How to Keep your Mentees Engaged

Working as a mentor comes with its gifts and challenges. It’s heartening to be able to share what you have learned over many years of practice with another human being. It’s motivating to reflect on what has worked for you and what hasn’t in your teaching career. It goes without saying that students will come and go, but what do you do if a student signs up to mentor with you and then loses focus or leaves abruptly? How do you keep them engaged and wanting more? 

I never thought I’d be a yoga mentor, in fact I never thought I’d run my own teacher training. My plans as a yoga student were to devote myself to the practice and that was it. If one of my teachers hadn’t come up to me and invited me to teach at his yoga school or If I hadn’t been cornered by the studio I worked for in New York City to cofacilitate on a teacher training, I certainly wouldn’t feel ready to impart my experiences to newly trained teachers. 

I started teaching and teaching teachers before there were formal teacher trainings. I came to the job having been mentored. I spent a year assisting my teacher, carrying blocks, straps and mats and doing gentle shoulder presses on students in savasana. I watched, learned and listened and was full of gratitude. Gratitude that my teacher had taken me on as a trainee and that I could watch her every move. I was the first in line to sub for her when she was unable to teach and given priority to attend workshops with visiting teachers. 

Being mentored definitely morphed over the years. After leaving the safety of my apprenticeship in Australia (which eventually led to teaching teachers at Ishta Yoga in New York City) I was lucky enough to mentor with Ishta Yoga founder and resident yoga master, Alan Finger. 

This was not about learning how to teach, it was an immersion in how to deepen my own practice. I learned what sorts of routines and practices were right for my ayurvedic constitution, what mantras, mudras, meditations and breathing techniques would engender balance and how to transmit and share energy/prana with others. 

I clearly remember the day our mentorship ended. It was a bitter sweet moment where I was moving back to Australia and taking the teachings from the lineage with me. I knew I wouldn’t be able to meet in person with Alan every week or assist him in his classes, but I felt the tradition alive in me in a way that wasn’t there when we began our work together. I knew I was ready to move on because I felt equipped to deal with whatever might arise in my life as a yoga teacher trainer. I had a solid practice and understanding of yoga and by then had started mentoring newly trained teachers. 

Giving your mentees the gift of your time and hard-earned wisdom is priceless. That’s why it’s important that it’s a rewarding experience for both of you. Every situation is unique, but in general there are strategies that work to keep the mentoring exchange fresh and exciting. With that in mind here are my top strategies for keeping mentees engaged and there for the duration. 

Lead by example: 

Give your students parameters. How long will you work together? What are your expectations, what are theirs? Will you meet once a week, every fortnight or even once a month? Will you be available via text or phone for questions and support? And what are guidelines around payment and cancelation. Put all the housekeeping up front so they know your time is valuable. Being ambiguous around your commitment or what you expect of them can lead to inconsistency. You can be flexible and check in as you go along. Perhaps they booked in for six sessions but after three you realise you need to work together more, or they are improving in leaps and bounds and six sessions is too much. Write down your guidelines for working together. Send it to them and have them sign it. Also, be upfront about your fees and cancelation policy. If they miss a session how will you be compensated? How many times can they reschedule? This stuff may seem obvious, but lines can get blurred especially as you deepen your work together. Like any relationship as intimacy develops, we can tend to be more lenient. Sticking to your boundaries teaches them to build theirs. Lead by example. 

Inspire them to achieve outcomes prior to each mentoring session 

This is about accountability. You might be working together in person or online, whatever the format, give them tasks. i.e. specific ways they can assist you in class or an assignment around teaching their own classes. It might be keeping a journal of their personal practice that you have access too. Whatever the tasks make that the first order of business when you check in with them in subsequent sessions. If they know they have to complete a task before you meet it will inspire them to do it. And it’s a great way to have something to work on together. Leaving things open ended for sessions can be unproductive especially if a mentee struggles with motivation and focus. Knowing your students ayurvedic constitution can also be useful. If I know a student has a lot of vata in their system (air and space) I make sure not to overwhelm them with too many tasks. Instead I give them a very specific task and check in with them in between sessions to inspire them to stay on track. 

Practice makes perfect 

One of the biggest misnomers is the assumption that yoga teachers in training have a regular practice. Many new yoga teachers don’t have a fixed routine and prefer going to studio classes. Inspiring your mentee to build a home practice is the first step in self-empowerment. It’s on the mat that they can implement your suggestions, explore things they are learning or incorporate the deeper practices of yoga. In my own mentoring sessions, I share mantras and mudras and switch it up for each subsequent session. That keeps mentees engaged and excited. We also go through their home practice sequence and tweak it according to what’s flowing and what isn’t. I.e. if they had issues with having the time available to practice or the length of the practice. Discussing personal practice is an inspiring aspect of mentoring because it enables your mentee to have a practice no matter what. Self-practice is the foundation for everything, not just teaching yoga. 

Share personal stories and practices with them that transformed your own life 

When you sense your mentees commitment waning, sharing your own struggles in your yoga journey rekindles the flame. An enthusiastic new teacher might feel discouraged by their own challenges with practice and teaching. They invest their time and energy in training themselves and securing avenues of employment. The pressures of having to build social media skills, needing a unique angle or niche, not having time for their own practice can feel completely overwhelming, negating why they chose to teach in the first place. Reflecting on your own challenges as a teacher and how you met those challenges and sharing that with your mentee not only motivates them, it helps them to know they aren’t alone. We underestimate the power of our personal journey through the yoga landscape. When we hear how others overcome difficulty it impels us to keep trying. Being a yoga teacher takes effort (tapas) We ripen into teaching. It’s not an overnight smash hit. 

Teach, teach and teach some more 

Often a new teacher comes to me because they lack the confidence to teach and they need that extra push. Instead of wrapping them in cotton wool, I literally push them out of the nest. Their first assignment is to devise a sequence and teach someone, anyone, could be their best friend or their grandmother. Experience happens in the field. It’s scary for sure. Mistakes will be made, but I can’t think of anything more motivating for a mentee. Knowing they have to teach someone before the next session is a good motivator and helps them to face their fears. As their mentor I am there for feedback on the sequence they plan to teach or to answer questions post class. I offer this so that they feel supported even though they may feel challenged as well. 

Encourage their growth, stay connected, celebrate their milestones, share what they are doing with your audience 

This is a big one. As teacher trainers or mentors, we live busy lives, we have our own practice and career to manage. However, staying engaged with your mentees milestones means they feel seen and heard and that your acknowledging the effort and energy they have put in during your time together. It can be as simple as following them on social media, sharing classes or projects they are involved in with your tribe or sending them a personal note when you see they are finally achieving some of their teaching goals. Staying connected and even including them in your future trainings or retreats as an assistant benefits you both. Many of my mentees have become teachers and teacher trainers in their own right. Some of them have co-taught with me on my trainings and lifelong friendships have developed. It won’t happen with everyone you mentor, but it’s beautiful when it happens. Celebrating who they are and what they’ve achieved is as important as all the wisdom you impart. 

Now that you have some strategies and tips on how to motivate your students there’s one more thing I do to keep my own interest in mentoring alive. I keep a journal throughout our time together of what’s working and what’s not. That way I have a list of strategies all of which serve as a springboard for future sessions. 

I see mentoring as a practice. It takes time to ripen your skills and tenacity. Even after thirty years of teaching I continue to feel grateful to all the teachers that have guided me and equally to my students, they are the ones I still learn from today. 

By Rachel Zinman, Yoga Australia Registered Mentor and Senior Yoga Teacher