Demystifying Yoga Class Environment

One very practical thing I see lacking in a lot of yoga classes is that the expectations about class are never presented. Especially if people are brand new to yoga... how are they supposed to know you want them to be quiet? Or be still in savasana? Or that you do not want them to arrive late or leave early?

I think this is something that alienates people from yoga classes. Unless you've been to a yoga class, it's a huge mystery what might happen in there. Already, the media creates this image of expensive clothes and skinny white lady bodies doing contortionist things and that's intimidating. Those images give no clue about what might happen in a yoga classroom.

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Here's what the culture of a yoga classroom is often like:

  • mats lined up in perfect rows
  • teacher at the front (maybe a mat, maybe not)
  • dim, moody lighting
  • everyone is quiet and meditative before and during class
  • students do not talk during class
  • no one comes in late, no one leaves early
  • no phones
  • no chewing gum or snacks
  • water is usually OK

The above list is pretty standard, but classes will differ. I have a more extensive list of expectations for my belly dance performance classes. And some of the the above guidelines do not apply to the way I like to run classes. I truly do not care if people come in late or leave early. I'd rather people come for as much as class as they're able. I also love it when people are chatting with each other before class, as it helps build community. I enjoy making class more of a conversation where students are free to stop the flow of things and ask questions, and where I will also ask for feedback from my students. So there are some of the above items that do not apply to my classes. I make up for it because my intolerance for both phones and chewing gum is legendary! Students get a warning and then they are asked to leave if they can't abide by those two things.

What's important, if you're a teacher, that YOU decide the environment you want to set and then you decide what action to take if your students disrupt that environment. Make all that stuff clear and then make sure your students can agree to those terms. It might seem formal but in my experience it makes life so much easier on both sides and avoids hurt feelings. You don't have to resort to weird passive aggressive behavior like talking louder or standing next to the offenders while teaching, or attempting to deliver some deep philosophical teaching on the matter (which, I can tell you, people often do not respond to those clues anyway) because you can simply remind them of the policy you put in place and move on.

Sometimes these expectations are presented on studios' websites but often there not! If you're a teacher, it's so helpful to put your expectations in writing on your website somewhere, posted outside the studio door, or given to your students when they first register for class. If you're a student and you don't see that, then I encourage you to ask your teacher about what their guidelines are so that you feel comfortable and clear about the expectations.