Mentoring with Your Primary Teacher

What is Mentoring?

Mentoring is defined as the process in which an experienced veteran helps to guide someone looking to deepen their training or knowledge. True mentoring is an extended, confidential relationship between two people who have mutual growth and success as common goals.  The role of the mentor is to be a primary teacher and to enable students to think and learn from their own actions in critical situations, so that they can change their behavior in the future, or at least draw some lessons from it.  Mentoring relations play an important role in helping students reflect on their learning and mistakes, and to develop successful strategies that are informed by these experiences.

A Mentor is a personal teacher in whom you can place your implicit trust. The word comes from the character in The Odyssey written around 700 B.C. In the story, Ulysses entrusts his son Telemachus to his good friend Mentor before leaving on a trip. Mentor was to be responsible for Telemachus’ education and the development of his identity in the adult world. Mentoring is, in its essence, a mutual relationship. 

Why is Mentoring Important in Yoga?

Yoga is a practical, experiential teaching (an anuśāsanam): we are given things to do – a practice, study of texts, tasks or experiences to do, and so on – and it is through the doing of these things that understanding develops.  The Mentor does not give advice – we learn through practicing yoga; the primary teacher merely guides the practice.  On every level – physical, mental and emotional – we are patterned.  One of the main roles of the Mentor is providing ongoing guidance for the student’s daily practice.  Each of us has our own personal histories and preferences through which we have developed layers of habits.  If we choose for ourselves how and what to practice, it is likely that we will continue to reinforce the patterns that are already dominant in us.  This is why a reliable outside reference who knows us well is so useful and essential for the true practice of yoga.  Our relationship with our Mentor, and their guidance, can help us to identify detrimental patterns and begin to change them by developing a different set of positive patterns. 

This does not mean that we give up our power to the Mentor, nor that we blindly follow what he or she is asking us to do.  It does mean that we have the humility to recognize that we don’t know everything, and the wisdom to ask for help.  It means that we work to build a relationship of trust and respect between ourselves and our Mentor. 

Ideally, the Mentor relationship opens for the student the possibility of experiencing life in a way that leads to the kind of understanding described in the Yogasūtra.  This applies especially to experiences of suffering, such as illness, emotional pain, and the facing of difficult situations in life.  A certain closeness develops between Mentor and student as they relate in the setting of these difficult experiences.  And yet it is not friendship nor is it psychotherapy & it maintains the Code of Ethics followed by the Yoga Well Institute.

There are many positive impacts from the mentoring relationship.

Benefits for the student include:

  • Improved performance
  • Improved knowledge and skills
  • Greater confidence
  • Empowerment and well-being
  • Improved job satisfaction and motivation;
  • Faster learning and enhanced decision-making skills
  • Improved understanding of one’s activities
  • Improved creativity and innovation
  • Encouragement of positive risk-taking

Benefits to the mentors include:

  • Improved performance through enhanced understanding and knowledge
  • Increased professional activity
  • Increased idea-generation and knowledge enhancement
  • Enhanced confidence and job satisfaction
  • New knowledge and skills
  • Fulfillment of human psycho-social needs
  • Rejuvenation and improved motivation

How is Mentoring done at Yoga Well?

The Mentor-Student relationship covers three main areas:

  • Oversight and guidance of the student’s personal practice.  Designing and teaching the student’s personal practice; adjusting and developing the practice over time.  The function of the practice will vary from time to time with possible purposes including therapeutic (cikitsa yoga), or an experience of something specific, and discussing the experience of the practice to aid in digesting those experiences
  • Developing the student to be an effective practitioner.  Applying principles of yoga in daily life, and guidance on how to apply tools in response to personal situations, and suggesting training a student might take.  Putting a student in touch with professional opportunities and by making introductions to key people in the field
  • Serving as an example: Inspiring confidence in the path of yoga.

All three of these areas should be integrated with one another.  The Mentor helps the student connect the teaching of yoga with their personal practices and daily life.


The developmental functions provided by mentoring fall into two categories: professional functions that enhance the learning of skills and knowledge required to succeed and personal implementation, such as those aspects that enhance a sense of competence, clarity of identity and effectiveness as a yoga teacher. The Yoga Well Institute is very diligent in connecting the right Mentor with each individual student. If, at anytime, you feel as though this is not a suitable connection, please connect with our student liaison to let them know. 

Mentor Responsibilities

1. Guide the student’s personal practice:  Get to know the student, understanding their needs, the main obstacles/issues of their life, knowing what the student holds as valuable and what the students goals are, both for yoga and life.  Care about the student, their wellbeing, and desire good for them; be readily available for the student (within reason); observe the structure and capacities of the students body, then creating and teaching the student appropriate yoga practices to help the student, come out of pain and develop the flexibilities & strengths required by their daily life; and observe the student’s interactions with others to get a sense of how the person communicates, and to deepen the understanding of what the student’s emotional, mental and behavioral structures are, then creating and teaching the student appropriate yoga practices.

2. Guide the development of the student as a practitioner. This includes reviewing the student’s work with clients and practices taught, discussing the student’s clients with them and overseeing the development of their functional group and providing feedback on all of the above.

3. Serve as a guide helping the student to navigate the difficulties that arise in the implementation of yoga in their daily life.  For example, help the student to apply a yoga lens to what is happening in their life, so that the information being studied is translated and applied to events in their life.  This means explaining yoga concepts using the events of the student’s life, or vice versa.  They may also encourage the student to utilize yoga tools in their responses to life situations, i.e. helping the student to apply yoga concepts/practices as solutions to actual events of their life, thereby really experiencing how yoga applies.  Most of all, they will be an example of the principles in action – i.e. mentors are expected to walk the walk, not just talk the talk!!