I have decided to take the time out to post a few things on Yoga Etiquette, which may seem silly, but for some reason many of these things do not seem widely known.
The idea of yoga etiquette is somewhat humorous because when you begin to practice yoga seriously, it is not that you never make mistakes or slip up, but you are indeed more introspective and aware of yourself and your surroundings. So you may need fewer reminders and if you do happen to do something that could be considered somewhat offensive, you've probably already given it a great deal of thought. However, many of us are still just learning, so here are some reminders. (Teachers feel free to share with your students as well!)
Arrive to class on time. We all know what it is like to drive in Long Island traffic, and what it is like to be overbooked. The kids have to be there, and I have to be here, and the laundry, and dinner, and the house, and I need to clean and the gardening, and the guests we're having over this weekend... and yes, we all understand how it seems like there isn't enough time in the day. However, practicing yoga requires a bit of a commitment. And that does mean, maybe give yourself the extra five minutes to get to yoga class? You know you're always cutting it close, and wouldn't it be a nicer trip if you weren't rushing? It is very distracting when someone comes in late, and often times, he or she may not enter quietly. It is true that every other yoga practitioner in the room is working on pratyahara (withdrawal of the senses) and is therefore conditioning to not be as distracted by someone fumbling around on the other side of the room, but, everybody also deserves to have as peaceful of an experience as possible.
If you do happen to be running late, as this can happen to everybody every so often (it's a matter of not making a habit of it), try opening the door to the yoga room quietly. Peek in. If your teacher is in the middle of a centering period that often occurs in the first 5-10 minutes of class, meaning everybody is seated or lying down or in a resting posture with their eyes closed, getting connected to their breath, and the teacher could be leading a meditation or philosophy discussion... then, wait by the door. Don't come stumbling in to step over mats and throw your mat down loudly in the middle of the room. Sit by the door, quietly, without unloading your things just yet, and listen to the discussion and take YOUR time to make the transition into the yoga room and out of wherever you just came from. Once the class has moved out of that centering period, opened their eyes, and moved into the first posture of the class, they are less likely to be disturbed by your late arrival, so then set your mat down and join the class.
Follow the instructions that the teacher gives you. Just be respectful. Sometimes, when we are accustomed to practicing in a certain way and we've developed habits, we just want to do things the way we are used to doing them. However, if the teacher is asking you to try to enter a pose in a different way, to transition from one pose to another in a way that you are not used to, try it out. There is a reason the teacher is instructing the way he or she is, so have respect and patience and give it a try. If it feels grossly wrong for your body or you are simply incapable of doing it, that is when you flag your teacher down and ask for assistance or a modification. That is why you came to a class to have a teacher in front of you, yes? There is an enormous difference between making the practice your own versus doing your own practice. We, as teachers, encourage students to make the practice their own, to find their inner voice, to find their breath, and to pay very close attention to their bodies throughout their yoga practice. That is how we develop as yoga practitioners and also how we prevent injury. But, if you are just doing whatever you want without listening to the instructions or thinking that your way of doing things is better and you don't want to give what your teacher is saying a chance, then why come to a class? You are always welcome to practice modifications or variations of a pose, but to simply do a different pose without instruction to do so is somewhat disrespectful to your teacher. I have also had students who continue to move through their own practice at the end of class, even once I have led the class into Savasana (Corpse Pose), or the final relaxation, a crucial part to your practice. Take your rest. Do not continue to practice throughout relaxation. You are bringing an active energy to a class that is now trying to calm and cool down, and people will sense that. You are also not being fair to yourself because you need rest.
Tell your teacher about your injuries or limitations. Many teachers, including myself, ask about this at the beginning of every class. The information you give me about your body on that particular day may influence what I teach and how I teach it and also if and/or how I adjust your body. If I know your shoulder is hurting you today because you were shoveling snow all day, I am not going to give you an adjustment that involves putting pressure on your shoulder. If I know almost half of the class has lower back pain (because so many of us do), I may specifically design a class to accommodate those pesky lower backs. Your teacher may or may not be able to help you with whatever is ailing you, but it certainly does not hurt to inform your teacher. Your teacher will also understand better why you may be practicing at the level you are practicing at, or why your practice may look different than it normally does. It does not have to be a chronic injury to count. It can be something as simple as sleeping wrong and ending up with weird neck pain. It is relevant.
Silence or ditch your cellphones. I understand many of us have children or other people we need to care for, and so we want to be reached just in case. If there is a possibility you may receive an important call, then have your cellphone close by on vibrate, but don't keep looking at it. I've seen this in class before; people keep peeking at their phones like the text message or email they are about to receive is more important than Ujjayi breath. Give yourself an hour, seriously. Just an hour of your day taking a yoga class, you can afford to give yourself a break from the cellphone. What did people in the 1970s before cellphones? They lived. If you can, just leave your phone outside the yoga room, in your car, or even at home. It's actually quite liberating.
Come open-minded! This is somewhat related to trying out the things that your teacher is instructing. But, try to leave judgments and the events of the day at the door. Come to yoga class ready to learn something new, ready to be inspired. If not, why come?...