Deepen Your Learning, Look for a Yoga Mentor | The Driven Yogi

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There are so many things I love about yoga, but my favorite part is that I am constantly growing and learning on and off of my mat. I credit most of this growth to the fact I have a yoga mentor. 

As yoga teachers, many of us look to books, advanced trainings, and one off retreats to help us learn. While these are all important, I think it's even more important to have a consistent face-to-face mentor – someone to throw ideas off of, question the sequences you’ve come up with, and be a sounding board for class ideas or other yoga subjects in general.

I was doing all of the things above when I started teaching, but an awkward encounter with a student convinced me it was time to look for a more experienced teacher to be my yoga mentor. 

I had just finished teaching my regular Sunday class and a student came up to me to ask about ways to make a certain pose feel better in their body. Admittedly, I was stuck. I had no idea how to answer their question! I fumbled around asking them if this and that felt better, and then finally I had to say 'let me get back to you on this.' That’s when I knew having a go-to, experienced teacher to ask questions to would be beneficial, not only for me, but for my students, too. So, I started my yoga mentor search.

I tried new classes and teachers, but I wasn’t feeling a spark or a connection with any of them. Their classes were great, but I was looking for something deeper. I found it when I took a class from Whitney Walsh - a very popular and knowledgeable teacher in the Bay Area. The first time I attended her class I was blown away. I was mentally engaged the entire class, she explained alignment and body movement in ways I had never heard before, and she made anatomy make sense - I simply HAD to learn more from her.

Before asking her if she did mentorships, I was admittedly intimidated. Her classes were intense, and her knowledge was so vast, I didn’t know if she would have the time or interest in being a mentor - I was so wrong. Whitney is the type of teacher who immerses herself in yoga, and by simply talking with her, you can see the excitement it gives her when someone else is excited about it, too.

We set up a time to meet and discuss what my goals were. And thus began our yoga relationship. Since our mentorship started, my classes have noticeable improved, and my class numbers have increased too! All mentorships are different, but ours looks like this: 

I take at least two of her classes a week

The first class is just for me to deepen my own practice as a student. In the second class, I practice and take notes if I have any questions on the sequence. I write down questions like, "what did you mean when you said this" or "why did we do this pose after that pose." After class we discuss my questions.

I get assignments once a week

Whitney will send me assignments through email and I spend the week answering the question(s) - and boy, are they CHALLENGING. Questions include different cues I would give in a pose for better alignment, or how I could give the same cue for varying levels. 

More assignment questions!

Once I send Whitney my assignment, she will respond and ask more questions when necessary to really challenge my thinking. I'm constantly doing mental gymnastics, but I know this will help me become a better teacher in the long run.

We have a sit down meeting once a week

After I take one of her classes, we meet to discuss any questions I have about the previous week. Or we go over the sequences that I recently taught to see how they can be improved.

I think it’s important to mention that even though Whitney is a very experienced teacher, she herself has a teacher – the world-famous Annie Carpenter. On mentoring, Whitney says:

Before we are teachers we are students. By being dedicated and disciplined yoga students we are given the opportunity to step into the role of yoga teacher. The standard understanding of a yoga teacher is someone who teaches how to do the physical act of yoga (asana/yoga poses).  My yoga teacher definitely teaches me how to do poses better, but more importantly, she is my mentor because she teaches me how to do life better. She holds me accountable for watching after my hamstrings as much as she holds me accountable for taking care of my heartstrings. She makes time for me because I put the time in with her. She offers me advice based on experience and wisdom that can only be gained from years on the planet. I will not always need my teacher in the capacity that I do now. I do believe the ultimate teacher is the yoga, but for now, my mentor helps me understand the lessons yoga offers me.

Do you have a yoga mentor? If so, what does the mentorship look like and how has the mentorship helped improved your own practice?