Yoga is everywhere—from gyms to workplaces to Instagram and beyond. You may have experienced some of its many benefits, like toning, increased flexibility, or a sense of chill that reminds you the world actually isn’t imploding all around you.
But just like every public experience, it’s important to know what’s expected of you when entering a yoga space. Whether you’re a total newbie or a seasoned vet who’s wondered, am I doing this right? here’s a guide to help you with the ins and outs of yoga etiquette so you can get the most out of your practice.
Before You Get to Class
Make sure you know what level class you’re signing up for.
If you’re new, welcome! As a yoga teacher myself, I suggest trying an intro-level class first—and there’s no shame in that at all. Even if you’re very fit, yoga has its own vocabulary, alignment cues, and pacing. Trust me, you will have a far easier (and safer) time getting acclimated to a basic vinyasa class than if you throw yourself into an advanced or intermediate class.
Also, an experienced teacher will tone class down to accommodate new students, and that isn’t exactly fair to the rest of the class, either. On the other side of the coin, if you’re a seasoned student practicing with beginners, respect the group by staying mostly with the pace and postures offered. Nobody likes to watch someone fly into a handstand every five minutes when they’re still working on nailing tree pose.
Be mindful about yoga wear.
Wear comfortable clothes you can move in. Form-fitting threads help a teacher see your alignment and offer you the right adjustments, but there’s no need for $200 yoga couture. Yoga is about feeling comfortable in your skin, so go with sweats and a tee if that does it for you! Just make sure that your clothes will provide the coverage you want in positions like downward-facing dog.
Be. On. Time.
Budget the necessary time to hunt down a parking space, lock up your bike, or hike the five blocks from the subway so that you can check in at the front desk and be on your mat before class starts. If you enter the yoga room while others are trying to get centered, it can disrupt the vibe and the teacher might have to repeat themselves, which can cut into class time (and time is money, people!).
Skip perfumes and lose the shoes.
Chanel No. 5 is lovely, but many people have sensitivities to scents of all kinds, so respect the shared space by minimizing them. To keep the yoga room clean, every studio has a place for shoes—whether it’s in cubbies or shoe racks, or even alongside the doorway. Your fellow yoga students will appreciate not having your shoes touch the same spots where they put their heads and hands.
Read the room.
Take a second to notice how others have placed their mats—this sounds obvious, but you’d be amazed at the weird things people do with their mats when unprompted. Sometimes, painted or taped lines on the floor display the correct mat placement, but you can always ask the instructor to be sure. The same goes for yoga props—blankets, straps, blocks, eye pillows, bolsters, and the like. Your teacher will probably tell you what you’ll need during class, but when in doubt, a strap, two yoga blocks, and a blanket are a safe bet.
Let the instructor know if you’re pregnant or have an injury or condition that needs attention.
Even if it’s clear as day to you, your pregnancy may not be obvious to others! No teacher wants to assume pregnancy and inadvertently embarrass a student. Let the instructor know so you can go over the basic do’s and don’ts together to help you stay safe. If you’re pregnant and new to yoga, prenatal classes are best. There are a number of modifications for pregnancy that you’ll learn with other expectant moms (and yes, it’s still yoga!).
The same goes for any injury or condition that may affect your practice—keeping the teacher in the loop can help them help you better with modifications and adjustments.
During Yoga Class
If you absolutely must be late…
It’s human. Traffic. Bosses. Kids. That latte you spilled on your new yoga pants. You know, life. But be aware that some studios have a zero late-entry policy, and others allow a maximum tardiness of 10 minutes (and after that you may be turned away). Make sure you know what you’re in for when you come sprinting into the studio.
When you’re late, the way you approach the yoga space matters. “I’ve had late students enter class so quietly that no one would even notice,” says San Diego-based yoga teacher and trainer Alyssa Runyan. “I’ve also had students come in so loudly that no one could help but be bothered by their late arrival.”
If you’re frazzled about being late, yoga teacher Lauren Knuth suggests pausing to take a few deep breaths before you open the door to the yoga room—that way you’ll be more in tune with the energy of the class as you quietly set up. If possible, choose a spot at the back to minimize your distraction.
Also extremely important: Be kind to front desk staff. It’s not their fault if you’re late, and it’s never fair to ask them to bend rules for you. Be a responsible adult and own your lateness, even if you’re not allowed into class.
Phones on silent and put away.
Yes, silent. Not vibrate. Believe it or not, an incessantly vibrating phone can seem almost as distracting as a chiming, dinging, or beeping one. If your job requires you to be on call, keep your phone quiet and close so you can check it discreetly as needed.
But if on a rare (rare!) occasion your phone happens to go off in class, give yourself a break. Again, we’re human. A swift “sorry about that” and a trip to the cubbies to silence it is all it takes. Trust me, it’s less infinitely disruptive than ignoring the cacophony and hoping it won’t ring or ping again.
Stay for savasana!
Savasana, or corpse pose, is usually practiced in the final minutes of a yoga class. It’s a time for your body and mind to take conscious rest, for your heart rate and nervous system to settle, and—many practitioners believe—for the benefits of yoga to deeply integrate. “This isn’t just a cooldown, it’s a really important part of the practice,” Knuth says.
When you leave before savasana, you miss the opportunity for the benefits of your practice to sink in, which stinks for you but can be really annoying for others. If you seriously need to scoot, make sure you let the teacher know before class starts and be close to the back of the room for a quiet exit.
Most Importantly: Enjoy Your Practice
Last but definitely not least, remember that patience pays off. Yoga styles and instructors vary greatly, so if you didn’t land in your yoga nirvana for the very first class, keep looking before deciding whether or not it’s for you. Give yourself time to let yoga transform you both physically and mentally. Don’t worry about what the yogi next to you is doing or stress out if you can’t reach your toes. If your breath can remain deep and steady during your practice, and if you’re feeling sensation—even occasional discomfort but not pain—then congratulations: You’re doing yoga.
Danielle Simone Brand writes about parenting, yoga, cannabis, and pop culture. She has been a yoga teacher for more than a decade and currently teaches people of all ages across San Diego. When not writing or teaching yoga, you can find Danielle playing with her two kids and puppy.