What is Hot Yoga?
Hot Yoga is yoga practised in a heated room. There are several types of Hot Yoga, for example Yin Yoga, Bikram Yoga, Hatha, Vinyasa and Fierce Grace. As the temperature varies between 30°C and 40°C, the intensity varies. To give an example, we can compare Yin Yoga to Bikram Yoga. Yin Yoga, based on Chinese medicine and mindfulness, is calm, but can still be trying. The connective tissue is reshaped with Yin Yoga, which can be painful due to the fact that the connective tissue is full of nociceptors. Bikram Yoga, on the other hand, is very active and hard on the muscles. Bikram Yoga is also known as the original Hot Yoga. In this practice, you hold 26 different positions (asanas) for a certain amount of time, interspersed with relaxation.
As there are several types of Hot Yoga, there is something for everyone. By combining different types of yoga, you will work through the entire body. Hot Yoga can also be called meditation in motion. All asanas require concentration, thus emptying the mind of everything you have experienced during the day to be in the here-and-now.
Bishnu Ghosh was born in 1903 into a family with strong yoga traditions. His parents were yogis and practitioners of Kriya yoga as taught by their guru Lahiri Mahasaya. Kriya yoga can be seen as an integral system of yoga, as it influences the entire individual rather than just body or mind. Kriya yoga is traditionally considered to affect five planes of existence: the physical, the vital, the mental, the intellectual and the spiritual. The goal of Kriya yoga is to be able to see the true world on all five planes in a cosmic universal vision.
Although the parents of Bishnu Ghosh were well versed in yoga, he had another close relative who came to have a larger influence on modern yoga: his older brother Mukunda Lal Ghosh, better known as Paramhansa Yogananda, author of Autobiography of a Yogi. In 1917, Yogananda founded the Yogoda School in Ranchi, India. At the Yogoda School, the students were taught meditation combined with a mixture of Kriya yoga and the classical 84 poses (asanas) of hatha yoga. One of the first students to attend the school was Bishnu Ghosh. Yogananda became his guru.
However, in 1920, Yogananda travelled to the US to spread yoga, as ordained by his own guru. Bishnu Ghosh continued his studies at the Yogoda School until 1922, at which time he instead started studying Physical Culture at the University in Calcutta. His teacher was professor R.N. Thakurta. Physical Culture was a big movement globally during the 1920s and the 1930s. The type taught at the University in Calcutta included studies in diet, lifestyle, and physical exercise. The exercise was performed primarily using free weights.
Bishnu Ghosh himself was a prominent figure within the Physical Culture movement. In 1923, he founded the Ghosh College of Physical education. The education there was founded on the teachings of Yogananda, but focusing on the classical 84 asanas of hatha yoga. This college still exists under the name Ghosh’s Yoga College and is supervised by Bishnu’s grandchild Muktamala. Then, as now, the focus is on alleviating and curing health problems through yoga, while at the same time building strength and flexibility.
In 1930, Bishnu Ghosh wrote the book Muscle control and barbell exercise together with Keshub Ch. Sen Gupta. In this volume, Bishnu Ghosh tells the story about how he went from being a weak and rickety youth to become a strong and flexible man through the teachings of Yogananda and R.N. Thakurta. Bishnu travelled around India to show feats of strength, such as having a car drive over his chest, having a man jump on his abdomen from 12 feet and twisting iron bars into coils. In Muscle control and barbell exercise, he claims that one of the secrets behind these feats is total muscle control followed by total relaxation.
Like his brother Yogananda, Bishnu Ghosh travelled to the US to spread yoga, albeit 19 years later. He did feats of strength and demonstrated yoga, and lectured at the Columbia University in New York. In contrast to Yogananda, Bishnu returned to India and only held one more public demonstration abroad in Japan in 1968, two years before his death in 1970. Bishnu Ghosh’s yoga is nonetheless still alive, both traditionally through his yoga college and modified through his disciples – for example Bikram Choudhury.
Bikram Choudhury and Hot Yoga
Bikram Choudhury started doing yoga when he was four, and met Bishnu Ghosh when he was five. He started studying under Bishnu the same year. The education was held at Rum Krishna Mission School in Deoghar.
Bikram was a talented yogi and won the All-India Yoga Asana Championship several times. Unfortunately, he hurt his knee at the age of eighteen while weightlifting. The doctors he consulted claimed that he would never walk normally again. He refused to accept the opinion of the doctors, and returned to Bishnu Ghosh to heal his knee through yoga with the help of his guru. It worked, and Bikram regained full function in his knee.
At the request of Bishnu Ghosh, Bikram Choudhury travelled a lot to demonstrate yoga and to spread its health benefits. At first, he travelled through India, to Mumbai, but later also to Japan and Hawaii. In 1965, he started putting together his own yoga sequence, the 26 asanas (poses) and 2 pranayamas (breathing exercises) that were later to become the Bikram Yoga series. Bikram strived to put together asanas potent enough to maximize curing and healing effects, and at the same time easy enough to be taught to a group. That way, he would be able to help several people at once. The traditional way of teaching yoga is quite the opposite, with a guru teaching one sole yogi at a time. However, Bikram noticed that he was not able to help all those in need if he taught that way, and so he wanted to create a safe and effective way to practice yoga with a group.
After the death of Bishnu Ghosh in 1970, Bikram Choudhury spent more time teaching his own series, and keeping the promise he had made to Bishnu Ghosh: to keep spreading yoga to the rest of the world. In 1973, he moved to Los Angeles and opened a Bikram Yoga studio with group classes. It soon became popular, and today there are Bikram Yoga studios all over the world.
Bikram Choudhury was the first guru to teach in a heated room. From the beginning, it was mostly to recreate the climate in India, the homeland of Yoga, but Bikram also noticed benefits with the heat. The heat warms the muscles and tendons, reducing the risk of injury, at the same time allowing students to go deeper in the positions.
Paramhansa Yogananda. Autobiography of a Yogi. First edition 1950, this edition 1969: 16-17. Also available through Project Gutenberg: http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/7452
Knight, Bonnie. Bishnu Charan Ghosh and His Influence on Modern Postural Yoga. Published at History of Modern Yoga’s site 20141011: http://lmuits.wpengine.com/historyofmodernyoga/bishnu-charan-ghosh/#_ftn4
Ghosh’s Yoga College’s site: http://www.ghoshsyoga.com/
Ghosh, Bishnu & Sen Gupta, Keshub Ch. Muscle control and Barbell exercise. 1930: 51-53. Available through SCRIBD: https://www.scribd.com/document/217858632/Muscle-Control-and-Barbell-Exercise
Choudhury, Bikram. Bikram Yoga. The Guru Behind Hot Yoga Shows the Way to Radiant Health and Personal Fulfillment. 2007: 21-30.
Hall, Colin. Hot and Bothered: The Hype, History, and Science of Hot Yoga. Published at Yoga International’s site 20160204. https://yogainternational.com/article/view/hot-and-bothered-the-hype-history-and-science-of-hot-yoga#citations
Broad, William J. The Science of Yoga: The Risks and the Rewards. 2012: 47.