Bishnu was Bikram’s personal guru. Bishnu founded Ghosh’s College of Physical Education in India and Bikram began to practice hatha yoga with him at age 5. Bishnu believed that stress is the root of all disease — even infectious disease. Bishnu also believed that physical health and human energy centers around the body’s greatest nerve mass, the spine. Bishnu’s belief in spinal health is at the heart of the Bikram series.
When Bikram injured his knees in a weight lifting accident at age 18, he was told by doctors that he would never walk again. Bikram put himself under Bishnu’s care, a regimen of daily yoga postures and was able to walk again after 6 months.
Originally, Bishnu taught yoga in the ancient Indian method, one student – or patient – at a time. He would diagnose the student’s injury or limitation, and prescribe postures and practice for healing. Today, this method is still practiced at the Ghosh College, along with group classes and the Bikram series.
Paramahansa was Bishnu’s older brother. Paramahansa lived and practiced Kriya (meditative) yoga, and promoted spiritual happiness. He brought his teachings to the US in the 1920’s, and founded the Self-Realization Fellowship based in Los Angeles. The fellowship provides the ability to study Paramahansa’s self-realization principles through mail-in lessons. The famous book, Autobiography of a Yogi, is the story of his amazing life.
Born in India, Bikram started practicing yoga at age 3. Bikram practiced at Ghosh’s College of Physical Education for up to 6 hours a day. At age 11 he became the youngest person ever to win the National India Yoga Championships. He won again at ages 12 and 13, and was declared Yogi Raj – King of Yogis.
After his knee injury, Bikram contemplated suicide. He actually went to a bridge to jump, but changed his mind. After rehabilitating with Bishnu, Bikram began teaching yoga full time. After teaching one student at a time for years, in 1965 he began to develop the 26 and 2 series, in order to reach groups of people with any variety of physical problems.
The series is designed to be doable by beginners and beneficial for all. At its core, Bikram teaches that hatha yoga is not equivalent to physical postures alone. Rather, hatha yoga is practiced by holding a posture in stillness (“freeze, don’t move, you can’t even blink your eyes”), breathing normally, and following the posture with Savasana. It is a journey, not a destination.
At his guru’s direction, Bikram opened yoga “schools” (studios) in India and Japan. Bikram’s Karma yoga, his life’s work as mandated by his guru, is to bring hatha yoga to the west. Today, Bikram says he can never quit teaching yoga, because his guru never told him when to stop, when his work would be complete. Bishnu sent Bikram to Japan in 1968, and he passed away before Bikram ever returned to India.
Bikram brought his series to the US in 1970. He began teaching yoga in Los Angeles strictly on a donation basis, not charging any fees. (The actress Shirley MacLaine eventually convinced him to begin charging for classes.) Bikram married Rajashree, a yoga champion in India, in 1984. His friendship with Emmy Cleaves began soon thereafter.
In the early 1990’s, Bikram’s wife, Rajashree, and his most senior teacher, Emmy Cleaves, came to Bikram with the idea of Bikram Yoga Teacher Training, in order to exponentially spread the series to more and more students. It took several years to convince Bikram of the idea, but it worked and the first Teacher training was held in 1994. Thirty-three students graduated.
Rajashree also began practicing yoga at age 3 with her teacher, Dr. P. S. Das, and continues to study with him. As a girl, Rajashree wanted to run track and play basketball, but her parents wouldn’t let her play those unladylike sports. They only allowed her to practice yoga. In India, yoga is used as medicine, and Rajashree thought yoga was only for old and sick people. She went on, however, to become the unbeaten five-time winner of the All India Yoga Championships. She was also crowned Mrs. India in 1985.
Rajashree is a Registered Medical Practitioner in Alternative Medicine with a degree in Hatha Yoga Therapy. She specializes in yoga therapy for people with chronic diseases and disorders. Rajashree also teaches yoga for expecting mothers. Rajashree teaches the Bikram series at International Headquarters in Los Angeles, and all over the globe at various seminars. She also is an integral part of the Teacher Training as a teacher and lecturer.
Rajashree teaches that yoga is medicine. It works slower than conventional western medicine, but is holistic and without the side effects of drugs. With yoga the practitioner feels the openings in the body as the transitions happen, but the benefit is lasting. Yoga is also preventative medicine.
There is also great benefit to practicing yoga as exercise, as compared to other forms of exercise. Traditional exercise and sports tear the body down with impact upon the joints, and tearing of tissues. Your abilities often decline in each sport as you get older. Yoga, in contrast, rebuilds, feeds, flushes and cleanses the body. You improve and grow more flexible with daily practice, even as you age.
Emmy was born in Latvia and has been practicing yoga for over 40 years. Emmy began studying under Bikram in 1973 and is now his most senior teacher. Now in her 80’s she teaches and practices the advanced series at International Headquarters and seminars throughout the world.
Emmy teaches that the body is meant for movement. Yoga is a vehicle for you to know your body and yourself. The mind must be patient; never force the posture. The body cells respond to mental thinking. Emotional tension can produce muscular tension, which causes blood and oxygen deprivation and pain. Stress reaches every cell in the human body, and we respond to the stress of life with patterns of physical tension. Yoga can bring awareness of the body and the ability to change our patterns, and react to stress in productive, healing ways. We learn how to control the fight or flight response.
Emmy consistently encourages: Precision; Sequence; Intensity; Frequency. You need them all to progress in your practice. Fitness is a journey, not a destination. However, practicing with regularity is a cumulative process, bringing physical improvement and mental calmness.
Emmy says that mindfulness is crucial. “It is only yoga when done mindfully. You need awareness of the self and the body.” The postures are 80% isometric contractions. The student must bring mental focus to each part of the body, and to the breath — the master function of the body. “Without mindfulness, it’s just exercise.” The Bikram series develops mindfulness. It changes the habitual responses to stress, reducing anxiety and depression. Rather than treating the symptoms of pain or disease, or numbing the body, yoga addresses the root cause — teaching the body how to handle stress with mindful movement. The body is designed to be self energizing and self healing. The object of yoga is not the posture; the object is your body.