As we near the end of the first month of 2019, my heart is warmed to see so many people trying out Yoga for the first time. My open level flow classes are packed with those that are giving it a go for the very first time as well as regular faces. I’m seeing waiting lists of people hoping to attend my Yin classes who have tried other styles and are now keen to try them all.
Firstly I want to welcome all you newbies to Yoga. I hope you find a style, a teacher, and a class that suits you for what you need in your life right now. I hope you keep coming back to give yourself the opportunity to witness how transformational this practice can be on all levels: physical, mental, and emotional. In other words, I really hope you stick around!
When we try something new, it can often be a daunting experience. Entering a yoga room for the first time is no exception. We’re not sure where to put our mats, if we’ve stolen someone’s “spot”, whether to keep socks on or take them off (we usually practice bare foot). All these things are buzzing around in our heads and we wonder if we’re getting it right. I know this, because even though I’ve been going to classes for many years, I still remember what it was like to be the new girl.
So, here are a few useful tips to help alleviate any potential yoga anxieties and to avoid feeling like you were the only one who did it wrong.
Yoga Studio Etiquette – A Thoughtful Practice
Entering a Class and Arriving Late
Check the start time of your class and aim to get to the studio at least 15 minutes before it begins. This will give you time to store your belongings, have a pee and get your spot in the studio in time for the class to start. Most classes will begin with an opening meditation and/or brief on the theme. You don’t want to miss this, and if arriving late, you don’t want to interrupt this part of the class.
If you do happen to arrive after the class has started, always check with the receptionist if it is ok to go on in. If it is, then tentatively open the door and catch the teacher’s eye. They should signal to you if they need you to wait for a moment before entering, and also where to position yourself to avoid disturbing the other students who are already ‘in the zone’.
What you really want to avoid is barging in, announcing your arrival, and trying to squeeze into your favourite spot where there are already students on mats. Instead, spot a space at the back or the side of the studio where your entrance will least disturb others, and then quietly sit yourself down.
Arriving late? Always check with the receptionist if it is ok to go on in. If it is, then tentatively open the door and catch the teacher’s eye.
Belongings and Shoes
This kind of ties in with the above section regarding entering a class.
Most studios are shoe free zones and you will be asked to remove your shoes and shown where to store them. Please note that unless the class is at a gym or sports centre, it is never OK to walk into the practice area with shoes on.
Often in a yoga class, the walls are used during the session to practice poses such as inversions. Therefore the outer edges of the room needs to be kept free of obstacles. This means that taking all your stuff into the studio with you isn’t going to be practical (unless you’ve been previously told that this is OK). This is another reason for arriving to class in plenty of time, especially if it is your first time at that particular studio and you’re unsure where the changing rooms and lockers are.
Unless the yoga class is at a gym or sports centre, it is never OK to walk into the practice area with shoes on.
Phones and Wearable Tech
This is a big one, and as we are more dependant on technology than ever before, it is worth mentioning that a Yoga class should always be a phone free zone!
Unless you are a doctor on call or you have some other emergency situation going on in your life, which requires you to be contactable at all times, leave your phone in your bag or locker outside. If you have an exceptional need to be contacted, just make sure you pre-agree with the teacher to bring your phone into the studio. In such a situation (i.e. being a doctor on call), the teacher should assign you to a mat space near the door so that if an emergency does arise, you can quickly and quietly pick up the phone and leave the room to take the call.
Yoga studios are ‘phone free zones’ for good reasons. Not just because they are distracting to others, but because this is a precious time for you. It’s just an hour or 90 minutes that you have afforded yourself to connect with yourself. Your mind, your body and your breath coming together as one. You can’t do this if you are connected to the rest of the world via a screen in your hand or by your mat. Leave your social media followers at the door!
In this technology age where we are all so addicted to our phones, this really does bear repeating again and again, even though it seems obvious. I have witnessed phones going off in class and students stopping to actually answer them mid-flow. Please don’t do this!
More recently, I’ve noticed students coming to class wearing a watch that is linked to their phone so that every time they get an alert, the watch vibrates and/or lights up. Please take these off for Yoga practice. You’ll be so much more present and focused and reap so much more benefit from the time you spend on your mat if you are not constantly being reminded of the content of your inbox or social media account.
Please bear in mind that anything that distracts you in the yoga room, will also distract those around you. Please practice compassion and kindness to yourself and other students (and your teacher) by understanding the need for focus and attention.
I hate having my phone in the Yoga room but quite often as a teacher, it is required for playing music or adjusting the lighting through an app. I make the point of telling my students that if they see me on my phone during class, this is what I’m doing. I promise I am not texting to find out what is for dinner!
Unless you are a doctor on call or you have some other emergency situation going on in your life, a Yoga class should always be a phone-free zone. Remember, anything that distracts you in the yoga room, will also distract those around you.
Make sure that you are appropriately dressed for the class. I once rather embarrassingly wore a new top straight off the shop hanger to a class, without realising that it didn’t hold me in. I was horrified when I came into my first downward facing dog and could see a nipple creeping out of my bra! I don’t think anyone else noticed, but imagine if they had! Needless to say, that was a wasted class as my main concern for that whole time was keeping my girls in place and not on my breathing or any other part of my body!
It’s not just about boob-watch. I’ve also heard stories from other students and teachers who have been greeted with an unexpected and unwanted eye-full of mens bits and pieces because their shorts were, errrm well – too short and badly fitting. If you’re not sure, do a few moves at home in front of a mirror to make sure everything fits, or ask a friend to check for you. Bear in mind that in Yoga we take the body in all different directions, sometimes your legs will be wide apart, sometimes your bum will be high in the air!
Bear in mind that in Yoga you take your body in all different directions, sometimes your legs will be wide apart, sometimes your bum will be high in the air, so dress appropriately!
Personal Hygiene & Go Easy on the Cologne
Try to arrive for class with a clean body. If your class is at the end of a sweaty day in the office and you don’t have time for a shower, keep some baby wipes in your bag or have a quick freshen up at the sink before entering the yoga room.
Please don’t over do it with the deodorant or perfume. This can be really off-putting for fellow students as well as your teacher.
I once taught a class where there was a lady at the front who was wearing such a lot of strong perfume, it smelled as if she had bathed in it. It was catching in my throat every time I breathed in. So much so, it was hard for me to get my instructions out of my mouth. I had to move myself to the back of the room and guide the class from there.
Furthermore, the yoga room is an atmosphere in which we quite often encourage deep and purposeful breathing. It really helps if the air is clear and free from chemicals. Imagine taking a deep long breath and getting a lung full of your neighbour’s perfume, leaving a nasty taste in your mouth. Once more, this is just about considering others and the fact that people may have allergies or aversions to the ingredients in your perfume or body spray.
To be perfectly honest – and this might sound a bit gross – but I’d rather teach someone who smells strongly of sweat than someone who is surrounded by a cloud of chemicals.
Always try to arrive for a Yoga class with a clean body, but go easy on the smellies. It really helps if the air is clear and free from chemicals.
And finally, (probably aimed more at regular students than newbies):
Don’t Be Territorial
If you’ve been coming to the same studio every week for 10 years and turn up to find a new person in “your spot”, just Let … It … Go. This is a chance for you to practice the 5th Yama of Aprigraha – non-grasping or non-possessiveness. It certainly won’t hurt you to practice in a different part of the studio, and it may actually prove to be a useful change.
And don’t scowl at the new person, they did nothing wrong. How about placing your mat next to them, introducing yourself with a smile and chat to them to put them at ease? And if you see them on their phone or notice that they still have their socks on, perhaps politely brief them on what you already know about yoga studio etiquette. We are all here to help one another.
There are no reserved spaces in a yoga studio. If you turn up to find a new person in “your spot”, just Let … It … Go.
If you’ve read this and you’re thinking “oh no, I’ve committed a yoga crime and now I’m too embarrassed to go back to the studio”, please don’t feel like that. As teachers, we accept that you might not have realised how things are done. We and your fellow students will not hold it against you. This blog is not written to make anyone feel bad in any way. The wonderful thing about making mistakes is that we get to learn from them. And because life and yoga is all about learning, we embrace the journey and help each other along the way.
I’m a great believer that if more people started practicing yoga and living according to it’s teachings, we’d live in a better world. So please come back, and bring all of your friends!