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Victoria Intensive considers… “What is a mentor?”

Every summer for more than 30 years, certified teachers have gathered for a summer intensive originally taught by Shirley Daventry French in collaboration with other Canadian teachers . In recent years Ann Kilbertus and Louie Ettling have carried on this work. Initially, the gathering took place at the Victoria YMCA, then, later, at the Iyengar Yoga Centre of Victoria. This year, the intensive was held completely online. Certified teachers and apprentices who have been studying for at least two years came together via Zoom from across Canada to share in practice and to support one another in unpacking the new teacher development guidelines recently sent by Prashant and Abhijata Iyengar to all of the Iyengar Yoga Associations worldwide.

As an Association, one of our new directives is to shift away from Teacher Training ‘Programs‘ and instead, move towards a process of Mentorship. While time and collaboration is still needed for IYAC/ACYI to develop a practical definition of ‘mentor’ to be used Association-wide, the teachers at this intensive shared their personal reflections.

As you spend time digesting, reflecting, and integrating the new ideas coming from Pune, please feel free to enjoy this collection of thoughts as a point of departure.



A mentor is someone…

  • who shows you the ropes
  • who is a ‘guru-light’, as in a delegate of the guru
  • who guides you, not so much about right/wrong, but who shows the way
  • who pushes you along
  • who helps you keep fire in the belly
  • who you can call on for answers when you are not sure what to do
  • who shares knowledge
  • who models reciprocal learning
  • who has more experience
  • who gives encouragement, guidance and support
  • who gives clear direction on how to ‘get down the bowling alley with guards on the side’ in a creative way
  • with whom there is a relationship, trust, vulnerability, where one allows oneself to be seen and then we can see more clearly… so, openness, trust, vulnerability
  • who guides and is willing to explore with the person being mentored
  • with whom one can enjoy lifelong learning, reciprocal learning, exploration and growth
  • who does not poke like a guru, but has a gentle encouraging approach
  • who is a teacher and a student… who leads, but not so far ahead that others cannot follow
  • who invites you into the practice community, shares curiosity, wants you to flourish
  • who is inspiring to students, takes students farther than they can go by themselves
  • who is an experienced and trusted advisor
  • who is a trusted source
  • who helps you find a way
  • who is a trusted voice on the path
  • who gives you courage
  • who empowers you to go along
  • who gives you confidence to figure stuff out
  • with whom there is mutual trust, listening, guidance towards the student’s inner being
  • with whom one could have a trusting relationship without authority and fear
  • who is a trusted, experienced person in a certain area of expertise
  • who is invested in the success of another person – the spirit of the new syllabus implies something different from what we have experienced in the past
  • who encourages responsibility by example, who has authentic devotion and embodies this in practice and in communicating the experience of this devotion… so, mentor authenticity and responsibility
  • who has experience and maturity – The relationship with the mentor is sustained and evolving. It is a dialogue and a relationship.  The mentor may be colleague, may be a friend and more.  Mentorship holds a possibility.  Unlike some aspects of training, it cannot be boxed.
  • who engages in a mutually agreed upon, life-long, interrelated, organically evolving relationship with the other person in this relationship – The relationship is not static; both individuals need to change together. A mentor is able to challenge one with vision that goes beyond the technical profession and considers the wholeness of the life of the other. There is heart in the relationship.
  • who has courage and vision
  • who is a master of her/his craft, is genuine, walks the talk, sees the humour in life; who is kind, calm, patient and compassionate
  • who leads by example, who is a trusted advisor who guides, helps you find your way, knows when to give advice, knows when to offer support
  • who is a person of experience and maturity with whom one has active dialogue and a sustained evolving relationship over time

And more thoughts on mentors…

  • Acharya’ in Sanskrit means teacher. In French, acariâtre means unpleasant and grumpy. The switch we are doing from teacher to mentor means that we want now a new attitude from the teacher towards the students – more compassionate, more friendly, more about shared experience.  Ultimately we are students.  Now we must switch from teacher to mentor.
  • When I mentor people, I think of these students as people who will become my colleagues. What kind of colleague do I want? – Colleagues who want to have fun with me and who will work with me. A mentor has to be a person who practises what they preach, who has authenticity, who encourages and brings people along.  A mentor has to think ahead along down the road.
  • There are different types of mentors – peer, experienced, career, etc.. A mentor is chosen based on the needs and goals of the apprentice. Both the mentor and apprentice need to be genuinely invested in the relationship and take personal responsibility for their part in it.  A mentor guides, supports and motivates in a way that makes sense to the apprentice and that meets their learning style.  A mentor knows when to listen and when to give feedback, and knows how to use situations as teaching moments.




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