India (Calcutta), 1938
A UNIQUE THESIS BY YOGA MASTER, BUDDHA BOSE CONTAINING 95 STUNNING SILVER PRINTS OF AN EXEMPLARY YOGI (THE AUTHOR?) IN TRADITIONAL POSTURES.
Accompanying the photographs are 106 pages of typed essays including a finely composed preface and detailed descriptions of each pose including technique, breathing, timing and benefits. The album is inscribed in ink, ‘To Uncle Edward From “Buddha” Calcutta, July 15th, 1938.’
Buddha Bose, a respected and revered Indian Yoga master, is the author of Key to the Kingdom of Health Through Yoga
Now there was no doubt of its existence! In late June of 2014 I ventured up the East coast for a visit with the owner and to view it for myself. It was for sale, but I only wanted it for one reason. When Michael, the owner, asked why I wanted it, I replied “to share.” He responded, “I’ve been waiting for 25 years for someone to show up and say that to me.”
I then reached out to Ida and Scott. I had met them during the Sanchez teacher training, and knew that they also wanted to publish a book on Ghosh Yoga. Perhaps, I hoped, they would want to share in this effort. They agreed, and it couldn’t have turned out better. As the project has unfolded, there have been both successes and frustrations. Working together has kept us going through the toughest of times.
The three of us went to Calcutta in March, 2015. Along with our guide Arup Sen Gupta, we traveled to sites throughout Calcutta and Bengal, researching what we’ve come to call Ghosh Yoga. This lineage of yoga has been represented through many of Ghosh’s students over the years that brought forth publications. This includes works by Nilmoni Das, Monotosh Roy, Gouri Shankar Mukherjee, Prem Das, and Bikram Choudhury. First and foremost though, was Buddha Bose.
Learning the context and story surrounding Buddha Bose provided a unique perspective that is grounded in dozens of interviews with people in Calcutta. In one interview we conducted, we heard the story of how Bose began his yoga study. While traveling through India by car and performing muscle control at an exhibition in the early 1930’s, Buddha pointed to a person doing yoga and said, “That’s India’s physical system.” Bishnu replied, “You want to learn yoga?”
When Bishnu Ghosh was young, prior to 1920, he learned traditional seated postures and Yogoda at his brother Paramahansa Yogananda’s school in Ranchi. While I plan on writing much more on the topic in a forthcoming book, there are a couple of notes I’d like to share for the reader to understand the magnitude of all of this.
The extensive practice of the yogic system by Buddha and Bishnu led to their touring India with Yogananda in 1935-36, and then Europe and America in 1938-39. When Yogananda returned to India in 1935, he presented a performance that included Bishnu Ghosh, Bijoy Kumar Mallick and Buddha Bose. This included a three-day performance in Bangalore and a week in November in places around Mysore. The accounts spoke of their performing Yogoda, muscle control and asanas from their developing yoga system. It is also at this exact time at the Palace in Mysore that Krishnamacharya was teaching yoga to his students BKS Iyengar and Pattabhi Jois. It’s very possible, perhaps even probable, that the founders of the most popular yoga asana systems of today in the West - Ashtanga, Vinyasa, Iyengar and Hot Yoga - crossed paths that week in Mysore.
The reach of yoga from Calcutta to the United States is usually associated with Bikram coming over from Japan in 1974, but well before that, Buddha Bose and Bishnu Ghosh toured the US. In 1938-39, after being in London and Berlin, they lectured and performed at Columbia University and in Washington, D.C. before going on to Los Angeles for an extended stay at Yogananda’s Self Realization Fellowship.
Ghosh and Bose, who had previously been initiated by Yogananda into Kriya yoga, the practice of meditation, began teaching yoga asanas to Yogananda’s US followers. From the 1940s through the 1960s, Yogananda published a monthly or quarterly magazine which reached thousands of members, and each issue detailed a specific asana from the teachings of Ghosh and Bose along with in-depth instruction and demonstration.
This research has led to the realization that much of the yoga we practice in the West was recently developed, specifically the standing and stretching asanas. But much of it, namely the sitting asanas, remains deeply rooted in a rich tradition that reaches back centuries. Its culmination is the form of Hatha Yoga that is presented in this book, grouped in six sections, intended for individual practice.
In the US, Hot Yoga has been presented as a recent innovation. But in fact, our Hot Yoga in the West is an attempt to recreate the yoga that is performed in Calcutta, where it is naturally hot and humid year-round.
Buddha Bose has many relatives in both London and Calcutta. Some have been agitated by our efforts, some supportive. Most significantly, it is the grandson of Buddha Bose, great-grandson of Bishnu Ghosh, Pavitra Shekar Bose, and his mother Chitralekha who have inspired us to continue moving forward.
In September and October, these books will be reaching the 380 backers that made this publication possible. At the same time Ida, Scott and I will return to Calcutta. Along with eight others, we will be attending an inaugural month-long teacher training at the Ghosh Yoga College with Muktamala Mitra, the granddaughter of Bishnu Ghosh.
Knowing that hundreds of eager practitioners will get their first glimpse into this lost manuscript at just about the same time as I unroll my mat on the floor of Ghosh’s school is the perfect culmination of this year-long effort. I’m sure it will be, for all of us, the beginning of a stronger connection to this yoga.