Learn as a Group
I happened upon my first teaching gig—leading daily sunrise yoga classes at a raw food retreat center on a beach in Puerto Rico—serendipitously. When the resident teacher didn't return from his vacation on time, the director of the institute turned to me. "You do yoga," she said. "Can you teach?"
That first teaching experience helped me realize how much I actually knew about yoga, but I also recognized how little I knew about teaching. Even after finishing a 200-hour certification program, I still felt I needed to learn more about teaching methodology, so I enrolled in an advanced program. What drew me was the mentorship aspect of the curriculum. Each trainee chose a mentor, and over the next six months, the trainee assisted that mentor in a class once a week. It felt like an apprenticeship—which was what I craved and needed.
Some yoga teacher training programs include mentoring as part of their curriculum. Some schools offer mentor tracks that fill in the gaps of traditional teacher training, either during or after the training program. Some mentor groups are formal, with hefty fees; others are looser, informal networks of teachers who meet in person or even online. Still other teachers make themselves available as a form of karma yoga, or selfless service.
Enter Mentor Groups
Turns out I wasn't alone in my experience. Even after training, "I still felt like I was swimming in uncharted waters," says Stephanie Englebrecht, who teaches in Salt Lake City. "I definitely wanted a guide to help me choose where to go and what to do next."
Englebrecht joined a mentor group led by Scott Moore, who also teaches in Salt Lake City. Moore started a formal mentor group in April 2008 because teachers had been hiring him for private lessons to help them refine their teaching. "People had graduated from teacher training but didn't feel comfortable teaching," he says. "I remember being like that myself, and going to classes and analyzing what made a class choppy, or what made it flow well."
Moore thought a group would be beneficial, not only financially but energetically as well. Englebrecht agrees, noting that "as a group, we can talk about certain issues that we have faced in class and how to better prepare for certain situations in the future." Moore chooses themes for classes, such as anatomy, how to structure a class, or how to develop an effective yoga teaching business.
But besides mentoring, Moore has created a close-knit network of local teachers. "We're independent contractors, and rather than competing against each other, I thought we could benefit by coordinating with each other," he explains. He would send out regular emails to his mentees with potential corporate gigs, information from studios that were hiring, as well as substitute opportunities.
How to Find a Mentor
What if you don't live anywhere near a mentor program? Go online. When Nancy Alder got the idea of starting an online yoga book club, she had no idea it would attract people from all over the world. Or that most of them would be teachers—70 to 80 percent of the members are teachers or in training. "I feel like the teachers there have really opened doors for me about ways I approach my practice, and they have provided me with some fantastic ideas for teaching future classes," says Alder, who lives in Storrs, Connecticut. "I feel like I have a mentorship community online."
Fellow yogi and Twitter friend Jenny Naes helped Alder organize the Namaste Book Club. Naes teaches in Henderson, Kentucky, where there are not a lot of other yoga teachers for networking or mentoring opportunities. Naes chose the free online community site Ning to host the book club. Every Sunday, from 7 to 9 p.m. EST, teacher-members log in to chat. The group had an unexpected benefit for Naes, who was recovering from an injury when the club started. "I was starting to feel a little worthless, thinking, 'How can I teach when I can't even practice?'" she says. "Having those chats about what the core of yoga is helped me realize it's not about that physical practice."
Another option? Start your own group or class. You can charge a modest fee, like Moore does, or host a less formal get-together with local teachers. Moore recommends talking to teachers about the topics they'd like to cover, from anatomy to sequencing to hands-on adjustments. Then create a syllabus and plan what you want to cover. A syllabus creates a sense of continuity and momentum for the group. Letting people know what will be covered in future meetings keeps them coming back week after week, Moore says.
Sharing your experience and knowledge with other teachers is also good karma. "It is essential for 'senior' or more experienced teachers to share their knowledge," believes Darla Magee, a studio owner in Houston who has mentored other teachers throughout her career. "Kindness, love, and the ability to simply help another teacher be better is all good stuff."
Jodi Mardesich is a writer and yoga teacher living in Cedar Hills, Utah.