Who Takes the Yoga Teacher Training? Stories from Recent Graduates
“Unity in Diversity” is a hallmark of the Sivananda tradition, the phrase used by Swami Vishudevananda as he set out on his missions for world peace. But even before his historic flights to trouble spots around the world, Swami Vishnu launched his effort for world peace in a way that still resonates today: he created, in 1969, the first yoga teacher training course in the West. In this way, he could train yoga teachers as peace ambassadors, who would become future leaders and responsible citizens of the world.
Since then, nearly 50,000 students have graduated from the Yoga Teacher Training Course, here on Paradise Island in the Bahamas and at the other Sivananda ashrams and centers around the world. These teachers in training, from all walks of life, careers, and cultures, continue to embody the Swami Vishnu’s mission of Unity in Diversity.
Who becomes a yoga teacher training student? Here are stories from five recent graduates:
Kenyon Ferguson, Nassau, Bahamas (March 2019 Teacher Training Course)
My goal wasn’t to be a yoga teacher. It was in my head that I’m supposed to be doing more, be more disciplined, be further in life than where I am now, at 39. I came to the conclusion that discipline was my problem. So I came to the ashram to get more discipline. That’s the gist of it right there. I know I can’t get it in church, I have my own business in Nassau where I’ve lived after a few years in Exuma, the island where I was born. I know I can’t do it by myself, so I thought if I immerse myself in a place that has strict rules and strict routines, that I can take that and bring it over to my business and spiritual life back home.
The ashram chose me. I had wanted to go someplace far from Nassau, like Thailand, but realistically, I really didn’t want to go that far from my family. So I googled ‘retreat Bahamas’ and Sivananda popped up. I sent them an email and someone said, “The new TTC is starting today, you can sign up now if you’re able to get there in the next half hour.” I’m the person, if you challenge me, I’m going to step up. So I made my arrangements, grabbed a few things and I was on the dock.
This program is awesome. Every morning I wake up and realize, I’m getting what I’m asking for. It’s not easy or fun, but it’s what I needed and that’s what makes it awesome. The routine, the constant routine is the biggest challenge. That’s the hardest part, getting rid of the tamas (inertia). The people are very nice, and that’s one of the things that is keeping me, because I’m the only black guy here, and if I had felt that kind of negative energy, I was gone. Right away. But the encouragement…we’re all part of a group. It’s really encouraging. I love a challenge, so I’m not going to be the one to quit.
We were just having a conversation this morning about who would be the swami of the group, and they my group all said, ‘Kenyon, Kenyon will be the swami.’ I don’t know why they keep choosing me to do that but I have a heart for people. I’ve been through a lot. I lost my brother just recently. I heard the gunshots, I was just around the corner. I picked him up, put him in the taxi, tried to get him to hospital but he was already dead. I’m taking care of his daughter now, I have my own two daughters and I want to be able to show them something different.
I’ve been on the path for knowledge long before I came here. For two years, I’ve been studying different aspects of self-control and self-discipline rigorously. And now it’s time to do. It’s action time. I feel like I’m the one in my family to break the cycle. I’m going to break the cycle. Earlier today, I did the Sun Salutation teaching and people said, ‘Kenyon, you’re the best.’
Holly Dramis (Siddhi), Homer, Alaska, US (February 2019 Teacher Training Course)
I’ve done yoga for eight or ten years, we have some great yoga studios in Anchorage and now in Homer, Alaska. We have teachers interested in the spiritual side of the practice, also an emphasis on breathwork and meditation. None of them are gym-style yoga classes. I needed something like this to evolve my practice.
I had been at the ashram a couple of times as a guest and the vibes are amazing, the people are incredible. I knew that was something I wanted to do to deepen my practice, so there was never any question of going anywhere else.
After doing business management for an environmental consulting firm, I’m now on my own and trying to pull together what I need to do next. The community I live in is very small, a small town about five hours from Anchorage, with a very seasonal population. The town is definitely a community and people are incredibly supportive of each other; it’s a similar vibe to the ashram.
I probably knew I wanted to do TTC after my first visit in 2017. The TTC that February was really diverse. I had told myself I was too old to do it, then I saw the people in the TTC and I slowly but steadily got sold on it. At first I thought, this is so nice to be a guest but by the second visit I knew that’s what I wanted to do.
This TTC has exceeded my expectations. I had enough insight into what the TTC does, which is an emotional shakeup. It’s such an immersion, so much coming at you that you feel you can’t catch it all, but it just starts filtering in and becomes part of your world, part of how you behave. It’s such an intense course, a lot to go through but the transformation in some ways feels effortless.
I wanted that kind of emotional shakeup. I’m 44, married for 10 years, no kids, changing my career path and I don’t really know what I’m doing. I just wanted to get in my own brain and heart and move around a little bit and see what happens.
During the TTC, sitting for extended periods of time was the biggest challenge but the reward from the course was so obvious. I had some emotional things come at me from outside — my cat passed away, I had her for 17 years. It was so emotional, but what better place to feel just emotionally raw, then it passes. You go from beginning, to middle to end on something so quickly here, you don’t get to wallow in it.
Now that I’ve completed the TTC, it’s a lot to take in. I’m glad I stayed for a few days with other students who have a chance to decompress a little bit. To have the time to think about what happens next, not to feel shaken from going from one extreme to the other. It’s lovely. It’s an empowering feeling. I know I’ve changed. You want to start building relationships in a different way, not wanting to go back to how it was.
Rich Luskeet (Brahmaswaroopa), Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada (February 2019 Teacher Training Course)
I grew up in Southern California, in the Los Angeles area, and joined the US Army when I was 18. For nine years I was an Army Ranger, jumping out of planes and the kind of stuff you see on TV, then I was selected for Special Forces, for the Green Berets. Then I met my wife, who is from Canada. Long story short, I got out of the Army and emigrated to Canada and I’ve been there for 20 years. I’m a 911 operator for the Thunder Bay Police Service. We deal with all the incoming 911 calls, and I also do dispatching for the police and fire departments.
I’ve been to this ashram a couple of times, as a vacationer. Last year when I was here with my wife we did a workshop on the yamas and niyamas, and ahimsa, non-violence, really stood out for me. I don’t participate in violence but it’s all around the work we do and when I got home I could feel something changing inside me. I was still very reluctant, just dipping my toes.
My wife and I have been doing kirtan for a few years and it just fills my heart. I tried to express that with people I work with and there was some resistance at first. I made it light and joking and over the last year I’ve had them chanting jaya ganesha, not the entire chant, but a few lines. We have some insightful conversations from time to time.
When I stood up on the first day here and talked about chanting with my colleagues, those were the easy things I could say. That’s what felt comfortable to say. The reality is I came here as a last-ditch effort, this was a spiritual intervention. I’ve been lost for a decade or longer spiritually. I could feel the longing but at the same time I was so consumed with my own fears and doubts, I would dip my toe in. But once spiritual discipline was involved I said, ‘I can’t do this.’ My reason for coming really was a moment a couple of months ago where my wife and I were talking and she said, ‘You have to do this.’ It was really hard for me to say yes, I haven’t done anything for myself this committed and this focused in 20, 30, who knows how many years if ever, really.
So I came here to like dissolve the parts of me that I’m really attached to and the stories I’ve told myself about who I am or what can I do. That’s the real reason. The others are the easy things. Instead of being vulnerable and opening up and saying, ‘I’m here because my life is falling apart, and my relationship is falling apart. I’m in desperate need of spiritual help and that’s why I’m here.’
I can say it now, after the TTC, because I’m okay with the truth. My eyes have been really opened up to the places that I attach things to. I used to really believe that people judged me, but in actuality I’m judging myself. It’s a fact, it’s okay, it’s the truth. I was pretending, on cruise control for a really long time, unhealthy in mental and physical ways. I knew there was someplace in me where it felt right. But it was me that was stopping me.
I feel fundamentally changed by the teaching and the practice. I feel a lightness. When we leave here, you feel so light, as soon as you arrive here, you feel the energy of love. It’s even greater now. As a vacationer I experienced it on the outside edges. Now I’m getting it from the depths. It has just changed me. I can feel it, my wife can see it. And my words are a lot different. I just speak now, without being calculating. Whatever is coming, is coming.
Jen Russell (Gopi), London, England (January 2019 Teacher Training Course)
I was taking a break from my life in London and went to visit a friend in the Turks and Caicos Islands. In December, I went to stay with her mother and she said, “I’m a yoga instructor. Would you like to take a couple of classes with me?” I said yes, so we sat in her converted little studio and she taught me. She said, ‘You seem to really enjoy this.” I realized the yoga seemed to calm me down, and I liked the way I could use my body. She said, “I did something called TTC in the Bahamas. You should do that.’”
‘That sounds interesting,’ I thought. That was around Dec. 20 at 10:00 am — and at 4 pm, I booked the course that started on January 3. I booked it on a whim, 100 percent. I had had no yoga training before that. Nothing to do with spirituality or meditation and I had only ever practiced Bikram yoga a couple of times over the years in London.
Day one, I fell asleep during the meditation in the morning and I thought, ‘I’m never going to get used to this. It’s not normal to be up at this hour.’ By day four, I thought I had made a huge mistake coming. The truth is, I genuinely sort of came because I thought it was really good way to lose weight and get fit. And after realizing it was about meditation and mindfulness I thought, ‘Oh God, I’ve just wasted a whole heap of money; this is just not suited to me’
That was Week 1. By Week 2, I thought, ‘This is pretty good, it’s quite interesting.’ I was getting a bit better at yoga. But then I became extremely tired by the end of Week 2. I thought, ‘I’m so tired, I can’t keep on doing this.’ A few tears. By Week 3, the group is completely solid, everyone is a unit, everyone knows each other’s names — we were a group of 44 — and I start enjoying the lectures and the satsang and running here and there, taking pleasure out of the structure. And then Week 4 was a blur. I can’t believe it was the same length as Week 1. But it was magical by that point. I was swept along on the journey and just let myself go with it.
Coming towards the end of that week, I knew I had to stay on for the Karma Yoga program. I had just hit the tip of the iceberg and if I went back to life, I would forget all of the teachings and not implement them properly. I know myself. I was going to do just one month of Karma Yoga, and again at the end of that month I saw that I didn’t have the discipline that I wanted. And at least here we’re in a place where the tools are available to us to keep the structure.
I am surprised by my resilience. My parents have always been of the mindset, if it’s too hard, don’t bother, don’t stick with it. It was the first time I had invested so much money in myself, the biggest financial investment I had ever made, and I thought I had to see it through. I surprised myself at how I was able to get used to getting up at 5:30 in the morning and do the long days and take on all that knowledge and information and not crack. Taking myself to a point where I would have assumed I would have broken and not breaking and getting to the reflect on how resilient I am. That surprised me.
Also I was surprised at how much sense the spiritual teachings made when they draw parallels to science and fact. So things like pranayama, learning that it is scientifically proven to reduce stress. That I was really surprised about. I worked at an ad agency in London for most of my 20s in an environment with lots of consumerism, fast-paced working hours, events where basically we’re trying to understand the clients, to sell more things. That’s what I was doing before.
I think being a qualified Sivananda Yoga instructor is probably one of the main strings to my bow now. It’s something that can never be taken away from me. It’s something I’ve achieved and I know. To say I’m a yoga instructor, it’s really tangible. It will change my life because yoga will be a talking point for me. I want to show people how to do it. It’s a part of me and my skill-set now.
Malin Wuermli (Shakti), Aarau, Germany (February 2019 Teacher Training Course)
I would recommend for everyone to do the TTC, it doesn’t matter if you intend to teach. What I learned in this TTC was that I made the right decisions. Before I came I was afraid of my decisions and here I felt, ‘Good job, Malin, go for it.’ I really look forward to go back and to grow projects and enjoy, maybe spread this energy. I finished my studies in December, in German and Spanish linguistics and literature.
I grew up in a Sivananda Yoga family, my parents both teach and they always spread the seeds when I was a kid,. They said, ‘Even if you don’t want to teach, at some point in your life you should go and do the TTC.’ And after finishing my studies and struggling about what to do next, I just felt ready. I knew it would be an intense month, and I was ready for this transformation.
Other people in my group, they maybe had a personality shift; I experienced this shift more like, I feel. I feel a lot. And back home I would say sometimes I try to ignore my feelings. Here I felt a positivity that I never had before. It’s like discovering maybe myself, not about changing myself but about getting to know myself.
I’m 22, from a small city, Aarau, in the German speaking part of Switzerland. I would say that I’m more of a competitive person, but everything shifts with yoga. No more competition. People think about yoga and about stretching and relaxing, but also challenging is a part too, to go deeper to take the next step in your practice. I think that’s what I love about yoga. Still these challenges, not like forcing myself and my body but listening and then my body tells me ‘Yeah, yeah, you can do this, girl.’
I think I was surprised about how much I will have to fight against my mind, because at the beginning the meditation was easy for me, then it was super, super hard. My mind was getting crazy, then all of a sudden it was still again. And I think, if I would have the time to stay here, or in a smaller place, even more isolated, and deepen the practice, I would be able to meditate. And that’s the challenge for myself, to continue back home.
I will teach when I go home, First I thought I would teach a super-strong class for fancy people, but once in a yoga class I had this strong gut feeling to stop with the sport I do and just go into yoga. I really, really hope I will find the strength to do this back home and to motivate more people with the same personality like I have to go into yoga and to explore. I’ve met really amazing people here, but there are two people, I’m sure we will meet again. We have already planned a trip together and are looking for dates for ATTC.
The spiritual aspect is a big part of challenging myself. I would say I’m not at the point of being able to control my mind and body, but to start to observe what’s happening. It’s really interesting and maybe helpful to try to understand other people and their struggles. And then maybe a door will open, and maybe not. That’s fine.
During my TTC I was afraid, the swamis they pick your spiritual name and I wasn’t sure how they would know me. I was super quiet during class. Shakti is for strength, a warrior. I’m super happy that they see me like this and I really hope with this name I can get more strength to handle these challenges.
Curious about the Sivananda Yoga Teacher Training Course? We offer the TTC monthly November – July. There’s definitely a place for you! Find out more/Send us an email/Sign-up: Sivananda Yoga Teacher Training Course