Yoga Rage, An Oxymoron?

It’s still January, the season of the yoga rage. New explorers from all walks of life are trying out classes, and trying the dedicated practitioners’ patience. An article out of the UK sites incidences of “yoga rage” are on the rise, as new students arrive unaware of the etiquette of yoga class and turn the sacred space of practice into a practice of distraction.

For those of us who have been practicing for a while, this occurrence is not uncommon during those peak times of the year. Naïve new students bring cell phones into class, walk into the space with soiled shoes, enter late and leave early, and are just generally unaware of their surroundings and their place in it. But what does it say about our practice as students of yoga that we would allow the actions of the others affect our own practice, much less turn to “rage.” Sure the space gets crowded, and we might get a foot or hand in the face, but we’re practicing yoga after all. Patience, compassion, and generosity are what it is all about.

Many studios post on their websites and at various locations in the studio a kind reminder of the studio policies, but often in the rush to get to class these things get overlooked. So how do we provide support for the newcomers while maintaining respect for our own practice? I.e. how do we avoid the “rage?” Good question. For starters, we can adopt an attitude of understanding. Even if we have practiced for years, we all started somewhere. Our knowledge grew from experience and the support of our peers and teachers. We can also approach a crowded class full of newcomers with the desire to serve. If it is your normal routine to enter class quietly and spend a few moments meditatively moving or sitting, then utilize the power of your intention to cultivate a sense of warmth without saying a word, or step out of the box of your usual practice and be present to welcome and support new students.

Make the choice to cultivate patience and compassion. When the heat is turned up and bodies start to move, find patience for the one whose hand is in your face during Surya Namaskar and whose feet are in your back during seated forward folds. Be compassionate toward the all too familiar lint-picker or clock-watcher. Know in your heart that you teach patience and endurance by example. Allow the joy of your practice to shine through you and onto others. Lastly, know that eventually they will get it, and if not, fairly quickly they will determine that this is not the place for them right now. Your space will become sacred again soon enough, and by working with acceptance and tolerance, you will open into a whole new side of your practice.

For those of us who are the newcomers to yoga, here is a list of general things that will help foster good yoga etiquette.

1. Arrive early.
2. Dress appropriately (or allow for plenty of time to change before class)
3. Take your shoes off and store them in the correct location.
4. Turn your cell phones off (or leave them at home).
5. Avoid powerful odors of any kind (artificial or natural).
6. Savasana is required! If you must leave early, position yourself near the door and exit silently.

Know that most studios have their own list of guidelines and considerations. Please check with the teachers or the studio staff if you have any questions.

Comments 5

  1. An alternative view.

    While it is true that we _should_ be working on self mastery and learning about our emotions and reactions, and how not to allow them to rule the mind, so to speak; it is also true that a center has commitment and responsibility to create conditions that foster a good practice. Regularly creating conditions for “Yoga Rage” is more the fault of the center than it is of the individual practioner.

    Many of us are new to yoga, others may be living an overstressed lifestyle and our doctors are under the impression that “yoga will help.” Then one goes to a center than does high speed Sun Bows in the space of a a two wheel bicycle. And your saying the participant are supposed to work on their self control? Let’s think this through. Folks there are places where the center is moving away from the values of yoga in order to “survive.” (And I’m talking about supposedly venerable centers.) What will actually survive if the values are lost to keep a space?

    In the end we should refuse to keep attending a center that regularly “cram$ them in, and tells “us” to “suck it up and control our emotions.”

    As the author wrote, the individual may need to reasonably adjust from time to time, but centers should reasonably adhere to a no overcrowding policy.

    Fortunately, the center that I currently attend has such a limit to the number of participants in a class that’s function of the size of the room.

    Let’s not turn yoga practitioners into victims, much less cultivate people who have institutionalized feelings of guilt.

    Keep the mind clear and be reasonable.

  2. Dear FrankL,

    Thank you for your perspective on the role of yoga center’s and teachers responsibilities for creating a calm and supportive environment for yoga students. I do think that the center and teachers can do a lot to minimize overcrowding and their students reactions to disturbances in the class.

    But I do not think Kelly’s intention was to put all the blame on the students. Most of her article focuses on the annoyances and irritations a newbie student can bring into a yoga class. As a yoga teacher you can only do so much to control the vibe in a class and to make sure new students follow yoga protocol.

    You are correct that the end responsibility is with the student. There will always be distractions and annoyances in a yoga class, both externally in the room and internally in the body and mind. The student must consciously choose if they want to embrace these distractions and learn to control one’s reaction to them, or choose to remove them by taking classes in a different environment.

    If anyone is interested, either Kelly or I can post what a yoga teacher can do to minimize these disturbances when they occur in class.


  3. Thanks to both Frank and Timothy for their views and insights. I too agree that center or studio carries a share of the responsibility for overcrowded classes. However, for anyone who is new to attending classes finds the classes to be too crowded and uncomfortable, other options exist. You can schedule private or semi-private instruction with most yoga teachers, and you can also practice in the comfort and space of your home to some of the great dvds on the market. Or, as new students, we can look to the support of our peers and teachers at the yoga center to help make our experience comfortable and pleasant, and it is to these people that I placed my intention in the blog. It is very easy for regular yoga students and practitioners to feel that they possess the space, and be put off by the new students’ discovery. It is our job as seasoned practitioners and teachers to cultivate the deeper meaning of the practice, and be open and giving to the newcomers. If there was guilt or victimization implied, it was inadvertent. After all, as I said in the blog, all of us were new to this practice at one time, and it was through the support of good teachers, good studios, and kind practitioners that we were able to find comfort and peace in the space and community in which that is the sole intention.

    bless, kelly

  4. Kelly,

    I enjoyed reading your post. Your point about being new at one time and getting support from those who have walked the ‘journey’ before us applies to life in many ways. It is amazing how easy it gets to make a compassionate choice when we think of how we did when we first started out on something.



  5. Thanks to everyone for your insights on the subject.

    I have practiced yoga sporadically since the mid 1980s, and have been amazed at the meteoric rise of its popularity since then. I have, at times, felt disheartened by the elements of commercialization, the creation of “consumer yoga” with all of its designer yogawear and gear, high-priced yoga classes and elite spas, and the emergence of ego-driven, aggressive and proprietary new forms of yoga with their corresponding celebrity teachers. All of this seems to contradict the essential spirit of the practice.

    At the same time, I have great faith in the transformative power of all kinds of yoga practice and the basic goodness of people, and I am happy to know that more and more people are tapping into yoga as an avenue for optimum health and a peaceful mind – our society needs this more than ever.

    Getting back to the “yoga rage” phenomenon, though I have not seen an explicit example of this, I did recently experience something that challenged my beliefs and assumptions about what a yoga class should be like.

    I was attending the only yoga class offered in my rural New England community (held at our town hall), led by a very gifted teacher who is both compassionate and highly skilled. Fifteen minutes into the class, a man suddenly burst into the room, obviously a bit muddled and stammering, “Is this the yoga class?” The teacher stopped the class long enough to calmly explain the class schedule and invite him to come the next week.

    I instantly recognized the man as someone who had I met by chance a couple of years earlier and who I knew to have an unpredictable temper and the potential to be violent.
    My immediate response was to feel violated and angry that such a person was invading one of the few sanctuaries in my hectic life and I secretly wished that he would fail to show up the next time. Surely, he would figure out that he just wasn’t “the yoga type.”

    Well, he did show up the next week, and the next, and the next – and seems to have integrated quite nicely into the class. And, I am glad that he has found the power of yoga and I have little doubt that the class is in some way, helping him to deal with his emotions and grow a more peaceful heart.

    So, I guess my view is that we can be both good communicators with our teachers and yoga studios/gyms in terms of stating our preferences for the class environment etiquette, and compassionate and patient co-participants who recoginized challenging situations that inevitably arise (on and off the mat) as food for our practice. Easier said than done, of course! Our responses to others”™ behaviors and less than ideal conditions can either promote peace or magnify the darker aspects of being human that we are seeking refuge from. And, ultimately, as Frank suggests, we can “vote with our feet” if a teacher or facility is unable to provide the kind of environment we need in order to benefit from a yoga class.

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