Don't miss The Art of Teaching Yoga, a mentoring program for registered yoga teachers, at YJ LIVE Florida (Nov. 11-13) and San Francisco (Jan. 13-15). Register now to work closely with seasoned mentors like Coral Brown and take your teaching skills to the next level.
In The Art of Teaching Yoga, some of our favorite master yogis will guide an intimate group of students through Yoga Journal LIVE! 2016 events and teach YOU how to become a better teacher. We asked one of these seasoned yogis -- Coral Brown, a teacher trainer, holistic psychotherapist, and longtime student of Shiva Rea -- for 5 points of etiquette that come up in yoga classes (ahem, cell phones), and how they relate to yoga philosophy.
The Philosophy Behind 5 Points of Yoga Etiquette
1. Where you place yourself in the yoga room
When you arrive at yoga class, there is an etiquette to where you place yourself in the room ... and challenging yourself to break out of your comfort zone can also enhance your practice, Brown says. "I think it turns to in front, back, or middle ... where do you want to place yourself in the room, and what’s your motivation for being at a certain location? The motivation/desire behind the action gives us direction on where the work is," she explains. "Are you attached to that spot because that’s where you always go? Then, you should practice non-attachment (vairagya). If you see other students come in and you spread out and stack your blocks so that nobody takes the spot next to you (so you won't feel crowded), you should practice non-greed (aparigraha). If you want to be up front to see the teacher and you don't want to be distracted by anyone behind you, that goes along with [improving] your drishti, or focus.
Your Ayurvedic dosha also may play a role in where your comfort zone is in the yoga studio, Brown adds. "If you’re in the front to show off and 'prove your moves,' in Ayurveda we would describe that as an overactive pitta, type-A kind of thing. Pitta is great and helps us stay driven/motivated, but when it’s out of balance, it shows up in negative qualities of competitiveness, showmanship, or overactive ego (ahamkara). The lesson here is to go in the back or the middle to work on that. I also often cue these students to place their drishti downward — some of us need our gaze upward with the intent of enhancing self-esteem, but those with overactive pitta may need to look down to look inward.
Conversely, if you always place yourself in the back of the room, you may need to step forward to stop hiding and being afraid, Brown explains. "You know what you're doing [in class], and you need to stop comparing yourself to others. By moving up, you move into self-study, witnessing yourself instead of turning away and hiding. Some of these students may have the heavier qualities of kapha in not wanting to be more dynamic. Kaphas like to be comfortable. They need to challenge themselves and own it a little more. The aim of yoga and what we practice in asana is to be on the edge of discomfort, so you can soothe that edge and know how to do that in real time in the real world."
2. Taking modifications
Taking modifications of a pose is totally fine -- except when it's not, Brown says. "I encourage students to find their own enhancement or modification of a pose. It's also OK to take creative yogic license, for example, to replace Upward-Facing Dog with Cobra. That does NOT mean going to Handstand or taking a seated twist while we’re in Warrior II," she explains. "It's poor etiquette -- yoga is a collective and dynamic practice, and you're an individual within the collective. Your vibration and actions have an impact on the people around you, and you have to be responsible for your how your energy impacts the space. It requires tapas (self-discipline) to be responsible for your actions within your environment -- another tool to be practiced on the mat and taken with you out into the world. This also applies when you have to leave class early -- be sure to let the teacher know, and position yourself near the back of the room. It's about being respectful of the environment, the teacher, and the people around you."
When you you come to yoga class, you want to be as clean as possible to show respect for the practice and for your fellow students, Brown reminds us. "The Sanskrit word saucha refers to purity and cleanliness. Here, it applies to the simple act of washing your feet before getting on the mat, being mindful of body odors and excess perfume as well as excess sweat. We're supposed to sweat in yoga, but just like when you sneeze you cover your mouth, you don’t want to spray sweat all over the room. Try placing a towel over your mat and using another towel for your face and hands," she recommends.
4. Loud breathing
If you sound like you need to "get a room," you might be breathing just a little too loudly in class, Brown says. "I cue people to unhinge their jaw a lot, because of all the tension we hold in the jaw, and to exhale through the mouth, but some people sound like they are getting hot and heavy or should 'get a room,' which is distracting," she explains. "I encourage students to express themselves, but with awareness of others. This is about respecting the collective sangha, or community." Same rule also applies when you unroll your mat (no need to make a lot of noise like you’re flipping a sheet). "When you unroll your mat and it has a dramatic snap to it, think of brahmacharya, which is usually thought of as celibacy, but in a bigger sense in means to not waste your energy on non-important thoughts/actions. In other words, it means don’t drain your energy and deplete yourself by being loud and overly active."
5. Cell phones
It seems like an obvious "don't," but some students do check their cell phones during yoga class, Brown says. "Some students will prop their cell phones up next to their mat. Others will record the class without asking, which is stealing (asteya). It's OK to tell a teacher you're on call at work if you need your phone next to you, but sometimes it's about breaking a samskara, or a habit, and simply unplugging. If you're Shazaming the song the teacher is playing, you're not totally present, you're not practicing mindfulness, and you're hijacking your own practice. Take a little tech fast."