Oh Behave: Instructor’s Top-10 Yoga Etiquette Tips


So you’re into yoga…Groovy Baby!  Whether you’re a seasoned regular or a nervous newbie, you contribute to the collective energy and affect others’ experiences when you attend class.  Here are a few tips for minding your manners in the om zone:

1) Test drive new outfits.  Before you pull the trigger on that cute top at Lululemon or think you can just get by with your retro tennis shorts, try a few poses in front of a mirror.  Things that seem secure and  respectable right-side-up may not be gravity proof.  Trust us, no matter how good looking you think you are,  we don’t want to see your bits and bobs.  The phrase “let it all hang out” is figurative people!

2) Enter the room with decorum. Whether you arrive early, just-in-time or better late-than-never, roll in like the fog, “on little cat feet.”  Remove your shoes, coats, etc in the foyer.  Avoid the “mat snap” and try to set up with an economy of motion.  If you’re late, you may have to wing it with props and instructions.  The instructor may not be able to give you  assistance in setting up without compromising the flow of the class. It’s fine to be late, as long as you’re  not obtrusive.  Similarly, it’s fine to be early, but please don’t expect instructor attention until a few minutes before class. Many instructors have room set-up and/or like to “center” with their own yoga and meditation before teaching.   Cell phones off and put away.  Special lenience for “first responders”  and caregivers of all stripes who may need to leave cells on “vibrate” nearby.

3) Leave chatting to the foyer, or for after class.  Chatting with your neighbor, even in hushed tones, and even if your neighbor is receptive during the opening minutes of class can affect the instructor’s ability to demonstrate opening poses, end the class on time, and stay focused herself.  It also affects the students who arrive early in order to get their own extra “centering” time in before class.  The day is full of numerous opportunities for noise, conversation and chaos.  Try to think of the studio as a haven and realize that many are there seeking solitude on some level.  Socializing after class however, can be rich and rewarding.

4) Don’t be a queen bee.  Yoga is about acceptance of everyone in the space, cultivating awareness and going beyond your comfort zone.  Try to be mindful and open when socializing with other members of the class, not just in your speech but in your body language.  Is your body language closing off the people you may not know/like and favoring others?  Don’t be condescending to beginners; mind you, they may be accomplished yogis from another style or  have some daunting challenge you can’t fathom.   Try to treat everyone equally, and, if you get together with a few of your classmates outside of yoga, try not to discuss it in front of  everyone else. No one comes to yoga to feel left out!

5) If you are disturbed during yoga nidra/final relaxation, just leave the room.  Whether  you’re having a prolonged  muscle spasm, multiple hindrance attack, coughing or sneezing spell, it’s best to step out.  In higher states like yoga nidra, our awareness is such that  we can literally feel others’ squirming and discomfort. Think of the air more like water:  your movements create ripples that move throughout the room.  If you can’t  settle yourself /solve your problem in the first few minutes, then it’s best to leave and not affect the experience for everyone else, especially for the beginners whom are struggling already with yoga nidra and savasana,  “the most difficult pose.”  Once you leave, best to stay out — can you find somewhere else to do seated meditation until class is over?   If you anticipate you may need to leave early, pack up as much of your gear as you can outside of the yoga space, and don’t worry, we’ve all been there!

6) Breaking wind:  it’s OK.  Say “excuse me” or ignore it, whatever works.  We’ll all just move on.  Holding it in isn’t very healthy or “yogic.” That said, if you know you’re having issues, it doesn’t hurt to self-quarantine on the community’s edge.  Everyone will have a turn at dealing with something, so you will probably receive more empathy than judgement.

7) If the personal habits of others in practice bother you, observe your own habits first, especially if you plan on complaining.  Yoga is a challenging practice and can be awkward, especially for adults.  Think the person next to you is breathing too loud? Maybe you’re not breathing loud enough.  Sure, the allergy sufferer always seems to be blowing his nose, but maybe you have B.O.  If it really gets to you, it’s most likely your mind looking for a distraction.  Perhaps you can practice Buddhist “metta” meditation of sending such a person loving kindness and compassion for their issue. That said, it’s not wrong to want to avoid setting up your mat next to certain people but, if in the event it’s unavoidable, recognize it as part of the practice.

8) Try not to monopolize the instructor’s time and attention.   Personalized service is one thing, but after several weeks or months in a group class, a certain amount of self-sufficiency will be expected.  If you are constantly having issues, you may be a candidate for private yoga.  If you can’t seem to “get up the curve,” remember modifications, overcome limitations, you may have to realize that a group setting just isn’t right for you or fair to everyone else.  Instructors expect to give new students extra attention, but not to the extent it affects the collective experience time and time again. The ability to move from seated to standing positions without assistance is key; if your’e not able, you probably need yoga! That said, you should start with private classes until you get your bearings.

9) Try not to attend an established class sporadically. This is the corollary to no. 8.  If you’re new to yoga, a bit out of shape, started yoga later in life, etc., you may not have the muscle memory or  the mental memory to attend yoga  once-in-a-while.  The worst case scenario is you take a few classes, get down the basics and then go on hiatus, only to return and flash everyone else back to your personal square one. Once a week is a minimal commitment in yoga; if you can’t do that, then consider something else. You’ll only put yourself at greater risk of injury and your class at greater risk of aggravation!  For those who travel or it’s just a scheduling impossibility,  you can probably  make a go of it by doing a minimal home practice (10-15 mins)  a few times a week. You can also find classes where you’re traveling–your instructor may even be able to recommend.

10) Go with the flow. baby!  If yoga has one life lesson to teach us, it’s that pretty much everything is beyond our control; or, as one of my favorite teachers says, “let go for dear life.”  If the temperature of the room, the person breathing next to you, a class cancellation, the tag on your shirt are driving you nuts,  then know this : you really need yoga!  Maybe your practice should be more focused on “riding the wave” of meditation (breathe-relax-feel-watch-allow) and less so on performing the perfect pose.

Follow these and you too can be Yogadelic!

Shaila Cunningham

Shaila Cunningham

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