After more than 3 years teaching , I am starting to gain an understanding of some yoga's etiquette basics that took me a while to grasp so here is my A to Z to help you make sense of some of the things we say, do and do not do during a Yoga class.
A is for asana : asana is the word that comes at the end of every sanskrit pose name , it is the classic name of yoga poses and it simply means seat. Indeed most of the modern yoga poses are an invention and far detached from the traditional poses which were meant to be taken to make meditation possible and were indeed seated poses.
B is for : balasana , the child's pose , it is totally acceptable for you to take child's pose whenever you feel you need a break from all the downdogs and the planks or when you simply need a break from all the hussle and bussle of life.
C is for chanting : at times this can be an awkward activity as the teacher may invite you to join into making strange sounds and chanting words you have no clue what they mean ... if it feels too strange then feel free to just listen respectfully , if you join in do it wholeheartedly !
D is for : divinities , yoga mythology is wonderful and full of wisdom. Your teacher should never be prescriptive when talking about gods and godesses of the yogic tradition unless of course you have joined a class within a religious setting. If it makes you feel uncomfortable, seek a different class.
E is for essential oils : many modern yoga teachers come from wholistic backgrounds and will want to share with you their enthusiasm for natural therapies. If you know you have an allergy , do not hesitate to let your teacher know , feel free to refuse lavender eye pillows and roll-on remedies if for hygiene purposes you prefer not to have one.
F is for farting ... yes , yoga is renowned for stimulating breaking wind , what with the rocking back and forth and all the twisting, you will often feel the urge ... it is good etiquette to carry on as if it hadn't happen ... of course most of us may giggle but if you do please remember that the next time it may be you
G is for g-strings : this is mostly for the ladies. Be considerate for your fellow practitioners , always wear sensible clothing. Ultra thin leggings and revealing underwear are not a great combo, go for high-waisted thicker or patterned leggings instead.
H is for hydration : keep hydrated ! weather you are at a hot yoga session or just moving with your breath will aid perspiration and stimulate toxins removal so make sure you bring some water with you. Most classes take place in public places where there is access to drinking water so don't be afraid to ask for a glass of water if you have forgotten your refillable receptacle.
I is for incense: in some classes you may come across burning incense sticks.Incense is an ancient plant extract ( it's a resin) that has great antiseptic and rejuvenating properties, it is also known for helping finding a focused mind which can prove valuable when meditating.
If you find incense overpowering try and position your mat further away from it and if you still find it too much , have a word with the teacher, there are always things we can do to adjust and accommodate.
J is for jokes: within reason a little humour goes a long way , what is never ok is to joke about other people's physical aspect or personality traits.
K is for kindness: following on from J , always be kind , we are never fully aware of what someone is going through in their life.
L is for lateness: this is a tricky one, try your best not to be late but if you have made your way through a storm after having missed three full trains and you make it to the class 10 minutes late I will NOT turn you away as you probably need yoga more than anyone else in the room so come on in!
M is for meditation : the ultimate goal of Yoga is to still the mind. Experiment with letting go of the expectation that the yoga class will all be about stretching, the physical side is just the first step of a much deeper process.
N is for Namaste : the classic closing word you will hear in most classes. It is traditionally used to say thank you however the real meaning is rooted in the sanskrit word for divinity and broadly translates as : I salute the divine in you. When we all say it together at the end of class it highlights the fact that we all recognise the divine within each other and that is what makes us one.
O is for Om: this sound, this beautiful soothing sound. Occasionally you may be invited to chant it , close your eyes and let the sound flood your core, your lungs and your throat.If you are still not convinced just join in mentally.
P is for props: blocks, bricks, straps, bolsters, wedges, the wall ... cannot have enough props, if you are ever offered a prop take it ! If your knees are hurting on the thin mat , grab another one or a blanket, you are not going to miss anything , it's your practice so make it so !
Q is for questions : ask questions , if there is no time or you need privacy to discuss something specific send a mail after class, yoga teachers want to help people and if they can they will ! Remember though we are not doctors or healers and our suggestions are not prescriptions.
R is for respecting your body , in a world where the motto "no pain no gain" has become very popular it is easy to see how people can injure themselves, yoga gives you the space to remain mindful and look for your edge in a safe way. Your body is much wiser than your ego or the ego of your teacher so listen to your body !
S is for subs: did you know that yoga teachers also need a holiday from time to time? They need some time off to recharge their batteries , to ensure that they are the best they can be so that they can continue sharing the benefits of Yoga with you. Teachers go to great lengths to source good trustworthy substitutes, all you need to do is turn up at the usual time and enjoy something different for a change.
T is for touch : occasionally your teacher may come along and touch your hands, your hips,your feet or your back. Media are dominated with scandals of inappropriate behaviour from gurus and respected teachers lately and although adjustments are acceptable and in some cases necessary for safety reasons, if you feel at all uncomfortable then talk to your teacher about it .If they do not adjust their behaviour then look for another class without hesitation.
U is for unicorns : did you know that a unicorn dies every-time you leave a class before Savasana ( the final relaxation)? Just kidding ! But seriously savasana is an integral part of the yoga practice and you should always try and stay to the end : if you know you will nod off keep your hands lifted off the mat, the aim of savasana is to remain alert and witness the relaxing of the body so that we can train the mind to focus as we get closer to the world of meditation.
V is for visibility : hands up if you do not want to be on the front row! who does ? there are some things however you may want to consider. If the class is busy you may struggle to see or hear the teacher's instructions. The teacher may be aware of an injury or condition that is specific to you and she or he may want to keep an eye on you however distance and other bodies may make it difficult for them to do and keep you from injuring yourself further.
W is for workshops : most of us practice yoga once a week for one hour however there is a way to deepen your practice in a more efficient way and that is attending workshops. These are slightly longer classes often dedicated to a more advanced pose or group of poses. The size of a workshop may be smaller than a weekly class and combined with the focus this allows the teacher to break down poses in more detail and help students experiment with props and alignments to take their practice further. An added bonus , workshops often mean nibbles and a cup of tea at the end !
X is for : exiting the room. You are allowed to leave practice if you feel unwell , if you need the bathroom or if there is an emergency.If you do need to leave your mat please do so quietly especially if towards the quiet part of the class towards the end. It is extremely appreciated if when the class is over you can help tidying the props away weather back into storage or if they need to be removed from the hall , to the instructor's car.
Y is for Yoga clothes : less is more when it comes to yoga clothes, will the latest leopard print make your practice better ? probably not . It is true that undertaking an activity for which you have to dress in a certain way is known to boost your motivation and in some cases your performance, however remember that besides the physical poses yoga is meant to be a inner practice leading us to balance on and off the mat. We wear tight clothes so that we can ensure good alignment so if you tend to wear baggy clothes, consider wearing shorts so that the teacher and yourself can keep an eye on your knees and hips.
Whatever you decide to wear is ultimately up to you but remember: you can spend hundreds of pounds on yoga clothes and never be at peace .
Z is for zeal : there is a word in the Yoga world Tapas , this is your fire , the fire that makes you get up in the morning and get on with stuff when you really just want turn over and go back to sleep. Yoga is a light that can illuminate your life IF you keep your practice going on and off the mat. The amount of zeal you put into learning and practicing will determine the brightness of this light. Of course we do not all have the luxury to dedicate one hour a day to yogic practice however there are small things you can incorporate in your everyday life that are indeed Yogic. Welcoming every day with purpose and gratitude, practice self-care through gentle stretches and mindful breathing before bed, slow mindful eating away from technology , making time for reading books that feed your soul are all examples of yogic practices that stoke your Tapas.
A long post which I hope you enjoyed , see you on the mat xx