If you’re like most yoga teachers, you’re pretty much out there on your own. No line managers, no mentor, no colleagues. Just you, taking yoga to the world. While that might be OK for a while, in long term, that’s bad news for both you and your students.
Why? Because you are not as resilient, impartial, skilled or well balanced as you think you are. Nobody is. That’s why most professionals working in the ‘helping’ industries have mandatory mentoring, supervision or other mechanisms for looking after themselves and their clients.
As a psychotherapist, I have to undertake regular supervision to help me stay on track. My training has shown me that, despite what I might believe, there are times when I can’t see the wood for the trees. I do things which, from the objective point of view of a supervisor, are clearly not effective. Perhaps I get close to burn out (and usually can’t tell until it’s too late). Maybe I’m getting too emotionally involved with a client. Or perhaps I’m struggling to deal with a client who I find triggering, but, until I talk it through with a supervisor, I think I’m coping just fine.
Yoga teachers are no different. And that’s doubly true if you’re working as a yoga therapist. You are coming into close contact with people who have physical, mental and emotional health issues. They’re relying on you to help them. They’re projecting their stuff on to you. You’re projecting your stuff on to them (if you don’t think you’re doing that, you pose an even greater risk of unintentional harm to you and your students). Where do you go to get the professional support you need to work in a way that offers your students the best possible results while keeping you healthy and happy?
The answer is professional mentoring - it should be an integral part of all professional yoga training programs as well as a key component of every yoga teacher’s ongoing development. Here’s why.
4 Reasons Mentoring is Vital for Yoga Teachers
1. Professional and personal support
Studying and teaching yoga is challenging. A good teacher is constantly challenging themselves to develop their own understanding and practice of yoga and then find ways to share that understanding with their students. This can be emotionally and physically demanding. It can also be triggering – yoga can bring up a lot of buried feelings. An experienced mentor will support you to work through these experiences. She’ll help you to translate your personal learnings into relevant teaching practice to benefit your students.
2. Profound, experiential learning
You can read books, watch videos and attend trainings. But none of that really helps unless you are using what you learn in ways that are meaningful for you and your students. For example, I recently mentored a teacher who had changed her diet and personal yoga practice after attending a workshop on Ayurveda. She’d identified her dosha as Vata type and adapted her daily routine to balance Vata. However, despite following the advice from the workshop, she was still experiencing health problems. When we explored her Ayurvedic constitution a little more, it transpired that while she was certainly Vata dosha, she also had a Pitta imbalance. The heating foods and practices she’d been doing to balance Vata had been aggravating Pitta. Through the mentoring process, this teacher was able to gain a deeper understanding of Ayurveda and her own constitution and develop a more nuanced program that supported her health more effectively. Just attending workshops or reading books isn’t enough if you aren’t learning to apply your studies in relevant and personalised ways.
3. Managing challenging students
Every yoga teacher meets a challenging student or two during their career. Whether it’s somebody with a complex health issue, a student with a quirky personality or just somebody who presses your buttons, a mentor can be a valuable resource. I once worked with a teacher who found that she was spending nearly 3 hours per session with one of her private yoga therapy clients. The client was in very poor health and the teacher wanted to support them as best they could. However, after a few months, the teacher began to feel uncomfortable with the amount of (mostly unpaid) time she was giving this student but didn’t know how to change the situation. Through a process of exploring the intentions, fears and student-teacher dynamics that had built up around the relationship, the teacher was able to formulate some clear boundaries around her interaction with this client and make changes that were healthier for both her and the client.
4. Be a student (again)
Have you noticed how you stop being a yoga student once you're out teaching all the time? One of the great joys of working with a mentor is the opportunity to have your own personal yoga teacher! During the Adore Yoga Therapy programs, yoga teachers become clients as they undergo professional yoga therapy sessions as part of the course mentoring program. Not only do participating teachers receive a practice designed to meet their individual health needs, they get to experience the process that a highly skilled yoga therapist goes through in order to assess and support a client. This is a valuable experience for a teacher who’s learning to offer yoga therapy themselves. If you’re not on the receiving end of treatment, it’s very hard to know how to deliver it!
Mentoring offers enormous benefits for yoga teachers. Your skills will increase. Your confidence will grow. Your capacity to help others will expand. And you’ll have a supportive, consistent relationship with an experienced yoga teacher who will have your back. That’s invaluable. When you’re considering professional development training, make sure you choose a program that offers high quality, structured mentoring. And even if you’re not undertaking professional training, reach out to a senior teacher you resonate with and take the first steps towards building a nurturing, productive and healthy professional mentoring relationship. You and your students will be glad you did.
Learn about Adore Yoga's Online Mentoring Program here.
Nikola Ellis is the founder of Adore Yoga, yoga therapist, counsellor and teacher trainer. She conducts regular trainings that help people of all ages, shapes and abilities enjoy the benefits of yoga and meditation, including Meditation Facilitator Certificate Trainings; Level 1 200hr Teacher Training and Post Graduate Yoga Teacher Training in Mental Health, Adaptive Asana and the Foundations of Yoga Therapy and a highly regarded professional 650hr Graduate Certificate of Yoga Therapy.