Yoga Etiquette

Posted: May 12, 2011 in Yoga
Tags: , ,

Okay, time to get a little preachy.  As I am getting more familiar with yoga I am also learning the commonly accepted etiquette that goes along with it.  Hey, just walking into my first yoga studio was a challenge never mind trying to fit in and not stand out as a total noob.  A yoga studio is nothing like a gym, let me tell you.

The process of yoga is an ascent into the purity of the absolute perfection that is the essential state of all human beings.  Now, before you all begin to scream ‘hippie!’ at me, know that yoga defines itself as a science in that it is a practical, methodical, and systematic discipline or set of techniques that have the lofty goal of helping human beings to become aware of their deepest nature.  Okay, so I’m a hippie.  Deal with it.  But part and parcel with all of this neo-spiritual hocus pocus of achieving this ultimate state of Self awareness, is to also ensure that you’re not encumbering anyone else’s Self in doing so and that’s where my ‘Big List of Yoga Don’ts’ comes in.

Arrive 5 – 10 minutes before class.  Allow yourself enough time to set up your practice space before the class begins.  This includes getting changed; rolling out your mat; spreading out your blankets, blocks, bolsters and God knows what else, squeak out any last farts and generally just get yourself comfortable.  Also remember that you’re not attending a picnic and, just as in transition, floor space is often limited.  Less is definitely more when it comes to yoga.  Rushing in last minute like a whirlwind to get set up while the rest of us are trying to focus on our breathing is a bit disrespectful to the whole ‘relaxation’ process.  If you do happen to arrive late (it happens) at least wait until the initial centering exercises have been done and then join in quickly and quietly.  Similarly, if you have to leave early make sure you pack up quietly and split before Savasana at the end.

Remove your shoes.  Most studios will have a lobby or foyer in which to remove your shoes and possibly shelves to leave them safely while you participate in your class.  Since people will be walking around the studio barefoot, it is most hygienic if everyone takes off their outdoor shoes first thing.

Watch your voice level.  This is something that bothers me particularly.  Carry on all your pre- and post-class discussions quietly so as not to disturb other practitioners or fellow students for whom yoga is a source of much-needed calm and quiet.  With all due respect, it’s hard to focus on your Eagle pose with two people engaged in a loud conversation about their partners, jobs, or their last evening out together.  Yoga is definitely a ‘No Bullshit’ zone and there should only be once voice in the yoga class – the instructor’s.  Likewise, do you really have to moan and groan all the way through your session as if you were having an orgasm or something?

Matt Etiquette.  Make sure to respect others’ space by not walking on their mat unless you have been invited to do partner work (which for me is, like, never). To me it’s akin to walking across someone’s nice living room carpet with your muddy shoes on and in my house that was never received very well.  When it comes to my cheap ass bright neon orange yoga matt, it’s ‘Trespassers Will Be Shot’ should somebody ever have the gall to stomp on it.  I know that’s not really in keeping with the whole peaceful “love and light” philosophy of yoga…but sheesh!  Likewise, if you’re borrowing a studio mat, make sure to wipe off all the ‘residue of your excellence’ before putting it away.

Practice safety first.  Ensuring classroom safety is the responsibility of the teacher. Don’t be that schmutz who tries to adjust or modify another students’ pose (unless you have been asked by the instructor to assist that is).  I – better than anybody else – know what the boundaries of my body are and I would rather struggle to find and tackle them on my own if you please.  The fact that you can contort yourself into a pretzel does not give you any further insight into my body mechanics, thanks very much.  Similar to offering other people workouts tips; the person who needs help is the person who asks for it.  Until that moment keep your tips to yourself, Swami.

Don’t be a ‘Yogi Bore’.  I’m still new to the whole yoga scene so this still really annoys me.  There always seems to be that one person who seeks out the attention from the rest of the class.  Perhaps it’s loud talking, or by making a production out of each posture so that everyone looks over at them. Seriously, it’s like trying to meditate with the television on at full volume.  Distracting!  The same goes for the ‘pretty girls’ who will seize the opportunity that a man has joined their class to show off their new tight-fitting leotard by twisting her legs over her head while the rest of us are holding a simple Mountain pose.  “Thanks for the crotch shot, sweetheart, but you’re throwing my breathing off here…”   Hey, I’m flattered as I’m often the sole token male in the room but, really, I see you already.

Practice on an empty stomach.  Do not eat immediately before yoga class – this goes without saying, right?  The general rule of thumb (or ‘sphincter’ as it were) is to eat a large meal at least 2-3 hours before or perhaps a light meal 2 hours before any yoga session.   Nothing ruins a yoga experience faster than taking a vicious fart to the face while practicing your Cow pose.  It’s hard to find your inner Self after you’ve been sprayed with another student’s intestinal remnants, no?

Turn off your cell phone.  Duh.  Only a total douche would ever bring a cell phone to yoga class anyway in my opinion.  Unless you’re an expecting parent or your beloved pet is on life support or something, leave it at home or in the car.  Nobody wants to lose their focus at the hands of someone else’s new ‘Womanizer’ ring tone, do they? How embarrassing.

Personal hygiene.  This is a bit harder one to pinpoint.  Where I recommend avoiding wearing strong perfumes or fragrances as other students may have allergies, you also need to be cognizant of your own unique bodily scent.  So wearing a pair of socks that you’ve had on for the past 4 days, or an unlaundered shirt that you also wore during your run workout yesterday may not be the greatest idea.  What’s more commonly accepted at the gym while working out with your mates is not what’s necessarily acceptable in a small enclosed yoga studio.  You can read that as: ‘if you stink like a fetid polecat it will detract from my overall enjoyment of the session, so don’t!’  Easy.  And while I’m on the subject: trim those toe nails, Godzilla!  I’m not expecting a pedicure before every class, but regular soap and better relations with the nail brush, nail clippers and file would be nice.  Oh, and absolutely no inconspicuous holes in your clothes please; it makes me feel weird when there are little pink patches of skin peeking out at me from those little worn holes in the crotch of your tights, thanks.

Like many arts and sciences that are profound, beautiful, and powerful, I feel that yoga has suffered from the spiritual poverty of the modern world – it has been trivialized, watered down, or reduced to fruity clichés – all of which I try to avoid at all costs as I’m there for the workout and the mental focus, not wind chimes and New Age tunes.  The most important fundamental teaching of yoga has to do with our nature as human beings.  It states that our “true nature” goes far beyond the limits of the human mind and personality – that instead, our human potential is infinite and transcends our individual minds and our sense of self.  In another word, yoga is about ‘respect’.  Respect for yourself as well as the respect for others and by observing these basic etiquettes you can be sure that you’re embracing this concept as well as reaping full advantage of the yoga experience, not only for yourself but for others as well.

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