50 Years Ago

50 Years of the Sivananda Yoga Teachers’ Training Course 1969 – 2019

Countless thousands of graduates are now teaching throughout the world, trained by this course. Through this vast network of yoga teachers the social fabric is changing.
––Professor Dr John Rossner

Vision of a World Engulfed in Flames

The unsettling vision of a world engulfed in flames that Swami Vishnudevananda had experienced whilst meditating at the Sivananda Ashram Yoga Retreat in the Bahamas became the catalyst for the conception of the TWO, (True World Order) a mission to bring peace to the world. The first programme of TWO was the Sivananda Yoga Teachers’ Training Course, whose stated purpose was to train future leaders and responsible citizens of the world in techniques to finding peace.

He knew that men and women with minds and emotions controlled were needed to create a peaceful society and that this could be achieved through yoga and meditation. He knew how difficult it was to check the emotions and be selfless in thought and action without training. He saw that even if a glimpse of the peace and happiness which true yogis enjoy could be brought to people in all walks of life, that attitudes and values within society would change for the better. Swamiji started the first course in 1969––the first of its kind to be established in the West––in the ashram in Val Morin in Quebec, Canada, training people from all over the world, from all walks of life, all different types of people.

He saw the whole world as his family and he felt the need to help his family towards peace. He modelled the course on the programme of the Yoga Vedanta Forest Academy of his master Swami Sivananda and formalised the ancient traditions of yoga under his instructions and blessings. In his earlier years Swami Vishnudevananda had been one of the principle professors at the Vedanta Forest Academy, an educational institute within Swami Sivananda’s ashram in Rishikesh.

Beginning of the TTC

The Sivananda Teachers’ Training Course was developed as an extension of that educational programme. It was based on the training Swamiji himself received under his master over a period of ten years. The course was designed to be intensive, immersing the students in a balanced programme of yogic theory and practice for all-round physical, mental, and spiritual development. He saw that every teacher would be able to carry forward the teachings to create a world order where peace prevailed. He created the 6-week course (now 4 weeks) as a complete 24-hour practical approach to the yogic way of life.

Ruby Blue, later known as Swami Niladeviananda, and a close disciple of Swami Vishnudevananda talks in the film In the Name of Peace: “Why did Swamiji start the Teachers’ Training Course? Swami Vishnu could not NOT start the Teachers’ Training Course. It was all part of the programme. He had to plant the seed. That seed was the Teachers’ Training Course. Not only did Swamiji connect his teacher trainees to his master, Swami Sivananda, God Itself if you wish, but he connected us to one another. Because when we’re in the Teachers’ Training Course we have more nationalities, more flavours than Baskin Robbins ice-cream!! There are people from every corner, every part of the world.”

Swami Vishnudevananda devised a structure for teaching yoga that was easy to understand and simple to practise at home. He took yoga out of the arcane and brought it into the mainstream. His motto was ‘Health is Wealth. Peace of Mind is Happiness. Yoga Shows the Way’. In describing the teachings of yoga Swami Vishnudevananda said: There is a particular need for yoga today. The stress and tension of life is often beyond the ordinary human being’s control.

So many millions of people are living on tranquillisers, sleeping pills, alcohol, junk food, pills and more pills. They are unable to cope with the stress. Yoga helps to bring stress under control, not only on a physical level but on a mental and spiritual level as well. Even when a person has a job and a certain amount of physical and financial security still there is a vacuum, a feeling of emptiness within. This vacuum is caused by a lack of inner peace, due to a lack of discipline, too much stimulation, excitement. Television, bars, advertising… all these excite, excite.

‘Yoga’ means union, and shows us how to unite all our life forces, our mental forces, our rational and abstract thought by directing them INWARD. The goal is happiness and happiness lies within. You can go anywhere in the world, to night clubs and restaurants, to London or Paris and still not find happiness. If happiness were to be found in Paris then all Parisians would be happy. If happiness is at home with the family then you must all be happy—but are you? It doesn’t matter what your living conditions are. Happiness does not exist outwardly, even in an ashram. Happiness lies within.

A World in Crisis reflecting the Collective Consciousness

The world crisis is but a reflection of the chaotic state of the collective consciousness. The most positive action we can perform to contribute to the momentous task of bringing our planet back into balance is to start changing ourselves. Positive, focused thoughts are much more powerful than negative, confused thoughts. No external technology can control surging emotions and imaginations. No type of alcohol, drugs or anything else can offer a long-term solution to endemic mental weakness. These chemicals destroy not only the bodies and minds of the users, but also those of their offspring, creating genetic disturbances and unbalancing the mental vibration. Real peace comes only to those who can control the body and mind with proper self-discipline.

Yoga is a complete science of self-discipline. Yoga balances, harmonises, purifies and strengthens the body, mind and soul of the practitioner. It shows the way to perfect health, perfect mind control and perfect peace with one’s Self, the world, nature and God. I have studied the mind since I was 17. Watching how it reacts to life in a cave, to wandering as a penniless monk, to people throwing stones and spitting at me, to days of constant meditation, asana, pranayama. And, in contrast, how it reacts to sitting in a Maharajah’s palace. I have achieved a certain state of peace and I know that it can be achieved by everyone, even if the advanced stages of yoga are beyond them. By closely observing the life-style and needs of modern men and women I have synthesised the ancient wisdom of yoga into five basic principles which can be easily incorporated into everyone’s own pattern of life.

Yoga is a life of self-discipline built upon the tenets of simple living and high thinking. If you follow the five points of yoga which compose a holistic approach to our whole system of body, mind and soul, you will gain strength and balance to face this life. When body, mind and soul are healthy and harmonious the higher mind can easily triumph over the vicious instinctive lower mind. Obstacles become stepping stones to success and we begin to understand that life is a school for the development of character, compassion and realisation of the divine all-pervading Self. You will gain a new angle of vision of health and positivity.

Heal your Body & Mind – Heal the Planet

If you can heal your own body and mind you will be capable of healing and taking care of the planet. I have been religiously true to the ancient teachings of all forms of yoga. I have invented nothing new, only presented this perfect science of self-development in a form comprehensible for an analytically-minded era. At the end of every Teachers’ Training Course, once the final exam had been completed, Swami Vishnudevananda would present graduation certificates at the evening satsang. He would tell the students the importance of practising what they had learned and to become yoga teachers in the true sense of the word and not merely “yoga preachers.”

He would inspire them to take this knowledge with them and to help humanity in any way they could. He would say about the course, In our training courses we may not yet feel the presence of God, we may not yet experience Him, but we begin to understand the process of doing so. We begin to see how much we can do, but also how much has to be done. We recognise that we are on the right path, that we have a better knowledge about ourselves, that we can manage better our own physical, mental and spiritual energy. We are better equipped for life. Eventually, if we continue for long enough and with enough determination and faith we become saintly.

The Sivananda Teachers’ Training Course laid the cornerstone for the systematic spread of yoga in the West.