Yoga Etiquette: Discretion On The Mat

Published in Natural Awakenings Magazine, September 2018


As yoga becomes increasingly popular in the west, there are a great many practices being called yoga today, which may or may not adhere to the traditional tenets of this ancient, spiritual practice and discipline.

While in actuality everything is yoga (Yoga means “union” in Sanskrit) – there are subtle and proven protocols for courtesies, and integrity on the mat.

Have you ever just settled into your breath at the beginning of a class, your body-mind remembering the peace and sanctity on your mat, your breath drawing you deeper within…and suddenly, the startling sound of a mat being slapped down indiscriminately interrupts your Zen, the teacher’s dialog and your personal process? It’s actually painful.

As a yoga instructor of over a decade and a practitioner for more than a quarter of a century, I am often amazed and startled by the ignorance of yoga etiquette I sometimes see in my travels. It occurs to me that perhaps many have not had the advantage of the restraint teachings my trailblazing teachers brought to this country in the 1960s. This, my inspiration. May it serve your yoga journey well and your bliss body for a lifetime of practice.

Discretion #1: Arrive Early

Aim to arrive 10 minutes prior to class. Allowing yourself time to relax and settle in before you begin. Arriving late shows a lack of respect for the teacher and the other students. The teacher has taken time to prepare class content with a planned flow from beginning to the end. The students have taken the time to get there before class starts so they may participate in the entire class. If your tardiness exceeds 10 minutes, it’s best to chalk it up to a missed class.

Discretion #2: Silence Cell Phones & Tablets

Make a habit of doing this before you set foot into the studio; nothing is more grating than the sound of a ringing cell phone during practice. (And few things as embarrassing as scrambling to silence your phone mid-class).

Discretion #3: Remove Your Shoes

The studio stays clean and hygienic if everyone leaves his or her shoes (even flip flops) outside the door. This is an honoring of Mother Earth, and the sacred ground where we practice.  PAY ATTENTION to where you walk barefoot in the studio – it is a major NO-NO to tread on another students’ mat. Honor the sacred space of your fellow students as you honor your own.

Discretion #4: Communicate With Your Teacher

If you have concerns, contraindications or injuries (past or present) discuss with your instructor. She/He can recommend modifications so that you get the most benefit from your practice without unnecessary strain. Speak up if something doesn’t feel right, but don’t “hog” the teacher during class. If you have many concerns, schedule a private session.

Discretion #4: Relish The Quiet

Enter in the noble silence, creating an environment conducive to the development of insight, compassion and concentration. A yoga classroom is like a sanctuary – people come here to relax and find peace. Honor this by observing as much quiet as possible. Try not to make distracting sounds, i.e. overzealous grunts and groans, and save any chitchat for after class – OUTSIDE the studio.

Discretion #5: Keep Belongings Outside Of Class

Floor space in a studio can be limited, so keep your footprint to a minimum. Limit belongings near your mat to essentials, i.e. water bottle, towel and maybe an additional layer for relaxation at the close of class. Leave coats, totes, keys, phones (silenced), and anything else within a designated and secure area outside the classroom.

Discretion #6: Consider Hygiene

Sweat is good – it’s a sign you’re working your metabolism in a healthy way to cleanse and detoxify the body. However, if you’re prone to perspire heavily, bring a towel to the mat to wipe your brow and prevent any dripping on a neighbor’s mat. As a courtesy to the next class – wipe up any excess sweat on or around your mat after class.

Discretion #7: Excuse Yourself Quietly

If you must use the restroom during class, it’s most polite to wait until a short period of rest like Child’s Pose or between asanas. Excuse yourself quietly, trying not to obstruct other students’ and their view of the instructor.

Discretion #8: Stay ‘Til The End

Savasana is a delicious period of relaxation at the end of each yoga session. If you roll up your mat and dash out the door during this quiet time, you’re not only annoying your fellow students, you’re missing out on what is arguably the most essential part of the practice. Forget about the to-do list and allow yourself to really sink into this incredibly restorative pose. BREATHE and remind yourself that this is why you are here. You’ll be glad you did!

Discretion #9: Practice On An Empty Stomach

Yoga is to be practiced on an empty stomach. Allow 1-2 hours after a light meal. 3-4 hours after a heavy meal.

Regardless of what style of yoga you practice, these simple and clear codes of conduct on the mat will help you to maintain the sacred space insuring the very best therapeutic outcomes for your practice. The Law of Oneness (union) is a foundation of yoga. Everything is energy and all in our world and universe, including the seen and unseen, are connected. The inner world is a reflection of the outer world. Let us work together to create a peaceful, respectful and healing environment, on and off the mat.  

OM, Shanti, Peace.

Namaste’ Lin