Lessons in Yoga Etiquette

While out of action due to recent surgery I finally got the opportunity to catch up on the fantastic Netflix series, The Crown.  Without making any parallels, witnessing the young princesses Elizabeth and Margaret undertaking their etiquette lessons prompted me to draw up a few lessons in yoga etiquette for the uninitiated.

In all seriousness, for anyone entirely new to yoga this might be genuinely useful information. For those who are regular practitioners it might be a timely reminder, or answer a few unanswered questions that you’re too afraid to ask. And for those who gave feedback in our student survey last year, I hope this answers some of your concerns!

To talk or not to talk?

Now this is about as divisive as yoga gets. Is it acceptable to chat amongst yourselves in the yoga studio before class? Or should the studio remain a sacred, quiet space? Some studio owners encourage students to get to know each other, to connect and bond with other yogis and create a sense of community, while others discourage discourse and promote peace and tranquility. Personally I have chosen to allow our tribe to create their own vibe, but I encourage students to respect the ambiance of the studio as they enter.  If you arrive to discover a peaceful studio with fellow students already in savasana or contemplative meditation, then please take their lead. If you enter and people are chatting, maybe introduce yourself! Or if you have come to class to enjoy some quiet time, then find your own space and turn your attention inwards. Take the opportunity to be mindful and observe your reactions to the external noise, and if you feel irritated by the chatter sit with that for a while. The joy of meditation, or pratyahara (sense withdrawal) can be at its most sublime in the midst of chaos.

Cleanliness is next to Godliness

This principal extends way beyond the yoga studio, but in the yoga sutras the 1st of the 5 Niyamas (concerned with self-discipline and spiritual observances) is ‘Saucha’, which roughly translates as ‘Cleanliness’. In this sense we are talking about physical cleanliness, as well as a clean mind (achieved through meditation) and a clean environment. In terms of studio etiquette we politely request that students wear deodorant (but avoid strong perfume), that you avoid walking on other people’s mats with your bare feet, and that you store your personal paraphernalia on the shelves provided to avoid cluttering the floor space. That said, in the event of other students not observing these unwritten ‘rules’, once again I encourage you to observe your own reactions & judgments. After all if you haven’t come to a yoga class to practice patience and compassion you might be in the wrong place, or still have a long way to go. Let’s not sweat the small stuff peeps! (Excuse the pun).

Bodies behaving badly

Let’s be frank - we’ve all done a bottom burp in class. Maybe you’ve discreetly let out a silent one, but rest assured it happens to the best of us and it’s nothing to be ashamed of. In fact in contrast to the conveniently alliterative headline, it’s simply our bodies behaving naturally. As we begin to move and promote the flow of Prana or Chi (energy) our bodies start to function properly again. So when a little wind escapes we can politely ignore it, or share a giggle, but please don’t suppress it. Likewise as we activate the parasympathetic nervous system (our relaxation response) it is natural to yawn in savasana, meditation or yoga nidra. Our conditioned response is often to suppress a yawn for fear of appearing bored or rude. But in a yoga class I encourage you to yawn to your heart’s content, allow the tears to stream down your face! You are decompressing. Which brings me to snoring in savasana. Go ahead, make my day. My work is done. On the other hand if someone else’s snoring is irritating you, we’ve got more work to do.

Keep savasana sacred

Fortunately most of our students seem to honour and enjoy the final minutes of deep relaxation in savasana, or corpse pose. But for many the prospect of lying still for 5 or 10 minutes at the end of a yoga class can be excruciatingly uncomfortable. We live in a fast-paced world where we are constantly ‘doing’ and often find it difficult to slow down, let alone completely stop. I have been in numerous classes where students come along for the ‘workout’ and leave before or even in the middle of savasana, the single most important pose in any yoga class! If you are ever under time pressure and absolutely need to leave before the end of class, always inform the teacher. He or she can give you 5 minutes notice to take an early savasana, and leave quietly before the rest of the class settle into their final relaxation without disruption. Otherwise stay and allow your body to absorb all benefits of this incredible practice as you rest, relax and start the important process of healing at the end of each class.

Do you still have unanswered questions about unspoken yoga etiquette? Feel free to comment below and I’ll do my best to give you an honest reply.

Love & light,