Life Change Through Yoga Teacher Training
The Sivananda Yoga Teacher Training Course (TTC) was created not only to train people to become yoga teachers but to become ambassadors of peace in the world. Now more than ever, we need people committed to their own personal transformation through yoga — in service to the greater good, so they can bring those gifts into their communities, families, and workplaces.
Wes Wolter and Vicki Emlaw, students in the January 2017 TTC at the Sivananda Ashram Yoga Retreat in the Bahamas, each came looking for change — and found it. These are their stories from midway through their training.
From farmer to yoga teacher
Vicki Emlaw, 46, Prince Edward County, Ontario
"I was wanting a change in my life," says TTC student VIcki Emlaw, who owns and operates a 12-acre organic vegetable farm in a fertile, apple-growing region near Canada's Lake Ontario, where her family has lived for generations.
An occasional yoga practitioner, she had learned about the Sivananda ashram in Val Morin, Canada, from the daughter of Canadian novelist Michael Ondaaje, whose son worked on the farm one summer. "I thought, 'what a perfect holiday — vegetarian, no alcohol or caffeine.'"
So last Easter, she took her husband and daughter for a family weekend at Val Morin. While there, she saw a photo of people doing yoga on the beach platform at Paradise Island in the Bahamas. It was a TTC course, and Vicki immediately thought "January would be great!"
Then at Thanksgiving Vicki's marriage foundered and in the heartbreak that followed she really wanted to get away. "So I booked the TTC then and there," she says.
Vicki arrived at the ashram with a huge emotional burden — and found surprising sources of support.
"I came thinking I didn't want to talk about this, but I talked to one of the TTC counselors, mainly about all the anger I was feeling. Her advice? Take this time to focus on what the course has to offer, and let it go." Vicki also talked to others who had similar heartbreaks and their sharing helped, and she took time on a day off for an Ayurveda oil massage in which she felt "like I was being held."
"I've found great help from the teachings," she says, "especially the yamas, which teach you not to respond to negative thoughts. I've been full of them since this happened and that lesson gave me perspective.
"I even erased a negative email that I wanted to send. Being aware of my thoughts and the words I write prevented me from doing it that day."
Learning the asanas is one challenge and so is memorization of the Sanskrit and all the details of the course. She's most surprised to realize that, midway through the course, she is about the learn how to teach. "It's a skill that I never actually realized I would be able to acquire," she says.
Thankful for her farmer's work ethic, she has developed in other ways. "I noticed at about Day 11 that I would sit cross-legged for satsang," she says. And she loves staying in a tent at the ashram. A good friend who had done the TTC a few years ago had given her a suitcase with a tent and sleeping mat. Since the farming and camping season are nearly identical, she hasn't been able to go camping for years.
Luckily, too, she says, "Being a farmer means getting up before sunrise doesn't bother me!"
When Vicki graduates from the TTC, she will not only have her yoga teacher certificate, she will also take home a personal yoga practice that includes tools for navigating the challenges and opportunities ahead.
Not your typical psychotherapist
Wes Wolter, 32, Fairlee, Vermont
A tattooed floral sleeve on one arm, a flowing black script on the other, and a shorn head and beard might not immediately indicate psychotherapist, but that's the work Wes Wolter had been doing before he arrived at the ashram for his TTC.
A counselor in a Vermont program that offers residential housing to clients with serious psychological issues, he lives part-time in a house in Waterbury where a schizophrenic client is learning how to live in the community. "At this stage, we're using holistic therapy, aromatherapy, and other alternative approaches and have managed to cut his meds in half," Wes says.
A psychotherapist, mental-health counselor, and drug and alcohol counselor, Wes has wanted to become involved in yoga teacher training since he was introduced to yoga seven years ago.
"The cutting-edge treatment of trauma is focusing on the body, and yoga is at the top of the list, especially with meditation practice. Treatment research backs the effectiveness of yoga and meditation," he says. His plan is to integrate yoga into his therapy, offering yoga for stress reduction and addiction.
While he knew he could use yoga professionally, there was another reason, a more personal one, for coming to the TTC. He was burned out. "I was feeling empty and enslaved, losing my spirituality," he says. "I felt lost. I'm so grateful that I've re-established my practice."
In the process, Wes has also been able to improve lower back problems that have plagued him for years. "In the two weeks since I've been here, I'm not in as much pain," he says, "even though the sitting has been a challenge. So has getting by on too little sleep — then I appreciate the morning asanas because they really revitalize me."
The real struggle has been working on his own process, he says, dealing with all the things he has been attached to and letting go. He has learned the importance of caring for his body and that the amount of money he makes isn't what matters. "It has been a real cleansing experience. I believe I have a stronger insight," he says.
Karma Yoga is an integral part of the TTC and everyone is assigned responsibilities that contribute to keeping the ashram running. Wes sees the irony in his Karma Yoga duties as part of the garbage detail. "I went to school so I wouldn't have to be a fireman or garbage man," he says with a grin. "But I whistle my way through this work, and I notice how lovely it is here on this island."
Wes says that it's clear to him after his early yoga practices, which he did mainly for fitness and mountain biking, that he can use yoga to build a life that he really loves. On his return, he plans to launch a wellness center on a 300-acre farm that he has inherited. Called Milldale Farm Centre for Wellness, it will be a sanctuary that offers wellness programs to the community — and will be the site in early August of the Vermont Be True Yoga Festival.
"I was asleep, not listening to my body telling me to do the things that I love," Wes says. "I'm actually alive now."