This post is for you if:
- You are new to yoga and want to be feel confident about your first visit
- You have been going to the yoga studio for ages and don’t “need” to read this article. Go ahead and read it anyway, and if you already know it all, then pat yourself on the back. I’m betting we could all use a reminder. 🙂
As we head toward January 1 and its time-tried custom of extravagant resolutions, there’s a very good chance that your local yoga studio may experience an influx of new students. The yoga studio, like any little sub-culture, has a set of expected social behaviors that are designed to allow for a more pleasant experience for everyone. If it’s your first time, your yogi neighbors are going to be pretty tolerant (if they’re not, I’d consider another studio). If you don’t make a positive habit of observing the customs, however, you’re going to be missing out on part of the experience as well as frustrating those around you. Sound complicated? No worries, I’ve got you covered:
Yoga Etiquette Guidelines #1: Arrive early enough so that you are on your mat at the designated class time. If class starts at 6 PM, you will need to be sure that you arrive with enough time to change clothing (if needed), sign in, pay for class, use the restroom, store your belongings, etc. If it is your first class, you will need to fill out some paperwork and become familiar with the space. I would suggest arriving at least 15 minutes before the class starts, if not earlier. Note: if you know you are going to be late, let the instructor know so she can accommodate you and guide you on how best to enter the class with minimum disruption.
Why this is important: When you are late to class, it has two possible effects. First, it may cause the instructor to start the class late (as she has to assist you in signing it, etc). This steals time from those students who arrived on time and have been waiting. The second effect is simply disruption. If the class has already started, your entrance, no matter how quiet, is going to be a distraction. A fuller class may even require that others move to make room for you. Recently, I led a class where the student came in with their shoes on (*tap-tap-tap*), unrolled their mat (*smack*) put their keys and purse in a cubby (*clink*), went into the bathroom to change (*LOUD BATHROOM FAN NOISE*)- and the whole time, I’m encouraging other stressed-out students to relax, breathe, let go into their practice. As you can imagine, it was a challenge. Please, do your best to arrive on time. This is not some esoteric yoga rule, it’s just basic courtesy.
Yoga Etiquette Guideline #2: Hygiene, Clothing & Scents. These are sensitive, but important issues. Be clean for your practice. When in doubt, shower, and consider shaving, if that applies. Check in with your clothes and yoga mat, too- after several hot and sweaty classes, you might find they’ve grown a nice funky odor. If you can’t tell if something is questionable (“are these pants smelly or is it just me?”), err on the side of caution. However, this does NOT mean that you should spray yourself, your clothing, or your mat with heavily scented perfume or essential oils. Whether it’s Poison or Patchouli, save it for your post-practice self. After class, clean your immediate area- wipe up any sweat and clean your borrowed mat. Finally, a word on clothing selection- be sure it’s appropriate for the audience and that all essential areas are covered. Suitable undergarments are a must.
Why this is important. I hope it’s common sense, but personal cleanliness is important so that your scent is not disruptive or offensive. Perfumes and odors are great for most of us, but may cause an allergic reaction in others (I have a few acquaintances who simply cannot breathe around perfume. Pranayama would be out of the question). And cleaning up after yourself? Just politeness. Now, about your yoga clothes- some studios are all about the cute yoga short shorts and sports bras. That might not be appropriate at another studio, with an older population (and a cooler temperature!) All I’m asking is that you give a little thought to what you’re wearing, and, by all means, make sure your underwear properly conceals as it’s intended.
Yoga Etiquette Guideline #3: No Shoes in the Studio. Don’t bring your shoes into the practice space. Your studio should have a designated area by the entrance where you can leave them.
Why this is important: In a very practical sense, your shoes are covered with outside dirt. Yoga is generally practiced with bare feet, on the floor. Wouldn’t you rather do that in a space free of shoe-dirt? I also believe there is a psychological effect to the ritual of leaving your “outside” clothes outside, and entering your practice space in a more naked and humble way.
Yoga Etiquette Guideline #4: Turn Your Phone (or iPad, or whatever) OFF and stow it. As soon as you get into the studio. Don’t wait to do it until right before class. Do not put it on vibrate. Do not put it on “airplane” mode. Do not put it by your mat in case the teacher starts late and you want to get in one more text. Turn it all the way off and put it away!
Why this is important: Vibrating phones, in a quiet studio, are incredibly irritating. It’s the sound of the outside world, of the un-done task, of the social obligation that you forgot about. Even if it’s not your phone, your obligation, that sound can take you out of your practice and back to day-to-day frustration and stress. Your yoga practice is a place to work more deeply into your body and mind, where you can learn to be present with each breath. Some of us might be thinking, I’ll just wait until right before class and then do it. This is still inconsiderate to others who may be disrupted- if you must text or take your turn at Words With Friends or just cannot disconnect quite yet, don’t enter the practice space, but stay in the lobby or outside until you are ready. And consider this: if you give yourself a few quiet meditative moments on your mat before class starts, you’ll be able to more fully engage immediately in the practice, rather than having to fight the “to-do” lists, the echo of a conversation you were having, or replaying an event from earlier in the day.
Yoga Etiquette Guideline #5: Maintain Silence. Most yoga studios have a silence-in-the-yoga-room policy. It’s okay to chat in the lobby, but once you are in the practice space, the conversations stop. This applies both before and during class. Your instructor may encourage some talking or feedback during class, and some are less strict than others, but for the most part, plan to practice quietly. The exception here is if you are experiencing pain, confusion, or a challenge in a posture- DO ask for assistance!
Why this is important: This allows other people to meditate before class and observe a break from their daily life. Even a quiet conversation or whispers can be distracting. This rule is a challenge for many of us, myself included. Do your best to keep the conversations outside so that you can give your fellow students some well-earned peace. You’ll be grateful on the day that you find you need some silence of your own.
Yoga Etiquette Guideline #6: Observe a Respectful Savasana. Savasana is the final pose of class, lying down on your mat. If you need to use the restroom, do it before Savasana so that you can avoid disturbing others. Savasana is not optional and you should not plan to skip it regularly. If you do for some crazy, out-of-the-ordinary, weird, not-going-to-happen-again-soon, unusual reason need to leave class early, let the teacher know so that she can help you to plan your exit.
Why this is important: The last pose of class, Savasana, is an especially quiet and vulnerable time for many people. Savasana is a chance to absorb the benefits of their practice. For some, it is the only chance they have during their week to really be quiet and still. Whatever your experience, allowing yourself to be quiet here not only shows respect for others, it gives your body and mind a chance to be, “not a human doing, but a human being.”
Advanced Yoga Etiquette Guideline #7: Be Respectful and Thoughtful in Your Modifications. This applies to more experienced yogi(ni)s. If you are taking a beginner’s class, do not veer too far from the sequence offered. If you feel you must modify drastically to experience your practice, set up your mat at the back of the room, or in a corner, where you will not be on full display.
Why this is important: While I completely understand the desire to open more fully into postures, binding, balancing, etc., please keep in mind that doing so can be not only detrimental to the ego of the beginner student (“I’ll never be able to do that, I’m not flexible/thin enough/strong enough”) but also to their bodies. Advanced modifications can be dangerous if practiced without the proper knowledge or experience. If you feel like you are not getting enough of a challenge from your practice, do talk to your teacher and they should be able to work with you so that you can experience your practice more fully without distracting or endangering others.
The Most Important Yoga Etiquette Guideline: Don’t Let it Get So Serious You’re Not Having Fun. These guidelines are important and will help everyone to have a more serene, safe, yoga experience- but once in a while something is going to happen.
I love this quote by Carlos Castaneda: “What weakens us is feeling offended by the deeds and misdeeds of our fellow men. Our self-importance requires that we spend most of our lives offended by someone.”
When another yogi breaks etiquette, don’t let it ruin your practice. Let it be an opportunity to remember that we are all human. Be willing to laugh at yourself if you start to feel truly “offended.” And then get back to your own practice, instead of worrying about someone else’s.
Comments, questions? Any other etiquette you would add? As always, I love to hear from you. Leave a comment below or drop me a line!