The agreement specifically details how much time the mentor is to spend with the student and in what capacity.
“It’s very organized, but it’s driven by the art of it,” Friend says. “Mentors do it for the delight and enjoyment and beauty of it. The heart’s got to go first, and the mental and physical parameters are to serve the heart.”
To Mentor or Not to Mentor
Anusara mentors must be certified Anusara teachers who display humility, dedication, compassion, fluidity, passion, and intellectual capacity. Friend assesses potential mentors’ skills as teachers and their passion for yoga before he appoints them in the role.
Since he personally assesses each candidate, John Friend must have contact with every certified Anusara teacher. He will have had extensive contact with someone before he appoints him or her a mentor.
But since most schools of yoga take an informal approach to mentorship, it is often left up to the teacher to decide when the time is right to take on a protégé. How do you know if you’re ready to be a mentor?
The timing is different for every teacher. Ideally, when the teacher is experienced enough to lead with conviction and confidence, and has the time and energy to devote to training an apprentice, he or she is ready to take on the mentorship role.
It’s important to realize that experience, confidence, and even the desire to mentor aren’t always enough. Although Natasha Rizopoulos is a distinguished Ashtanga teacher, she chooses not to have classroom assistants, because she doesn’t have time in her busy schedule.
“It’s a relationship you need to invest in and cultivate,” says Rizopoulos. “I feel like the assistants would do better to be with someone who had the time.”
The way you treat multiple assistants, if you have them, is also important. Matt (not his real name), a San Francisco-based teacher, says he began to feel slighted by his mentor when he noticed that the teacher seemed to give more attention and direction to those assistants who had studied with him the longest, creating a political hierarchy and tension among the assistants.
A good rule of thumb, says Briggs, is to make sure you’re not spreading yourself too thin by taking on more assistants than you have time to train, and to do your best to provide your assistants equal attention. He suggests that new mentors work with only one assistant at a time to ensure a quality training experience.
And although mentoring can be invigorating, don’t take on an apprentice when you feel your teaching has gone flat, cautions Briggs. “When your teaching is stale, you need to go back into your practice,” he says. A lackluster attitude is not a quality you want to pass on to the next generation of teachers.
It’s also true that the best mentor is not necessarily someone who has all the answers. Instead, it’s the teacher who has a passion for yoga, and a desire to share that passion, who makes the most effective role model. You don’t have to consider yourself an expert teacher to take someone under your wing and pass along what you know.
“It’s humbling and takes more bravery to not have an answer,” says Morrice, who respects Lasater for engaging her students in conversations on topics that don’t have clear conclusions.
Ultimately, the best mentors tend to be those who see the role as a service to the yoga community, rather than as a chance to feel important or disperse their workload. Morrice now has assistants of her own, and she sums up the experience this way: “I was given a gift. I’m just happy to pass that gift along.”
Erica Rodefer is Yoga Journal‘s Web Editorial Assistant.