Masters of Yoga: Recent ATTC Graduates Share Their Stories
"I will admit that I was intimidated by the word advanced. Then I realized that what it really means is that it advances you."
They are called Masters of Yoga when they graduate from the Advanced Teacher Training Course (ATTC), and students who undertake the ATTC at the ashram have mastered complex postures and knowledge of ancient teachings by the time they graduate from the month-long program.
The title is bestowed on them, says senior teacher Shankara Chaitanya, because Swami Vishnudevananda believed that having something to aspire to would tap into an individual's inner strength. Through the long hours of teacher training, most ATTC graduates would agree.
As a teenager in Paris, Melanie Prudhomme (Shanti) had a practice in asanas (postures) and pranayama (breathing) but without a spiritual component. Ten years ago, she began work at the United Nations headquarters in New York, in human rights and development. "I felt lucky to work for human rights and social justice and world peace," she said, "and I realized that all three are enshrined in this spiritual practice."
She earned her Teacher Training Certificate in 2012 at the Sivananda ashram in south India and began teaching at Sivananda in New York. Then she realized she wanted to reconnect with her practice and chose the ashram on Paradise Island. "This course is pure grace and has really changed me," she said. "It has pushed my limits."
She loved her Teacher Training Course (TTC) but loves this program even more, she says. "It cracks your heart wide open.”
"I will admit that I was intimidated by the word advanced," Shanti said. "Then I realized that what it really means is that it advances you!"
The ATTC program offers a four-week immersion into hatha yoga practice, the teachings of Bhakti, Jnana, Raja and Karma Yoga, and includes Sanskrit studies. Combined with the TTC, the student will have attained a 500-hour yoga certification.
While the TTC exposes students to the yogic lifestyle and teachings, giving them the tools to bring the lifestyle to others, the ATTC is more about deepening all these aspects on philosophical and practical levels, says Shankara Chaitanya. "This enhances their own spiritual practice and allows them to realize the length and breadth of yogic knowledge in all its aspects."
While the hatha yoga he teaches is considered more physical — asanas and pranayama — students work with subtle energies, he says, "to the point where we can control our mind. It's a ladder we climb to reach the heights of raja yoga, higher states of consciousness."
Reaching for higher states means a lot to Mallikarjuna Candela (Arjuna), who completed his TTC at the Bahamas ashram in 2012. A resident of New York City who had come to the U.S. from India to do a masters in software engineering, he has been teaching at The Ranch, the Sivananda ashram in upstate New York, where he had been practicing and doing karma yoga for eight years before his TTC accreditation.
The rest of the time, Arjuna worked on Wall Street in high-pressured jobs that came with their share of insecurity. Then he was unemployed, having a self-confessed midlife crisis, and realized he needed to surrender. "Yoga is about peace and dignity and grace," he said. "I was in a spin, not sure what to do."
Even though he got a job offer from JPMorgan Chase, where he is now technology vice president, he decided after six months to do the ATTC. "Only good can come of this," he said. "I am not focusing on a goal, which is like holding sand in your fist: the tighter you hold, the more it slips out."
Unlike the TTC, which was a shock because he hadn't known what to expect, Arjuna knew what this program was about. Still, he had to deal with his fears. "It's a process you can't think your way out of," he said. "You must work from 4:00am until evening satsang."
The group dynamic softened the process, he says. "Just a little pat on the shoulder gets you to the next thing. So many things I learned from my colleagues, each person bringing positives and negatives. It's very interesting how people bring their doshas — pitta, kapha and vatta — it’s really yogic knowledge in action."
The high spiritual energy in this program and throughout the ashram bolstered Arjuna. "And the teachers gave so much," he said, echoing Shanti's description of the level of teaching. For her, these are teachers "with a capital T, who are always there holding your hand, taking baby steps with you."
The teachers have put incredible love into sharing the wisdom, giving the best version of themselves, agrees a fellow ATTC student, a specialist in human behavior from South Africa. "They have held every student in a space beyond labels and allowed them to embrace the experience and challenges," she said.
The teachings, she says, "are like music notes that not everyone can decipher. Having gained this knowledge, I feel like I can play beautiful music."
All through the course, students learn how to go to deeper stages as they practice, says teacher Shankara Chaitanya. "In the asanas you're not only learning to be more flexible, the spiritual effect is that you can transcend body consciousness. The practice of asanas is a direct path toward meditation."
He recalls the students at the beginning of their asana practice and how they progressed until the end of the course, when they were being asked to hold positions for as long as 10 minutes. "The students who you might think would have no problem, a guys with muscles, say, should have been the first to do it. But other students without strength really had devotion and they held the 10 minutes. This is proof the inner practice affected the outer result."
He hopes these students have gratitude for the wonderful gifts they were given at this ATTC course. "I wish for them to be really good listeners, to have an inner and subtle perception of inner and outer life. Then you're not on the run. Slow down and a sense of gratitude comes.
“I'd like them to appreciate every inhalation they take.”
Interested? Find out more about the Advanced Teacher Training Course