From Stu­dent to Teacher

Yoga Journal - - JANUARY 2019 - By Meghan Rab­bitt

Teach­ers Elena Brower and Amy Ip­politi wax po­etic on men­tor­ship and the im­por­tance of on­go­ing stu­dentship.

Elena Brower and Amy Ip­politi first met when they were young yoga stu­dents study­ing to be­come teach­ers them­selves. Now, they’re lead­ing and men­tor­ing the next gen­er­a­tion of stu­dents and teach­ers. We caught up with the yo­gi­nis as they sat in Brower’s New York City liv­ing room to talk about lin­eage, men­tor­ship, and what they agree is the key to strong lead­er­ship: stu­dentship.

Elena Brower an­swers her mo­bile phone ex­cit­edly when I call. Sure, the busy New York City–based yoga teacher, life coach, and busi­ness­woman is ea­ger to talk about top­ics she’s pas­sion­ate about—lead­er­ship, men­tor­ship, and stu­dentship—but she seems down­right thrilled to an­nounce on speak­er­phone that her dear friend, Amy Ip­politi, a Boul­der, Colorado–based yoga teacher, is sit­ting right next to her.

Brower and Ip­politi go back 20 years, when they met as stu­dents of Cyndi Lee. Both would go on to study with John Friend, the founder of Anusara Yoga whose school crum­bled in 2012 after al­le­ga­tions of un­eth­i­cal and il­le­gal be­hav­ior. (They each turned in their Anusara cer­ti­fi­ca­tions soon there­after.) The pair leaned on each other after pub­licly de­nounc­ing their teacher’s be­hav­ior and as they fig­ured out how to keep their lin­eage in mind while they struck out on their own.

“I saw it as an op­por­tu­nity for all of us to go and do what it is that we were al­ways meant to be do­ing,” says Brower, “which was to teach the finest of what we’d been taught and to lead by ex­am­ple. Even though we couldn’t go for­ward in the par­a­digm we had known at that point, I think we paved new paths for our­selves, el­e­gantly. Each of us took what res­onated with us about the [Anusara] method­ol­ogy and the heart space in which we were held for a long time, and we walked for­ward with it.”

“It’s true,” adds Ip­politi. “We evolved the teach­ings by bring­ing what was valu­able and in­fus­ing our own in­di­vid­ual work.” One thing was clear to each of these yo­gis as they grew as teach­ers them­selves: They were al­ways go­ing to re­main stu­dents. “If I’m not con­tin­u­ously a stu­dent, I have noth­ing to of­fer as I’m teach­ing,” says Brower. “Stu­dentship is an in­her­ent part of be­ing an ef­fec­tive teacher. It’s the back­bone of what I do.”

The beauty of al­ways be­ing a stu­dent is that it is an ever-evolv­ing prac­tice—one that’s in stark con­trast to the in­stant grat­i­fi­ca­tion to which we’ve grown ac­cus­tomed these days, says Ip­politi. “What I find in­ter­est­ing about many of to­day’s yoga stu­dents is that there’s this per­cep­tion that you can get all the info you need with Google or that you can be­come a pub­lic fig­ure or yoga teacher sim­ply by putting to­gether an In­sta­gram ac­count and pro­claim­ing you’re an ex­pert,” she says. “But to me, stu­dentship is a deep marinating and im­mer­sion into learn­ing, where you are un­der the wings of a men­tor or teacher. That kind of de­vo­tion and ded­i­ca­tion, over time, is what you need to be a great teacher.”

Ip­politi and Brower say it feels as if they’ve been in an aca­demic pur­suit of sorts over the years, study­ing un­der a host of teach­ers and men­tors. Ip­politi talks about work­ing with re­li­gion scholar Dou­glas Brooks and, more re­cently, con­nect­ing with Ju­dith Han­son Lasater—two men­tor­ships, among oth­ers, which have in­flu­enced her own yoga school, 90 Mon­keys, and con­tinue to shape her teach­ing and per­sonal prac­tice.

Brower says her main yoga men­tor, Rod Stryker, and Kun­dalini Yoga teacher Hari Kaur Khalsa are “ex­tremely skill­ful, per­son­ally and pro­fes­sion­ally, and have gen­er­ously shared their wis­dom” with her over the years. She also men­tions a num­ber of col­leagues at doTERRA, an es­sen­tial-oil mar­ket­ing brand she works with, who’ve helped her ul­ti­mately lead a team of global well­ness ad­vo­cates.

“You’ve got to get un­der a mama bird,” says Ip­politi. “It is the way to hold a lin­eage in mind as you be­come a leader.”

HOW TO FIND A MEN­TOR

So, you’ve found your mama bird—a teacher or men­tor from whom you want to learn. Where do you go from there?

You sim­ply stay close, says Ip­politi. “Not in a creepy way,” she says, chuck­ling. “But in a way that con­veys that you’re just go­ing to be around, learn­ing.”

“You know what’s cool?” adds Brower. “There are a few peo­ple in my life who’ve done that—they’ve hung around—and those peo­ple have be­come ac­com­plished teach­ers. Their stu­dentship has helped them ad­vance their own work and teach­ing.”

Brower adds that set­ting up a clear agree­ment be­tween a men­tor and mentee can be es­pe­cially help­ful. “When you’re ask­ing some­one if she’ll be a men­tor to you, it’s crit­i­cal to value her time,” she says. And what­ever you do, show the per­son you’d like to be your men­tor that you’re will­ing to do the work. “Very often, peo­ple ask if I will be their men­tor, and I say, ‘OK, watch this video first or do this read­ing,’ and then many don’t come back to me,” she says. “If you’d like to be men­tored, you have to make a com­mit­ment. And if you’re not will­ing to put in study time, I’m less likely to de­vote my own. That said, if you do make the com­mit­ment and ded­i­cate your­self to your own learn­ing, I’m happy to gen­tly pro­vide guid­ance.”

Brower says watch­ing and help­ing other women grow their sense of what’s pos­si­ble has been one of the great­est priv­i­leges of be­ing a men­tor. Ip­politi chimes in with ea­ger agree­ment: “To me, it’s the most fulfilling thing in the world when a stu­dent comes for­ward and says, ‘I’m se­ri­ous. I want to learn from you.’ Be­cause when I know that stu­dent is se­ri­ous, I also know she will ul­ti­mately help oth­ers at a level that is far more pro­found.”

The two friends, now in their 40s, start talk­ing about their big­gest hopes for the next batch of teach­ers—the 20-some­things who will be­come the next lead­ers of our com­mu­nity. “My hope is that they have the courage to bring mean­ing to their yoga classes,” says Ip­politi. “Sure, you can teach a class that helps stu­dents sim­ply go through the mo­tions, telling them to in­hale and do this; ex­hale, do that. But yoga is more than that. It’s a prac­tice, not an ac­tiv­ity. It’s a means of in­spir­ing peo­ple’s lives off the mat, and to ul­ti­mately help peo­ple feel bet­ter about them­selves. I hope our next gen­er­a­tion of teach­ers doesn’t gloss over all of that—that they have the courage to make the prac­tice mean­ing­ful.”

The way to be a leader is clear, says Brower, and it’s in­tri­cately as­so­ci­ated with your will­ing­ness to be a stu­dent. “The best lead­ers are the most hum­ble and the most will­ing to learn and be cor­rected and guided,” she says. “So, sit your­self at the feet of your own teach­ers, even if they’re not phys­i­cally there. Sit there in en­ergy and in heart. Sit there daily, and in a way, serve them, too. If you do all of this, abun­dance will flow.”

WE TOOK WHAT RES­ONATED WITH US ABOUT THE [ANUSARA] METHOD­OL­OGY, AND WE WALKED FOR­WARD WITH IT. —ELENA BROWER

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