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The Gift of Mentoring

Mentoring a beginning yoga teacher can enhance your teaching skills as well as serve the yoga community. But are you ready?

By Erica Rodefer

For yoga teacher Jennifer Morrice, finding a mentor teacher was like falling in love.

"It's like when you find that person you want to marry," Morrice says. "Everything about it was just right."

Just as falling in love changes your outlook on life, finding a mentor teacher often changes a new yoga teacher's outlook on the practice.

Morrice was on the road to becoming an active asana teacher when she met Judith Hanson Lasater. "When I found Judith and restorative [yoga], it bulldozed everything else out of the way," Morrice says.

That was almost seven years ago, and she's been teaching restorative classes near her home in San Francisco ever since.

Enhance Your Teaching

It's no secret that yoga class assistants benefit from assisting seasoned, knowledgeable yoga teachers. But mentors often find that the relationship fosters their growth as teachers as well.

Tony Briggs, an Iyengar teacher who has been mentoring for 15 years, sees the relationship as positive for everyone. He gets help in his class, the assistants get experience and guidance, and his students get extra attention and more personalized instruction.

Being a mentor forces teachers to hone their observational and communication skills because the focus is not just on the pose itself, but on how to help the students with the pose. "You see where your teaching goes wrong, and where you need to be clearer," says Briggs.

The process encourages mentors to rethink their teaching methods, because they get valuable feedback from experienced yoga practitioners who understand the message they're trying to relay.

Defining the Relationship

Having an apprentice or assistant also cultivates meaningful, long-lasting relationships with others who share an interest in teaching yoga. And unlike a strictly student-teacher relationship, the mentor-apprentice scenario allows for a closer, more intimate friendship.

The trick is to juggle the roles of friend and teacher in a way that doesn't hinder anyone from doing his or her job in the classroom—or blur the boundaries outside the classroom. The mentor-apprentice relationship has to take precedence over any tendency toward competition, business, or any other possible association.

The California Yoga Teachers Association spells it out in its Code of Professional Standards: "We make every effort to avoid dual relationships with [assistants] that could impair our judgment or increase the risk of personal and/or financial exploitation."

"It takes a lot of skill," says Briggs. "It's not always easy, and a lot of us learn the hard way. But your judgment gets better with experience."

Anusara Yoga founder John Friend hoped to help his teachers remain professional and clear about their relationships when he structured the Anusara mentorship program. In Anusara, a student must seek the guidance of a mentor of his or her choice in order to become a certified teacher. The relationship is solidified by a formal, written agreement so that there are no questions about what is expected from either party.

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