You’ve got your yoga clothes and are all set to head out to your first yoga class. But there are some Health and Safety guidelines, which may help new yogis to settle into their first class or explain the weird and wonderful reasons why we do things a certain way.
The reasons people attend a yoga class are wide and varied. But not many people stop to consider the others in the room with them, being completely focussed on their own reasons for attending class.
Stop to consider the person on the mat next to you, maybe they have just had the all-clear from a life-threatening illness, perhaps they are battling mental health issues or are struggling to care for elderly parents or young children, or they may even have a high pressure and stressful job. This 1-hour yoga class could be the very reason they are able to return to their daily lives and continue to be supportive, fight against their illness or just make it through another day.
Yoga teaches us to have a one-point focus on our breath, to keep our attention on the present moment, this leaves no space to consider the other people who are also participating in the class or even the teacher leading the practice. Considering appropriate yoga behaviour can help to ensure that the class meets the needs of all the participants and not just the few. Here’s some tips to help you navigate the complex etiquette to ensure a good yoga class.
1. Shoes Off
Yoga is practiced barefoot, on a sticky mat. The reason we do this is because it allows us to ground down and focus on the connection between our feet and the ground. We don’t often wander around barefoot, so our feet relish the opportunity to spread out a bit and feel the mat underneath them. This action also helps us to find a strong foundation to move from. There are many reasons people may keep their socks on, including attending a yin or restorative yoga class, where there is little to no standing postures. Consider why you’ve started yoga, do you want to get the maximum benefits out of the class, or risk a potential injury because you can’t grip the mat properly?
2. Shoes OFF!
Yes it is worth mentioning twice. If you happen to attend a beautiful yoga studio, they will have a dedicated space where you can leave your shoes outside the main practice area. Shoes should not be worn inside the yoga studio, because people wander about barefoot. It might not be you, but it will be others, including your teacher!
But a lot of yoga classes take place in community centres, church or school gym halls or sports centres. These locations don’t offer a space to leave your shoes, so the best option is to remove them as soon as possible upon entering the practice space. Again you may not wander about barefoot, but others will be and your teacher doesn’t want to end up with glass or stones in the sole of her foot.
3. Shoes OFF 3
What can I possibly have to say more of regarding shoes being off? Well how about wandering over mats with your shoes on? This happens all too often and is a sign of disrespect for the other students taking part in the class. I’ve had people walk over my mat with their shoes on, and it’s left me feeling speechless. There is also an argument for not walking across another person’s mat even being barefoot/with socks on. Many students consider their mat, their personal space, and treat it with care. If you need to walk across someone else’s mat, at least offer an apology for the slight intrusion.
4. Yoga mats
It’s great to go to a studio or any other class where mats are provided, you don’t need to think about much, just get yourself to class and the teacher will take care of the rest. Yoga mats should be cleaned by the person who used them last before they are stored safely away. This way, the next person using the mat has a clean surface to make their own for the next class. Alternatively buy your own mat. They are inexpensive and most yoga teachers can point you in the direction of a place to buy a decent mat to get you started.
Some students come to class and like to sit quietly in meditation, or to settle into the space before class begins. This is difficult to do if those around are downloading about the challenges in their lives. If you must speak with a friend, please do so in a whisper voice, so that the others in the room have a chance to experience what they need out of the class that day.
6. Shhh – again!
During the practice of yoga, people can have emotional releases. Some feel a little teary, some a little angry and that’s all fine. But talking during the class is disturbing the concentration of others in the room. If you have a question to ask or comment to make, consider first if it would be beneficial to anyone else in the entire room first, at that particular moment in time. Most comments can wait until after relaxation, when your teacher can give you a bit of time to discuss your queries in more detail.
7. Switch it off!
Mobile phones should be off, or on silent! Vibrate is not really an option here, because we can all hear your phone vibrating in your bag or jacket pocket. If you are waiting on a very important call or are part of the emergency services, speak with your teacher who will be more than happy to accommodate you having your phone out during class, but on silent so that no one else is disturbed.
This is the best part of the yoga experience, and you should plan to stay for the entirety of the class. If you do have to leave early, please speak to the teacher and arrange your mat nearer to the door, so that you can make a quiet exit without interrupting others.
9. Health issues
The middle of the class is not the time or place to announce to your teacher that you’ve got a sore back. If your health has changed in any way since you completed the Health Form, speak to your teacher to advise them. There may be things coming up in the class which would not be beneficial for you, but with a bit of notice, plans can be amended and modifications put in place.
10. When to stay away
If you have a cold or feel unwell in anyway, please think carefully about coming to class. Germs can spread rapidly in a warm room during a yoga class. While there are many aspects of yoga which may be beneficial to you while you are feeling poorly, it’s probably best to stay at home, rest and drink plenty of fluids. Class will still be there next week when you feel a bit better.
If you have any questions about appropriate yoga class etiquette, speak with your teacher. The most important thing to remember is ahimsa (non-violence), thinking of others and the experience they are looking forward to today. By considering our fellow yogis, we can’t go far wrong in helping to create a beautiful class, where everyone has the chance to achieve the benefits they need from the yoga practice.