Reflections on Teacher Training: The Grand Turtle by Emily Ostos

The Grand Turtle

I chose my Teacher Training location, as I have made many other decisions in life; on a whim. I had 3 personal requirements while Internet searching: 

  1. Must be in India. 
  2. Residential program - live, eat, breathe yoga.  
  3. Must have a healthy dose of both physical asana and philosophy. 

Early in my search, I stumbled upon the Sivananda Kutir in Netala, India - and made my decision immediately. A photo of the small ashram tucked along the Ganga River, in the foothills of the Himalayas, captured my heart. I did very little research about the Sivananda method, having been so excited that my first 2 requirements were met. The tuition was also incredibly affordable. Bonus!!

The journey to the ashram was long: an 18 hour flight, followed by a 4 hour taxi, then six hour group taxi with 5 other TTC students. 32 of us arrived from all over the world- US, India, Japan, Denmark, Germany, Brazil, Australia, England, China, and more. Upon initial meeting, we chat with nervous excitement. This will be my family for the next month. The first evening, we were shown a video about Swami Sivananda and Swami Vishnudevananda, the founder of International Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Centres. 

Swami Vishnudevananda was the flying swami who flew over the Berlin Wall during the 1980s,  carrying purple chrysanthemums - protesting hate with love. His plane was painted with flowers and peace signs. He was an activist and had a mission to create an army of Ambassadors of Peace. Having been a student of Swami Sivananda, he believed world peace began within the individual. By learning yoga- connecting mind and body, thought and action, breath and movement, one could achieve an inner peace to be taught to the masses, combatting the evils of war and greed.

The teacher training program was very, VERY Vedanta (spiritual philosophy) heavy. Hinduism is vast: the deities, incarnations, Vedas, Upanishads- it was a lot to take in and often, completely overwhelming. We had a class dedicated to the study of the Bhagavad-Gita, taught by a 95-year-old man who had been teaching the BG for over 70 years! My dorm mate, who was Indian, commented that it was silly for a westerner to even TRY to comprehend some of what was being taught! As someone who had grown up with Hinduism, it was even hard for her. I took in as much as I could process at the time, though it was only in the last week that I’d realize the Grand Turtle in my notes (I literally drew doodles of a turtle!) was actually my mishearing the Keralian accent of our guru... she’d been referring to the all encompassing Grand TOTAL. 

I felt a bit dissatisfied with the asana instruction and sequencing. I was not familiar with the Classic Sivananda Sequence, and found it unusual and choppy. Also, much of the instruction was problematic for western bodies, not always 100% bio-mechanically sound, and often laden with hyper-extension. However, this dissatisfaction led to my fascination with anatomy, physiology, and the study of healthier cuing. Once returning stateside I began a journey of self study, attending trainings online and in person, with renowned instructors, such as Sadie Nardini. Yoga continued to unfold before me. Every workshop, each virtual training course broadens the scope, while fine tuning the details.

I am grateful for my Sivananda training experience. It taught me a deep appreciation for the origins of yoga, and a healthy lesson in detachment to outcome and expectation. What a wild path it has been, and continues to grow and blossom! I am honored to share the oh-so-tasty fruit of this knowledge. 

Hilary Buckwalter Kesti