Yoga class is a sanctuary, where people come to take a “time out” and dive inward to connect body, mind and soul. Being fully present to the time spent on the mat is the biggest gift you can give yourself. The following do’s and dont’s will help you know what is expected so you can practice self-awareness as well as show respect for the teacher and your fellow class members.
1. Enter mindfully
It defeats the purpose of coming to a place to relax and re-center if you rush in, stressed out and late. Give yourself plenty of time to find parking, check in, gather the required props like bolsters or blocks, and take a few deep breaths before class begins. Plan to arrive at least 10 minutes early. Remove shoes and socks and leave them in the designated space, either outside the door or in shelves provided by the studio. Enter the room quietly as there may already be people there before you. Be aware of how your movement and energy may affect others already in the space. Lay your mat out quietly and be sure you silence your cell phone completely as even vibrate can be disturbing to others. Better yet, leave it in the car.
2. Bring an attitude of openness
Take notice of your state of mind and mood as you are getting settled. Begin to breathe consciously, and let go of thoughts and concerns. Visualize leaving them outside the door of the studio, to pick up again if necessary after class is over. While you’re waiting for class to start, do a few gentle stretches to open the heart, sit in meditation to clear your mind, or lie quietly and relax. Consider choosing a quality to focus your practice on, such as grounding, strength, or peace.
3. Practice saucha
One of the principles of right practice listed in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali is saucha, which means cleanliness or purity. This applies to both body and mind. Make sure your body is clean and avoid wearing heavy scents that may be distracting or offensive to others. Bring a towel or your own mat if you sweat a lot. Clear your mind of judgmental, negative or competitive thoughts. Purify your inner temple, as well as your outer. When class is over, pick up any props you have taken and neatly put them away the way you found them. Fold your blanket like the others on the shelf, and if you borrowed a mat from the studio, wipe it down thoroughly.
For your safety, only go to classes that are appropriate for your current level. Be realistic and work from where you are, not where you would like to be. Let your teacher know about injuries or conditions such as pregnancy, that might affect your practice. Your instructor can provide you with appropriate modifications. And if poses are offered that feel inappropriate for you, skip them and rest. Practice ease in your postures. Never strain. Try your best to do what is being offered, rather than just doing your own routine, but always modify as needed.
5. Be self-reflective
Another yogic principle to keep in mind is swadhyaya, meaning reflection on the Self through introspection and study. Notice what comes up for you during your practice. Be a compassionate witness to your inner dialog. Choose positive self-affirming thoughts. Take time afterwards to reflect on your experience of class, and what you might do to have an even better experience the next time.
1. Don’t eat for at least two hours before class
Practicing on a full stomach can cause cramps, nausea, or vomiting, especially in twists, deep forward bends, and inversions. It can also make you lethargic. If you must eat something make it extremely light, like a piece of fruit or a little yogurt. And don’t chew gum as it can be distracting to others and unsafe in certain postures.
2. Don’t talk unnecessarily
Refrain from too much socializing before your practice. Remember it is a time for you to be with you. If you have a question, ask the teacher before or after class, or raise your hand so she can come to you.
3. Don’t check your cell phone
Leave business and social time outside the studio. You carved out the time to be at class, so really be present.
4. Don’t check your watch
Looking at the time sends a disrespectful message to the teacher (who is sure to see you), that you are bored or impatient, waiting for class to be over. Again, you benefit most by being fully engaged with the experience of the moment.
5. Don’t compete
It makes sense to observe how the teacher or someone else is doing a pose, especially if it is unfamiliar to you, but avoid the impulse to compare or compete. Feel the postures from the inside out and just do what you can. You will improve faster when you are true to yourself and work from where you are, not from where you think you should be. If you achieve the full expression of a posture, enjoy it, but don’t feed the ego with attachment to it.
The final posture offered in most classes is called savasana and it is a relaxation pose for letting go and integrating the benefits of all the other movements. It is an essential time of rest for both the body and the mind, before re-entering your day. To miss it diminishes your practice and is disruptive to others and to the teacher. If you absolutely must leave early, let your teacher know prior to class. Position yourself in the place closest to the door, have all your belongings ready to quietly pick up, and leave before savasana starts.
By adhering to the etiquette and principles of yoga, you will experience the most positive effects of your practice and you will help to create a safe and comfortable space for all.
Jennie Lee is a Certified Yoga Therapist who has spent two decades coaching people in the healing tradition of classical yoga meditation. She is also the author of two books – Breathing Love: Meditation in Action, and the award-winning True Yoga: Practicing with the Yoga Sutras for Happiness & Spiritual Fulfillment.