Last night, I was Facebook chatting with a woman I have gotten to be friends with here in Seattle. She’s about a decade younger than me, has been teaching yoga for about a year or two and has a beautiful practice. I can tell she is devoted to her practice and all that yoga has to offer. She told me about having to give up a class at a studio due to scheduling and how humbled she was by this experience. I shared with her that this is not an uncommon thing to have to change gears at a moment’s notice. It made me think of all the times I was forced to give up classes due to scheduling, all the times I was replaced on the schedule, all the times I was fired. It made me realize how lucky I was to have mentors to discuss these growing pains.
In the rush to make more money, to churn out more yoga teachers, to come up with the next new “big” thing, the yoga community has lost sight of what I consider to be an essential part of the journey of becoming a yoga teacher – mentorship. I am less than one week away from embarking on a year-long mentorship/advanced teacher training with Noah Maze in Los Angeles. I have been teaching coming up on a decade now, and I am so excited to have the opportunity to be mentored again by Noah. I know his teachings, his experience, his deep dedication to the practice of yoga, will help me gain more insight into where I am going with my teaching in this next decade and beyond.
When I did my first 200-hour teacher training in Chicago at Moksha Yoga Center, I was excited to learn that part of the program was two 10-class apprenticeships with a teacher of our choice. For my first apprenticeship, I studied with Rich Logan, with his deep anatomical knowledge and extensive study in the Iyengar method. It was Rich who encouraged me to seek out Gabriel Halpern, who became one of my biggest influences in my teaching career. Rich gave me the opportunity to put my hands on his student’s bodies and trusted me to even teach them a pose in every class. It was his trust in me that gave me confidence to take those first steps into the role of teacher, when I was still young and unsure of myself (or wondering, what the hell am I doing?) . For my second apprenticeship, I went in a different direction and studied with Rebecca Bell, a vinyasa teacher with strong roots in the Ashtanga system. Rebecca and her husband Keith spent many years studying with Richard Freeman in Boulder. Rebecca’s clear, concise cuing and attention to detail even in the midst of a strong flow, helped me to recognize that the practice of Vinyasa was much more than just movement. That Vinyasa yoga required intelligence, breath, and a deep internal awareness that required refinement over years of practice. I saw that refinement and dedication to practice in Rebecca and was so grateful for her willingness to share it with me.
A few years down the road, it was my turn to step into that role of mentor. I remember when my student Angela asked if she could apprentice with me in my 10am Vinyasa class on Tuesday mornings. I was so honored, humbled and thrilled to share my love of yoga and teaching with her. It was an amazing experience. I went on to have several more teacher trainees apprentice with me over the years, and I was so eager to share with them all that I know. To give them an opportunity to teach, to learn, to adjust and to just get more comfortable in the role of teacher. The mentor/mentee relationship is deep, rich, complex and so rewarding on both ends. It’s something I miss greatly about teaching in Chicago and being involved in a yoga school like Moksha that is dedicated to producing skilled teachers of the highest integrity.
The chance to have this experience, to connect and share and support new teachers, is something I see as missing from so many teacher trainings. It’s almost like a mill – feed information, teach poses, teach how to create good playlists and then send them out the door. Where is the connection to community? The connection to people as more than just a physical body, but recognizing that students walk in the door with much more baggage than just physical issues? New teachers need to be nurtured, to be reassured that they are not alone in the experience. And we need to, as a community of teachers, step in and support these new teachers. Hell, we teachers need to support each other and not view one another as competition, but as collaborators in this practice of yoga. And that will (I can only hope) help those who are struggling through the muck and mire and glory of teaching yoga, realize they are not in this alone.