Yoga Class Etiquette

By Beri Golding According to the Oxford dictionary, etiquette is defined as the customary code of polite behavior in society or among members of a particular profession or group. When we practice yoga, we are practicing a system designed to guide us on the path to enlightenment. The yamas and niyamas comprise the first two limbs of astanga yoga as well as offer the ethical foundation for the practice. While the yamas are representative of self regulating behaviors in our interactions with others, the niyamas address personal observances. Together they establish a strong moral foundation for living and being and according to the ancients were prerequisites to the asana component of the practice. Honoring yoga class etiquette can be an effective way of not only including these practices in daily life but also allowing your yoga practice to extend beyond the physical practice. Etiquette like the breath, can be both subtle and yet palpable (and so in its absence we really see the true value of it). 1.) Honor the respective etiquette guidelines of the studio in which you are practicing: Take the time to read the guidelines of the studio in which you chose to practice (whether it is your “home” studio or one you are dropping in). By simply reading the literature that is either posted online or in the studio, you can learn a lot about the space. Perhaps your practice was born in a gym setting where shoes were permitted in the studio space. Reading studio guidelines can inform you of the barefoot policy of any respective studio and even deeper educate you on why it is. Boom! You’ve expanded your yoga knowledge in a single curious step. Learning is an integral part of practicing mindfulness in action. 2.) Be early in order to be on time: Punctuality is a universal element of etiquette, it indicates respect for others’ time as well as the organization and discipline to manage your own time. When we arrive late to class we are disruptive. It can be helpful to tell yourself class starts 5 minutes prior to the class time on the schedule, use those 5 minutes to set an intention for your practice and to settle into the present moment. Running late chronically is a stress creator, (destructive to the stress alleviating effect of yoga). Those first 5 minutes before your yoga practice can remove that stress and and give you an opportunity to leave the rest of your day and any drama behind you. 3.)Don’t take a “dry” shower before class/exercise responsible hygiene: In other words, please avoid the use of any products that carry a strong scent. We come to yoga to breath. Strong odors can be very defeating when we are deliberately breathing. (think the adverse affect of aromatherapy). Our yoga practice constantly reminds us that the way we conduct ourselves has direct impact on those around us. While you might enjoy that coconut vanilla body mist, your neighbor might not and even worse could be allergic. That awareness and consideration is the spirit of ahimsa, doing no harm. Save your spritz for after class. Practicing responsible hygiene is a form of self care and a form of preventative medicine. Saucha meaning cleanliness is an integral part of the niyamas. Reminding us to practice cleanliness in regards to the body and purity in regards to the mind. 4.) Noise pollution free zone: Yoga in many ways is a practice in waste reduction. So much of our super charged technology is intended to make communication immediate and more efficient. On the flipside, we can burn out even faster than the battery of our cell phone if we don’t take time to spend with ourselves and to listen to ourselves. Honor the studio where you practice as a sacred space and try to minimize the sound pollutants. Avoid chatting with your fellow yogis and yoginis while you are on your mat out of respect for the rest of class, the instructor, and yourself. Silence is healing and in a world where we can always be reached, refreshing. Most studios have a no cell phone policy and yet the issue of cell phone use in class is always a hot topic. Your yoga mat is essentially a docking station for you. When you bring a device that isn’t a prop (used to enhance your practice) onto your mat, you are likely taking away from the quality of your practice. If you absolutely need to have your phone present for an emergency, please give your instructor a heads up. Knowing that cell phone use is strictly limited to emergency circumstances also gives the instructor an opportunity to educate his/her class on the niyama, santosha or contentment. Be grateful to be in a moment where you can exhale and leave your phone behind even if others are not able to exercise that luxury on any given day. Casual cell phone use is not only disrespectful and distracting but also devalues the quality time that you get to spend with yourself on your yoga mat. 5.)Respect your instructor: Some of my favorite teachers were teachers who were filling in for some of my other favorite teachers. Have an open mind. That is after all what so much of the purification practice is about. While many teachers will offer a variety of pose options and variations and encourage listening to your own body first and foremost, there is a fine line between listening to your body and completely deviating from the collective flow. Pose modifications that assist in aligning the steady yet light element of an asana is a necessity. Doing your own thing because you feel like it, is not. Most of the time if you chose to go to classes that are consistent with your experience level you will get an opportunity to dive into your own practice and an appropriate practice for you personally. Your personal practice however should not distract or disrupt the collective flow of a class. 6.)Sweeeeeeet savasana: Traditionally the practice of yoga was intended to prepare the body and mind for meditation. The space between the movement of an asana practice and the stillness of meditation is a very unique space, it is irreplaceable, it is savasana. While it is a relaxing pose, it is not sleep. It reflects a truly special form of consciousness in which we are aware that we are here to relax and to experience the absence of everything else. It’s an opportunity for the body to process the effects of the practice and for the mind to reboot. No yoga practice is truly complete without it. So its a yoga practice and not a yoga perfect. And that attitude applies to etiquette as well. While there will always be exceptions, if you are running late or need to leave class early or can’t afford to completely check out from the outside world, etiquette helps to strengthen our awareness and adherence to the ethical principles of the practice. When our intentions are pure our actions reflect it. Respect to your studio, to your teacher, to those around you and you are taking your yoga beyond the total time you spend on your yoga mat. Namaste. To learn more about Yoga Etiquette and Authentic Yoga Practices read and learn more about our Yoga Teacher Training Program and consider joining our 200 or 500 hour Yoga Alliance Program by clicking Here.  

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