Is my mat welcome in class? It’s a question each of us might ask, whether we’re unrolling our yoga mats for the first time or the thousandth. Yoga is, after all, an awareness practice, and being mindful includes sensitivity to and consideration for others. A yoga studio may not be Romper Room, but a few simple “dos and don’ts” can make it easier for everybody to get along.
1. Don’t be on time…be early. Rushing into the room at the last possible moment is not only disruptive to others, it’s also a form of self-sabotage. Make the most of your practice by arriving to class with enough time to settle in and get centered before the first OM. This goes for teachers, too. Respect your students’ schedules (and the incoming class) by beginning and ending on time.
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2. Be clean. The yamas and niyamas aren’t musty philosophical musings but practical guides for everyday behavior. Shaucha, often translated as purity or cleanliness, can apply to hygiene. In a crowded studio no one wants to take a deep three-part breath of someone’s flop sweat, or the perfumes and products used to cover it up. Shaucha also applies to your surroundings: Does your beloved mat need washing? Is that garlicky aroma wafting from your favorite hoody? Leave it in the car or stash it with your phone and purse. Tidy up blankets, bottles, props, etc. And please (pet peeve alert!) don’t walk across my mat to fetch a yoga block.
3. Be really clean. Shaucha encompasses thoughts, actions, and motives as well. We can all (teachers, too) benefit from asking ourselves, “Why am I here?” Any agenda—even a seemingly harmless one like getting in shape—sets us up for expectations and attachments, the seeds for inner and outer conflict.
4. Be appropriate. Dress comfortably, simply, and yes, modestly. No one (except maybe the pervy lurker in the back row) wants to see your underwear. A teacher friend once told me that in Swami Satchidananda’s ashram, trainees were encouraged to take an objective glance in the mirror before class. If their first reaction was “Lookin’ good!” it was a clue they should probably change into something else. See for yourself: Will that outfit turn heads? What about when it’s upside down, bent over, and/or twisted?
5. Be content. You wanted arm balances, and your teacher is focusing on hip-openers. Or worse, your teacher is on vacation, and there’s a sub. It’s like Mick says: You can’t always get what you want. But samtosha, the niyama of contentment, doesn’t mean settling for what you don’t want. Practicing samtosha means learning to recognize your hooks…and to realize how silly and inconsequential they are. And if you can’t laugh at yourself or be at peace with the present, then at least be polite. Act as if you are serene and unruffled. Be the change—or, to put it more bluntly, “Fake it till you make it.”
6. Be present. You think teachers don’t notice when you need to take a drink of water or use the bathroom during a particular asana? When you feel resistance coming up, don’t retreat. Practice the niyama of tapas (fiery self-discipline). Rise to the occasion and give that asana—or a modified version of it—your full attention and awareness. Learn from your teacher, who can suggest a modification. Even more profound, learn from your inner teacher—what is the resistance trying to tell you about yourself?
7. Be grateful. Because…why not? Every class—even the one that make us want to scream or weep—is an opportunity to learn, to grow, to be part of something bigger than ourselves. We’re not just good little Do-Bees adhering to a set of rules, we’re opening the door for compassion and kindness. In that space, every mat is welcome.
Do you have any favorite tips (or pet peeves) to add to this list?