OK Yogis, I get it.
Carefree and flexible in both body and spirit, we go with the flow, move like water, have open minds, open hips, seek to love and appreciate ourselves for who we are, see the light in all beings and sometimes we wear balloon pants and flowers in our hair. Yogis have become synonymously associated with granolas, the earth mother/father archetype, those that you see flocking to music festivals with face paint and third eye crystals, the ones who make funny shapes with their bodies to some music that others “just don’t understand.” That’s us, yep. The yogis. We’re probably off somewhere participating in a massage circle or looking for the newest brand of local, fair-trade, organic, raw, vegan…anything. Yes, that is us. Now I say this all with love and only partially in jest because yes, I am one of you! You are all in me! I see your light; you see mine, yadda yadda yadda, Namaste and all that jazz. BUT….
Wake up! While you were frolicking around in the air and the ether some of your beloved yoga teachers have worked hard to set a sacred space for your yoga practice. And then YOU stormed in covered in sand and salt water, having bathed in a puddle of patchouli and demanding a group hug. Earth to yogi! Calling your feet back down to this green planet! I have an important message for you all: guidelines DO EXIST (“ew we HATE guidelines man, don’t box us in!”). There IS a protocol to being a conscientious and respectful student in a shared studio space. Now being a buzz kill is not my desired role, but you know what else I dislike? I dislike starting a class and then watching Henry Heavy Feet stomp his way in 15 minutes later. I dislike witnessing the ensuing eye rolls from those already deep into their Surya Namaskaras when they have to move their mats to accommodate him. I also dislike that he missed the entire intention by being so discourteously unpunctual…and while I’m on a roll, I dislike that I have been put in the compromising position of erroneously acting like it’s all good. With a smile on my face I provide warm-up poses to someone that couldn’t be bothered to even arrive in time for the actual warm-up.
Now, come on, you don’t want to be Henry Heavy Feet, do you? No? Well, that’s what I thought.
If “guidelines” or “rules” don’t sit well with you, look at practicing yoga etiquette as part of a beautiful ritual. Rachel Pollack says “Ritual helps us acknowledge the important moments in our lives…we place those moments outside of the ordinary flow of events…The break from our ordinary lives heightens our senses and reminds us of who we are.” [The Power of Ritual]
For me, arriving to the mat as a student is a much welcomed break from the ordinary flow of my life events; one that I cherish very much. The entire experience is my ritual, from unrolling the mat at the start to exiting the studio at the end. Are you mindful of this experience for yourself and for those around you? Or did you get too caught up in whether or not your turban matched your tube top and your tinctures?
I’m going to give you the real etiquette low down, the one that doesn’t mince words, not the watered down peace-and-love response. Yes, I’m talking disgruntled yogini style because I’ve seen it all. Let’s figure this out together people once and for all.
Tips for appearing mindful during the sacred ritual of yoga practice:
• Take off your shoes BEFORE entering the yoga studio. Maybe even rinse your feet. In particular, if you are borrowing or renting equipment from your studio, show some respect! Especially for those of us living in the tropics, no one wants to unroll a mat and find it full of sand and salt. It’s one of the Niyamas, Saucha meaning cleanliness and purity. Have you ever come down to a child’s pose and scanned the ickiness on your community mat or studio floor? Yeah, pretty uncool if that ickiness is not your own. So keep it to yourself. Shoes off. Clean feet. Capicé?
• Arrive on time. And by on time I mean 5 to 10 minutes early. Don’t unroll your mat during the opening breath work and intention setting. You are robbing from the focus and dedication and discipline of all of those around you who made the effort to get there. Now, given the reality of schedules for school children, life’s little curveballs, un-planned obstacles like traffic jams, red lights or monkeys in the house; if you must arrive tardy then walk lightly and set up with minimal disruption. There are people who have already begun class. In creating distractions you are energetically blasting their experience. You were not invited on their journey. And your own journey is no more important than theirs.
• Avoid wearing strong perfume or cologne. Although you may adore the smell of your own Sandalwood Musk or essence au natural, you cannot predict the olfactory reactions of your classmates. Some people are very sensitive to smells or have allergies. Nothing like a pounding head-ache to take you out of your Warrior mode or a sneezing attack to topple over your Tree. Ever had an overpowering body odor shove you headfirst out of your quiet mind? Yeah, well I have. Not cool.
• Minimize conversation. The ritual begins from the second you step foot into the studio. Try to avoid nervous chatter and consider the practice as having begun the moment you roll out your mat. Please don’t rehash last night’s party scene while sitting in your sukhasana. Sit quietly, come into a private breath practice or explore some asana independently. Respect that others around you are likely seeking peace, quiet and inward focus. If the instructor needs to converse with the students, he/she will. Within reason you can always ask questions during practice if you need direct assistance in a pose. However, while upside down, head between your legs DON’T ask the cute girl beside you what she’s up to later. No weather chit-chat. No gossip. Just pure presence.
• Do not bring your kids. Do not bring your kids. Do not bring your kids. Do not bring your kids. Unless the sign on the door says “Daycare”, “School” “Mommy/Daddy & Me Yoga” or “Children’s Yoga” do not bring your kids. I know, I know, your child is an angel. Yours is special. Your child already does yoga (I know this because you’ve masterfully slipped in a demonstration of their trikonasana followed by a dimpled smile). Your child is well behaved. I know. Yours and everyone else who has ever asked to bring their child to an adult yoga class. Do yourself a favor: dedicate the hour or 90 minutes of practice to YOURSELF and allow the others that have arrived to do the same. The only thing worse than having your practice derailed by your own child is having your practice derailed by someone else’s child. Be prepared to stave off the dagger eyes on your way out if you dare to skip this part of the ritual.
• Wear comfortable and (a-hem) appropriate clothes. I’ve seen my fair share of wardrobe oddities by way of running a yoga studio on a tropical beach, but unless you’ve signed on for a 105°F (≈ 40.6°C) practice in a sealed up room (or a nude colony class) please people, cover it up! I didn’t sign-in on the registry of a burlesque performance and don’t need to see a dozen who-haas or hooters from my down dog. And that goes for you, too gents! Group class is not the place to display your plumage, fine as it might be. Sport some skivvies under those loose fitting fisherman pants, ok?!
• Follow the sequencing of the class. If you prefer to do your own independent practice then why are you paying money to be guided in a group class? Not only are you creating a distraction for all of the students, but newer ones don’t know what the f* is going on! They don’t know whether to follow you, the actual teacher or just give up entirely and walk away. You’re in a full split; we’ve just arrived at Tadasana. Come on. Get it together! Join the class you made the conscious decision to join, or don’t come at all. Take modifications and variations as needed while respecting your own bodily needs, but also respect the practice and the time of those around you. Likely, a lot of planning went into the sequencing of this class. Personal practice is the time to show yourself just how fancy you can be, to admire your own inhuman expressions of back flexibility…don’t do it during the level 1 yin class.
• Turn off electronics. Duh. I do yoga precisely to get away from my computer and cell phone, what about you? So guess what? I don’t want to be around your computer or cell phone either. Check it at the door. Not to mention the effect that electronics have on the energy of a space and its electromagnetic field…don’t get me started! If you’re so busy that you can’t be without your cell phone for 60 to 90 minutes at a time, consider booking a private yoga session – one where you will be the only one to cringe at the sound of your awful reggaeton ringtone.
• Observe silence in savasana. Ok, so you’ve got somewhere else to be and some other people to be there with, all of which take precedent over the most important pose of the practice. Ok, I get it, I won’t judge (much). You think…what? Lying on your back like a corpse is too easy or something? Well, welcome to the toughest pose of the practice: try staying there for 5 or 10 minutes with a clear mind and connected breath. If for whatever reason you absolutely must go, don’t shout to the teacher across the room announcing your departure, don’t walk directly over the bodies staggered around the space and DON’T activate your cellphone before you’re well out of earshot. This is the culmination of the entire practice – a good (or bad) savasana can throw off or accentuate the rest of our prior work – don’t blow it for the rest of us, buddy!
Okay, so here they are: the basic steps in the ritual of being a mindful yoga student. Is this all asking too much? Maybe so, but remember: following this ritual is part of the discipline of a dedicated practice. It’s not about touching your toes, right? There is something deeper to it. And part of that “something deeper” includes fine-tuning our yogi manners.
And as an added bonus, you’ll stop being greeted by sour faces at your local studio, trust me.
You can thank me later…