Tony Sanchez Interview: Yoga Journal Asia, May 2014

The Practice

1. Was Bikram Yoga your first practice? How did you evolve to specialise in the 84 asanas under Ghosh’s lineage?

My first practice was Bikram’s 26 postures that included both pranayamas in 1976. (Not to be confused with Bikram’s “hot yoga” edition launched in 2002) Bikram was trained and certified at Ghosh’s College of Physical Education in Calcutta. After a few weeks of three and four classes a day, Bikram invited me to join a small group of students practicing Ghosh’s system with him. Actually, he was training us on behalf of Ghosh’s College of Physical Education. I was certified in 1980, when Ghosh’s son, Bishu, was the director.

When we parted ways in 1983, Bikram told me never to teach his system so it was natural for me to develop my own, derived from Ghosh’s. We decided to produce a video and applied for a trademark for our logo and name. To qualify, at the time, we had to have a series so I decided on four. I started with level four, adding some of my favorite advanced postures from other lineages into Ghosh’s system. Level three is mainly Ghosh’s system with a few additional postures, and level two is a challenging intermediate system. Level one is a beginning to intermediate system that can be simplified, modified or intensified to fit the needs of the practitioner, time or space available.

2. What is yogic physical culture?

Yogic physical culture started in the early 20th century. It is a synthesis of European physical culture, (gymnastics and weight resistance), with yoga asana and breath control. It marks the beginning of contemporary ‘posture’ yoga that had been previously associated with undesirable sadhus and fakirs.

Contrary to popular belief, contemporary hatha yoga is not ancient.

Bishnu Ghosh was a yogic physical culturist, initially trained by his brother, Yogananda, at his Ranchi School for Boys. “During his early years in America Yogananda taught a version of yogic “muscle control” heavily influenced by New Thought and European body-building. He had “discover” this method of “muscle recharging through will power” in 1916 and tested it on students at his school in Ranchi. These students thereafter performed prodigious “feats of strength and endurance.” (Yoga Body – Mark Singleton)

Ghosh’s system begins with Sūryannamaskār. “The creator of the modern Sūryannamaskār (salutations to the sun) system, Pratinidhi Pant, the Rajah of Aundh, was a devoted bodybuilder and practitioner of the Sandow Method.” (Yoga Body – Mark Singleton)

Popularized by his fellow bodybuilders in the 1900’s, “Sūryannamaskār, was not considered a part of yoga at the time. It was in addition to “yoga” for medical gymnastics and body-conditioning on the one hand, and state of the art weights and other European bodybuilding techniques on the other.” (Yoga Body – Mark Singleton)

In law school, Ghosh’s physical education professor transformed his body and restored his health, furthering his interest in yogic physical culture. Ghosh own unique system of yogic physical culture includes muscle control methods he learned and enhanced from a famous Burmese body builder.

3. You hold two World Cup Yoga Sport titles. How do you view competition and yoga which concepts seem to contradict?

When you see contemporary yoga or yogic physical culture for what it is, how it came to be, by whom and by what means, it makes perfect sense for yoga exhibitions or competition.

In 1994, we were trying to figure out how to get more men to practice when we saw a small announcement in Yoga Journal about a yoga competition in Argentina. Their goal was to qualify yoga for the Olympics, perfect. I did not expect to win, but since I did, we sent a notice to Yoga Journal and they printed a one-column story that brought hate mail to both of us.

The editor refused to print anything about the second win in 1996, and would not post my letter to him and the yoga community asking why they participate in yoga competitions based on the best PR, best ads or best logo, but denounce a competition for the best of yoga asana.

4. What transpired you to leave the mainstream yoga world to pursue personal mastery in Mexico in 2005?

In 2005, after 20 years in the same location, we were deciding on our option to renew the lease for five more years. Running the studio, teaching, practicing, training instructors and teachers in the school district, while managing the business of yoga left little time to think about anything else.

Considering the possibilities, I did not aspire to own a franchise or chain of studios and I did not enjoy traveling the yoga circuit. I was invited to teach an advanced class at a Yoga Journal conference but only a few people attended. It was too advanced. After a demonstration at a Pura Vida workshop, an instructor leading her own group accused me of making up some of the postures. I was out of sync with the mainstream yoga community that was learning basics and inventing new ones.

It was time for a sabbatical. It was the right time to evaluate what we had done over the last 20 years and decide how to move it all forward, focus on my practice and develop a user-friendly way to teach, with optional learning tools, no rules or regulations, placing all responsibility for learning on the student.

The Teaching

5. Why do you consider people describe you as “the world’s leading underground yoga master”?

Lol, I am not really sure. Maybe because I am not part of the yoga circuit, or because Bikram used to threaten instructors with de-certification if they came to my workshops or had my posters and videos.

6. As your practice and teaching began with Bikram’s 26 postures, inevitably, practitioners may wish to understand the key differences. Are Ghosh’s 84 asanas more challenging to learn and master?

Bikram’s 26 postures derive from Ghosh’s system. His methodology for teaching is rigid. It does not allow for any modifications or deviations in postures or time because it is a memorized monologue.

Ghosh’s system has more postures that are challenging to learn and teach. However, it is a system that can be modified into series and systems, such as Bikram’s, to fit the needs of practitioners.

7. It seems that not many are qualified to teach 84 asanas, hence this practice is less known. How do you plan to increase its popularity to reach out to a wider community?

My plan is already in progress. Facebook has been great for reaching out to the world with my daily postings. This is where I communicate with the broadest audience.

To reach a wider community in the coming year we have simplified the process to teach and we are launching an open instructor registry for all instructors.

8. We note that your goal is to “train the best instructors on the planet and establish a solid foundation for continued learning, practice, teaching, prosperity and healthy lifestyle”. Can you elaborate on this?

It ‘s a goal, not a given since it requires the discipline and efforts of the instructor. So far, feedback is very positive. I am pleased. If I am going to train instructors, I want them to be the best. It validates my efforts even though I do not comply with the accepted requirements of the day.

My students come from all corners of the world so we take advantage of the Internet to enhance learning with an online course to teach the basics (84 Asanas: Level 1 – Foundations of Practice) as a primer for living healthy and aligning with the earth. To build community, every workshop has a private Facebook group to communicate.

The Life Style

9. Do you feel your personal goals and perspectives change significantly when you went on sabbatical in 2005?

My personal goals and perspectives have not changed: enjoy life, eat well, be happy, do the best I can at whatever I am doing and no procrastinating.

The Internet and Facebook definitely changed the way I am able to accomplish my teaching goals. That is pretty incredible. In San Francisco I did not even know what Facebook was. Now I post my thoughts every day and communicate with people from everywhere without going anywhere.

10. What is your typical day apart from teaching?

My typical day, when I do not have a group in training, begins around 6:30 a.m. I do a little reading, cook breakfast, post my thoughts of the day on Facebook then practice yoga until we have lunch, espresso at Starbucks, shop for dinner and run errands, home to respond to Facebook postings, then Gosh’s physical culture practice with weights, cook dinner, practice guitar, dinner, Netflix movie.

11. Does your family practise yoga? Do they support what you do?

Yes, my wife practices yoga, but not as regularly as she should. She has been my biggest supporter and business partner since 1984.

12. How do you relax yourself?

I am always relaxed. I like to play my guitar.

The Future

13. Are you planning to add further books to your Level 1 – Practice Manual?

Yes, I will do a practice book for the 84 asanas, the Masters’ Core system and a modified edition of Ghosh’s weight resistance system.

14. Do you plan to conduct workshops outside Mexico?

For now, I have no plans to conduct workshops outside of Mexico. I teach better when I do not have airport stress, jet lag and unfamiliar diet, routine and surroundings. Cabo is the perfect place to learn with great weather, clean air and water, fresh, healthy food and miles of clean beaches.

15. How do you wish to take Core26+ and Masters’ Core System further?

Initially we created the Core26+ as a continuing education program to support Bikram instructors who wanted to learn more and make a change. We are currently deciding whether to integrate it into the Masters’ Core training or extend it to two weeks for aspiring instructors.

I like it that people from other professions are taking my trainings and teaching outside of the yoga studios. In the last few months I have trained a rabbi, some nurses, personal trainers, physical therapists, doctors and a human rights lawyer currently in Afghanistan.

16. What is one project you really wish to undertake?

Due to a lack of universal standards or oversight, instructors are in need of a way to document their qualifications for employment. My project is setting up a generic registry open to the international community of ‘postural’ yoga instructors from all trainings and lineages, regardless of hours or memberships.