about advantages of mentorship for yoga instructorsBy Kathryn Boland

What are the advantages of mentorship for yoga instructors? In addition to being a yoga teacher, I am also in graduate school for Dance/Movement Therapy. In the field, consistent supervision with a qualified professional is not only advised – it is most often required to practice. Guidance from another wise individual is not a foreign concept in yoga, as I am sure you as a qualified teacher are aware; swamis and gurus handed down the practice to those eager to learn from them, resulting in yoga surviving to be the practice we know it as today. Some yoga instructors continue this tradition through often seeking wisdom from a trusted mentor and/or colleague instructors. Novice teachers also often commonly learn from more experienced teachers through “assisting” their classes – helping out by demonstrating, performing physical assists/cueing, and the like.

On the other hand, some yoga instructors pass up the opportunity to learn and grow as teachers and leaders in the practice by keeping their challenges, curiosities, and accomplishments to themselves. Given that there are many different online and text resources promoting certain beliefs and practices, in those cases misinterpretation can easily occur. Without questions for and face-to-face guidance from more qualified and knowledgeable instructors, a novice teacher could share a certain view with his or her students, or a certain modification or sequencing style, that could be inaccurate and even physically injurious for them to carry out.

For instance, I have found that I took a certain way of transitioning to one asana to another, or manner of moving into and remaining in one, to be accepted knowledge – only to have one or more experienced teachers tell me that those firmly-believed concepts of mine are not right for certain students or even not advisable (for whatever reason), period. I have thankfully never had a student injure him or herself under my instruction, but that could have certainly easily occurred since without those instructors’ warnings.

I only wish that I had sought that same guidance sooner if I was unclear on any particular transition or sequencing style, rather than accepting something as truth that is not. This preventative guidance can be even more necessary when working with specific populations with characteristics and needs calling for extra care and attention. For instance, Jessica Knochel, 200 Hr instructor and R-DMT (Registered Dance/Movement Therapist), describes how “I teach women suffering from disordered eating, substance abuse, depression, anxiety and trauma. Collaborating with my colleagues and supervisors with trauma training is vital in my development as a teacher and clinician.”

In other cases, I ask more senior instructors their views on something that I have heard divergent opinions on. For instance, I had heard both that is more important for the knees to remain grounded in the mat than the shoulders, as well as vice-versa, in Reclining Twist. I collected a few views on this and ultimately came to my own that would then guide my future instruction. In the end, I believe that the best judgments are made by following instinct and intuition after relevant information-gathering. The latter most effectively comes from curiously seeking the guidance and knowledge of those who are more experienced than oneself.

Mentors can also be a support system for those times when we experience the growing pains that come along with developing into more accomplished instructors. Joy Ruben, E-RYT 500 and R-DMT, describes how “I remember in my 500 hour training I was run down spiritually, emotionally, and physically. I was in the middle of the flame of transformation, and I wanted to flee! A 15 minute talk with a mentor was enough to heal my worries. Without that support, I may have given up.”

At other, less troubled times, mentors can be part of the informal socialization that can be sorely needed self-care for any and all of us. Knochel tells how those she and those she encountered in her teacher training “still text, call, Skype and email about our practice and the challenges that come up for us on and off the mat.” Formal or informal, in all different situations and for all different purposes, a helping hand is a helping hand and someone to listen is someone to listen. I think Ruben says it perfectly when she states that “mentors are valuable in all areas of life, and since we know that everything is connected, that means they are also valuable when it comes to teaching yoga”.

For all of those reasons, I advocate for every yoga instructor seeking guidance from another qualified professional on a consistent basis – as much as life’s inconsistencies and obstacles allow. So, there are advantages of mentorship for yoga instructors. Though such a consistent practice might seem difficult to maintain, there are methods to conveniently incorporate it into yoga instruction work. I’ll offer such concrete avenues in the second article in this series, so stay tuned!

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