At the beginning of every calendar year, you tend to see a lot of unfamiliar faces at the yoga studio. Many of these people are brand new to yoga, and they can sometimes be a bit confused about yoga studio etiquette. Of course, this is not the fault of the new students, as a lot of the unspoken and unwritten rules of how to conduct yourself in a yoga studio are not entirely obvious.
So, for the benefit of new students, as well as returning yogis who might need a refresher, here’s a brief overview of yoga studio etiquette. It should go without saying that these are not necessarily hard and fast rules. And not all studios are the same. Something that might be frowned upon at one studio may very well be the norm at another. However, in my 10+ years of practicing yoga, I have found remarkable consistency across yoga studios, regardless of style or tradition. I think this is because these rules are, for the most part, sensible extensions of yoga itself. They stem from a desire to create a special place for the practice of yoga. They also encourage mindfulness, respect for oneself and others, presence of mind, and even a sense of devotion.
No Shoes. Generally speaking, it’s considered a big no-no to wear shoes beyond a certain threshold in the studio. At some places, you’ll remove your shoes just prior to entering the practice room. At other studios, you’ll be expected to keep your shoes outside the studio space altogether. No matter what, though, you should not wear shoes in the practice room (or on your yoga mat). Perhaps this way of doing things is a holdover from the Indian origins of yoga. But regardless of the origins of this practice, it makes sense for yogis everywhere. We want to keep our yoga space clean, since we’ll be rolling around and placing our bare hands and feet on the floor. Removing our shoes is also a nice way to honor the space where we gather to honor ourselves and each other.
Clean Up Your Sweat. If you sweat a lot, you should bring a towel and be mindful of your sweat. Some students literally create a puddle of sweat around their mats, and they may even sweat directly onto other people’s mats. This is generally considered a no-no by yoga students and teachers. Not only is it gross, but it also creates an unsafe environment where someone could slip and seriously injure themselves. I once had a yoga instructor who scolded a student in class because she slipped in his puddle of sweat and pulled something in her leg. Not cool.
Never Step on Someone Else’s Yoga Mat. Most serious yoga practitioners consider their yoga mat to be a sacred space, not just a piece of exercise equipment. They tend to have a very intimate relationship with their practice, and the mat is the physical location where that practice takes place. So it can be seen as disrespectful if you step on someone else’s yoga mat.
Don’t Talk in Class. Generally speaking, it’s expected that the only person talking in class is the teacher. Students can certainly ask a quick question if they don’t get something. But, for the most part, students should not talk during class. There are a number of reasons for this. The most significant reason, I think, is that the teacher is essentially choreographing a sequence, and this requires well-timed pacing and rhythm. If a student starts talking excessively, this can be disruptive and throw the whole program off, especially in a vinyasa flow class, or an Ashtanga class, where there is a tight connection between breath and movement. As far as students talking to each other goes, that’s just a no brainer — in any class, it’s rude to socialize while the teacher is instructing. Especially as a yoga student, you should be focused on your practice, and not talking to your friend about where you’d like to go for lunch after class.
Cell Phones Off. It’s amazing how many students leave their cell phones on during class. I have actually seen students answer their phones in class, or grab their phones and step into the hallway to take a call. Unless you truly need to be “on call” for something, you should turn your phone off. The 60, 75, or 90 minutes you’re in class should be a time of the day that you carve out for yourself and your practice. By keeping your cell phone nearby, even if it doesn’t go off, you’re not really committing to doing yoga. I know it’s hard to shut down that iPhone — what if I miss a message!? — but by doing so, you can remove a major distraction from your physical and mental space.
Don’t Wear Strong Fragrances. Most styles of yoga emphasize the breath. As you start to move and build heat, you breathe even more deeply. This entire process can be compromised when the person next to you is off-gassing the latest Christian Dior fragrance. Yoga also tends to be practiced in tight quarters, so any fragrance you have on will likely get trapped. And once you start building heat in the body, that perfume will really start to kick in, as it’s supposed to, and smell even more strongly than when you applied it. The best bet is to save the fragrances for after yoga, not before.
Now I don’t mean to waggle my finger and say you have to do things this way or that. I’m simply reporting the rules of yoga etiquette I have observed at studios all across the country. It’s also important to note that none of this is about conforming to arbitrary or rigid conventions just for the sake of following rules. As I mentioned at the outset, these rules of yoga etiquette are a natural outgrowth of the yoga practice itself. If you follow these basic rules, you (and those around you) will be in a better state of mind for practicing yoga. For instance, shutting off your cell phone is a good way of actually committing to being present for the duration of the class, instead of checking your text messages every five seconds. The other rules serve a similar function — i.e., to encourage us to focus on the practice of connecting breath with movement, and doing it with a clear and focused mind.
If you’re newer yoga, don’t stress about following the rules and doing things just right. Most yogis are pretty laid back, and probably won’t make a big deal about it if you, say, step on their mat unintentionally. As you go deeper in your own practice, though, you will probably find yourself abiding by these rules just as a matter of course. Your yoga mat and the space where you practice will become special to you, if not sacred, and you’ll want to see that space respected accordingly.