One thing that always interests me is that on completing a 200-hour foundational teacher training, or further advanced trainings, courses, and self-study, yoga practitioners are often left with a growing list of anxieties and perceived personal lacks — as opposed to diminishing them.
Partly, this is imposter syndrome that can permeate any field of life. However, teaching yoga has its own unique set of challenges that breeds such uncertainty.
This is largely why I developed the Nourish professional development and mentorship program — to address why yoga teachers are often plagued by professional uncertainty when navigating the broader contemporary culture of yoga that makes career security and growth so challenging. It’s also why it’s a mandatory part of our 300-hour advanced training, because the more you immerse yourself professionally in the field of yoga the more you need (and deserve!) a framework for personal flourishing and the skills to navigate the professional landscape.
A mentor for professional growth and development is beneficial, regardless of your career. But why specifically can yoga as a whole and yoga teachers as individuals benefit from mentorship?
Why Yoga Needs Mentors
I can think of few other careers that are dictated and skewed so heavily by social media. Social media can be an excellent resource and marketing platform for yoga teachers, but the hyper-visuality and performativity it breeds creates a hothouse of unhealthy comparison and the sense that we are missing an important skill or field of knowledge.
A mentor can help you weed out your own path and guide you in what makes a quality yoga teacher and teaching yoga a fulfilling career choice (your number of followers is not an adequate metric for this). But this is all part of a broader, more fickle problem. A problem which mentoring for yoga teachers is uniquely placed to address.
If you ever feel like teaching yoga is akin to the wild wild west, you are not far off the mark. Yoga is, by and large, unregulated, giving it an air of freedom that rapidly devolves into unqualified criteria for success, questionable teaching and marketing practices, and potential lawlessness. Although there are accreditation bodies, such as Yoga Alliance, these bodies do little to regulate yoga or hold it accountable for many of its issues — one such issue is the commodification of yoga, which, arguably, accreditation bodies are guilty of too.
A significant reason I advocate for mentoring in yoga is that it moves professional yoga from being unregulated to self-regulating.
Mentoring for yoga teachers encompasses not just professional growth and alignment with personal values, but can help foster greater accountability across the profession. Accountability and ethical self-regulation are important because it makes the profession safer for teachers and students. Mentorship for yoga teachers can help create a culture shift across contemporary yoga, moving the goalpost further from the appropriative-predatory-capitalistic side to the values of accessibility, respect, and well-being so many teachers and students strive for.
The Benefits of Mentoring for Yoga Teachers
Evolving your teaching practice with integrity, confidence, and professionalism are the key benefits of a mentorship program. Regardless of the stage you are at in your teaching career, a good mentor can help you to clarify your goals and values and bring insight, guidance, and structure to your ambitions.
The yoga world can shy away from talking about career goals and ambitions, tarnishing them as somehow egotistical, capitalistic, and therefore not aligned with yoga’s core teachings. This is a shame because, firstly, contemporary yoga is an industry — a perplexing one at times, but in order to progress with integrity we need to be able to operate within its confines whilst simultaneously improving on its existing culture. Also, growth, progression, and a sense of achievement are vital for stoking joy and fulfilment in any project you undertake — be that professional or personal.
A few times and ways mentorship can play an important role are outlined below.
There is an undeniable gulf between finishing your initial training and starting to actually teach. Teaching beyond the held space of your trainee cohort is as stressful as it is rewarding, as draining as it is joyful. Some teachers will quickly find their groove, and others will question their decision to teach at all.
A mentorship as you start building your teaching profile can give you a space to work through anxieties, make sure your burgeoning teaching practice aligns with your values, and help you from being exploited — you should be compensated somehow for any classes you teach. A mentorship can also help give a focus and space for reflection on your initial classes, which may help you grow quicker and more cohesively as a teacher.
Expand Your Offerings
If you have been teaching for some time, a mentorship can help either inform your next step for growth or guide you on the new offerings and paths you have recently embarked on.
A mentorship at any point in your yoga teaching career is invaluable, as it acts as a container for growth, catalysing the process of refining or expanding what you teach. Often our values and interests crystallise after a period of teaching, however, it can be hard to consciously pinpoint and articulate what your values are. A mentorship can help you define and refine your values and ambitions and assist you in making professional choices that align and enhance them.
One of the reasons community is at the beating heart of Nourish is that it is both the most essential and most difficult thing to come by as a yoga teacher. A solid community builds you up on the inside and allows you to be a part of something greater. Yet, as yoga teachers, we often fly solo, flit between studios, and rarely connect meaningfully with other yoga teachers. A mentorship may give you an intimate community where you connect deeply with your mentor, or it may offer a group experience. Nourish’s mentorship program consists of small groups (3 people + me) and one-to-one sessions with me. The group element gives you a small network focused on development and growth that you can continue to call on in the future if you so choose.
Accountability and Regulation
There is a lot that is troubling about contemporary yoga. All too often, practitioners feel powerless to elicit meaningful change, partly because beyond unenforceable codes of ethics, yoga has minimal regulation.
Mentorships are a way of establishing a meaningful self-regulatory framework for yoga teaching. They can help you to grow professionally in an ethical, non-exploitative way and help you facilitate change or address the issues you feel are most pertinent. Although there are limitations to any regulatory framework, a mentorship provides a space to reflect on and then action important ethical changes in the profession — whether that be regarding student accessibility, the elimination of appropriative practices, or better pay for teachers.
It’s significant to note that a majority of yoga practitioners who engage in harmful practices are unaware that they are doing so. Mentorships and communities that address systemic issues in contemporary yoga, such as the Yoga Teachers Union, help to create a much-needed culture change.
How to Find a Mentor?
Just as not all excellent yoga practitioners make good teachers, not all excellent yoga teachers will make a good mentor. This article from Forbes is a good starting point for considering what makes a great mentor, and how to determine whether you and a specific mentor will be a good fit.
Look for Mentorship Programs
Of course, it is easy for me to say this as this is something I offer, however, there are a few reasons why a formalised mentorship program works so well, which is why I developed a program, as opposed to just offering ad hoc mentorship services. A key benefit of a mentorship program is that it is purposely designed with a set of objectives to guide you through the process.
Nourish’s mentorship program has a clear set of reflective and practical tasks that correlate to both an individual’s interior and exterior development as a yoga teacher. Working in small groups provides a space to bring together different challenges, ideas, and points of view, which means mentees support each other, as well as being mentored by me.
Every mentorship program will be different, but they should have clear objectives that you can look over and see if they resonate with you. In general, mentorship programs are great if you are looking to enhance your professional growth in a clear, tested, and proven way over a set period.
Limitations of a mentorship program are usually around timing and flexibility. If you require something on a more ad hoc or on a longer-term basis, the structure of a program may feel limiting instead of directive. Also, do your research before you sign up for a program, particularly if you don’t know the organisation or your assigned mentor, it’s important that you get a genuine mentorship and not a flimsy scheme.
Approach a Teacher You Know and Respect
If there is a teacher you respect and admire, you can reach out to them to see if they offer or are open to mentoring you. Even though this may not have the formal arrangements of a mentorship program, it’s still helpful to set out objectives or specific challenges to work through in your mentorship meetings.
Hopefully, they have experience with mentorship, whether they have been mentored or have mentored others, so they can help guide you in your professional growth. Also, expect to compensate them. Money, or providing them with a reciprocal service, is an exchange of energy that marks your commitment to each other.
Screening your Mentors
Whether you opt for a program or an individual, there are certain things that ensure the mentorship relationship will be fulfilling and beneficial for you the mentee, and positive and worth the time for you and your mentor.
Do your values align? If you don’t have a personal relationship with your proposed mentor, the first thing is to weigh up whether you will be a good fit. For example, Nourish emphasises an inclusive, non-dogmatic, person-centred approach to yoga, social justice, evidence-based practices and critical thought, if these aren’t core values to your teaching then our mentorship program probably isn’t right for you.
Do you aspire to your mentor’s achievements? This isn’t about being a sycophant, but about whether your ideal professional journey fits with your mentor’s experiences. For example, are you looking to own or expand your own business? If so, does your mentor have experience with this? Are you looking to switch from part-time yoga teaching to full-time, or perhaps you need help establishing a better balance between teaching yoga and your other job/family/interests? Has your mentor’s journey involved a similar shift? Are you looking to write a book, offer video tutorials, develop a passive income? Has your mentor done this?
Are you emotionally complimentary? It’s important to stress that a mentorship is not therapy, and you shouldn’t seek (nor should your mentor offer) in-depth psychological support. However, if you are experiencing a mental health condition or have past experiences that are affecting your career path, is your mentor adequately knowledgeable and sympathetic enough to offer you a path and guidance that acknowledges your experiences? Similarly, if you have a disability, does your mentor have experience, training, or knowledge enough to help you navigate specific challenges?
Whether you know your mentor personally or not it’s helpful to arrange a call and discuss the dynamics of mentorship. This is something I do with most of my mentees — unless we already have a strong rapport — as it’s important to determine that we are the right fit for each other. If your proposed mentor says they don’t think you are a good fit, don’t take it as an insult or perceived failing — they are doing you a favour as they aren’t able to mentor you in the way you deserve.
Some practical questions to ask a proposed mentor:
- How much time will I need to invest and how much time will be invested in me?
- What are all the costs?
- How much experience do you have mentoring?
- If you know you might require flexibility, ask whether that is an option.
- If you have a specific goal, challenge, or health condition, ask whether your mentor has experience with that. Don’t be afraid to probe and ask specific scenario questions if needs be. It’s important that your mentor is able to support you.
Is a Mentorship Right for Me?
I urge you not to jump into a mentorship. There is a great irony in the fact that yoga is a practice intended to encourage mindfulness and deep reflection, and yet frequently, people scramble to sign up for courses, trainings, or invest in books, unnecessarily.
If you are feeling a little lost in your yoga teaching journey, a mentorship can be the greatest help or the greatest hindrance. Before you embark on finding a mentor take some time to journal or reflect on how a mentorship could help you. The more coherently you can express your difficulties, and the more concrete your objectives the better. Remember, a mentor can offer guidance and insight, but ultimately, you will be making all the changes.
Sit with it. If you still feel like you can benefit from mentorship in a week, month, or year, that is a good sign that you are ready for mentoring.
Be prepared to take your time to find the right mentor. Reach out to mentoring programs and teachers and ask them questions about what mentorship they can offer you. Comparing what is available gives you both an indication of what may be the best fit for you and how developed any mentorship program is.
Undoubtedly, the cost can be prohibitive, and it’s not worth it if you can’t afford it. Financial investments often come with a sting, but they should never physically hurt your or your dependents’ mental or material well-being.
If you have the financial means, remember that a mentorship (and any yoga training course) is an investment. An investment, by definition, is the act of putting in money, time, and energy with the intention to profit off of it. You must define what a profit looks like to you; is it linked to finances and the hope of expanding your offerings? Is it related to knowledge, joy, confidence, or community? Your metric for measuring what you would like from investing in a mentorship doesn’t need to be financial (although it may well be, and that is fine) but having an idea of what you want to receive from it can help keep you focused and inspired.
Hopefully, this has given you food for thought regarding the importance of mentorship for yoga teachers. If you would like to know more about Nourish’s mentorship program then don’t hesitate to get in touch or drop any questions in the comments below. If you are looking for some more insight to ground you in your yoga teaching our blogs on yoga and healing and deepening and developing as a yoga teacher may give you some guidance.