Oh Behave

New to yoga? Get the lowdown on courteous conduct before you head to class.

Etiquette, or the rules of polite conduct designed to make everyone feel at ease, shouldn’t be observed only at dinner parties and diplomatic summits. Follow these 10 essential tips to ensure that your behaviour on the mat is appropriate.

1. Time Is Right

It happens to everyone at some point: you’re in a mad rush when you have the sinking realisation that, short of a wrinkle in the space-time continuum, you’re just not going to make it to yoga class on time. Although arriving a few moments late is better than skipping practice altogether, you need to rethink your approach if you’re chronically tardy. Habitually arriving late shows disrespect to the teacher and the other students, and it robs you of the chance to experience the full benefits of the class. If you’re late, wait for the chanting to conclude, come in quietly, make your apology to the teacher after class and do your best not to let it happen again.

2. Find The Quiet

Some teachers encourage audible breathing, often as part of the technique known as Ujjayi Pranayama, and you should definitely incorporate this into your practice. But be conscious of other sounds. If the instructor has just asked the whole class to let out a sigh, making some noise is okay. You might moan loudly with pleasure as you sink into a deliciously deep Pigeon Pose, but try not to be too noisy too often. Be considerate of everyone and bear in mind that if your sighs are heard in the far corners of the room and your chitchat with a neighbour lasts throughout the practice, you’re distracting your fellow students. Save enthusiastic sound effects for your home practice and limit socialising to before and after class.

3. Sharing Is Caring

Resist the temptation to ask for an adjustment in every pose.

Be sure to let your teacher know of any injuries or relevant medical information, and definitely sound an alert if you feel pain in a particular posture. But don’t hog the teacher. Resist the temptation to ask for an adjustment in every pose. Instead of regaling everyone with a blow-by-blow account of your injuries, see if you can incorporate the yogic discipline of restraint into your practice. Come early or stay late to talk with your teacher or discuss specific issues. Better yet, schedule a private session to finetune the asanas to suit your particular condition.

4. Dry Ideas

Sweating cleanses the pores and rids the body of toxins, and is a healthy sign that you’re working hard. That said, if your sweat is better described as a torrent than as a mist, bring a towel to mop your brow so that you don’t drip on your neighbour’s mat and, if need be, to soak up any puddles you’ve left on the floor after class.

5. Spare The Air

Nix the patchouli or save it for after practice.

One thing that distinguishes yoga from other physical activities is its emphasis on the breath. And a deep Ujjayi breath full of perfume can all but ruin a practice. Treat your nose and those around you to a clean-smelling, fragrance-free environment. If possible, shower before class and don’t use any aromatic body products. Many people are chemically sensitive or are disturbed by strong scents, even those from natural essential oils. So nix the patchouli or save it for after practice.

6. Walk This Way

You’ve no doubt figured out that before you enter the studio, you need to remove your shoes. But when you’re navigating the studio floor, it’s just as important to step around or over the mats rather than on them. How would you feel if someone’s stinky toes marked the spot where you rest your forehead in Child’s Pose? And if you’re doing partner work, it’s courteous to ask, “May I stand on your mat?” before jumping feet first into your partner’s yoga sanctuary.

7. Pick Up Nothing But Your Foot

One of the most rewarding things about attending a class regularly is the feeling of community you develop with other students. Being open and friendly with fellow yogis is entirely appropriate, but hitting on the cutie on the mat in front of you is absolutely not. For many, yoga is a sacred space—a time and place to go inside, be a little raw, retreat from the world. So show a little respect. A classmate outside class is fair game, but consider romance off limits in the studio.

8. Go It Alone

Juggling work, parenthood and a regular yoga practice is undeniably difficult. But yoga class may not be the best venue for multi-tasking. If your kid can practise without distracting others and you get the teacher’s blessing in advance, it might be okay to bring her along. But think twice. There are likely to be people in class for whom this is sacred kid-free time. Honour that feeling, as you will probably at some point want the same thing.

9. Silence Your Mobile

This, the most obvious of rules, bears repeating. We know you have a lot of friends—and, yes, you’re so important that they’re always texting and calling you. And we’re sure your ringtone is really groovy. But everyone in class (including you!) showed up to get some peace of mind. So silence your mobile phone. Please. If you don’t put a muzzle on your mobile, you’re almost guaranteed to get a call during Savasana. You’ll spend the next 45 seconds (though it will seem much longer) fumbling frantically through your bag trying to locate your phone. By then, it will have stopped ringing, but everyone’s moment of peace will be long gone. Turned it off? Great! Now, check it again just to make sure.

10. Stay (And Die) Awhile

As everyone settles in for a long Savasana, you’re itching to roll up your mat and sneak out. Maybe you can’t help thinking of all the things you should be doing with those minutes. But relax and stay put. Aside from distracting the other students and showing disrespect to the teacher (see rule No. 1), you’ll miss the deep relaxation at the end that is arguably the most important part of the practice; Savasana may be the most transformative pose you’ll do all day. And look at it this way: if you’re that antsy to go, isn’t that all the more reason to stay?

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