Studio Etiquette? What’s That?

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Maybe it’s because I’m leading a workshop designed for beginning yogis or maybe the Universe is just trying my teacher patience, but etiquette, sometimes lack thereof, has been showing up a lot lately in quite a few of my studio classes. As a yoga teacher, I try to provide a safe, supportive, and respectful space for students to practice in.

For anyone new to yoga or new to practicing in a studio here are some things to be conscious and aware of in class. For anyone currently practicing at a studio this is your friendly, not-so-subtle reminder about respecting the yoga space, your practice, and the practice of others in the room. Keep in mind each studio has its own culture. Therefore some of these may not apply or they might have even more rules for etiquette.

  1. Be in the room at the scheduled start time for class. Or better yet, be in the room early!
    • Getting to class early allows you time to actually set up your space and settle yourself before class begins. Sometimes things happen, like traffic, and it’s difficult to get to class early. If that’s the class try to be in the practice room at the time class is scheduled to start. The instructor can always give announcements while you are getting settled. Another tip is to call the studio if you are running late. In some cases, the instructor can set up a spot (mat and props) for you so all you have to do is quickly come in while they are giving announcements.
    • Entering the practice space after class has started causes a few issues. First, it’s distracting for everyone involved. There is no possible way for this to not distract the other students and the teacher. It’s like trying to open a potato chip bag in a quiet room. Second, if the class has already gone through their warm up you are putting yourself at risk of becoming injured because you have not given yourself ample time to warm up. Third, depending on the class type or size there’s a possibility of getting kicked in the face or accidentally knocking into someone potentially causing harm to you, someone else, or both.
  2. Avoid flopping your mat down.
    • Other students are trying to get settled and center before class. When someone drops or flops their mat on the floor it creates an unnecessary distraction and throws off other students’ peace of mind.
  3. Unvelcro your mat strap before entering the room.
    • Similar to #2. Try to create as little noise as possible when getting yourself set up for class. For some people this class might be their only quiet time or personal time that day or week. Be respectful of that concept.
  4. If it isn’t yoga related, then don’t bring it in the room.
    • This includes cell phones. Personally, I prefer when students leave watches, fitness trackers, and smart watches outside the room, as well. Part of practicing yoga is removing distractions. How can you have a distraction-free practice if you are worried your phone might go off in class or when you are texting on your smart watch during Savasana?
  5. NO shoes in the room!
    • Do not wear your shoes into the practice space. Depending on the flooring in the studio, shoes can actually mess up the floor. It creates an unhygienic practice area. Keep in mind hands, feet, and faces all end up near or against the floor at some point. Studios work incredibly hard to keep the practice space floors clean to make sure students stay healthy. I know this can be hard at smaller studios. Believe me. I’ve practiced at a studio where you open the door and you are in the practice space and cubbies were all the way across the room in a separate space. Take your shoes off the moment you walk in and carry them to the cubbies. Easy peasy.
    • The only time it is acceptable to wear shoes into the room is if you have a medical condition, i.e. plantar fasciitis. In that case, bring a second pair of shoes to class that is dedicated only to being worn in the studio – something that is never worn outside or anywhere else.
  6. If you think you will be tempted to talk to your neighbor during class, then place your mat elsewhere.
    • Sometimes friends, colleagues, or partners will go to class together. I know it’s tempting to talk during class, especially the first class, because it’s something new and weird, and nervousness is pouring from you and it’s manifesting in an urge to talk. But please don’t do it. In fact, just put your mat somewhere away from your buddy if you think either of you will be tempted to talk.
  7. Do NOT place your hands on another student!
    • You’ve convinced your partner to come try yoga. You get everything set up while your partner is filling out their liability waiver or changing in the locker room. Class starts. Everything is going peachy, then the first Downward Facing Dog arrives and you decide to get off your mat and “adjust” your partner. (Yes, this has happened in a class before.) As a teacher, this is the fastest way for me to go from being nice to flames in my eyes and smoke coming out of my ears. DO. NOT. TOUCH. SOMEONE. ELSE. You are responsible for you. Unless you attending an integrated accessible yoga class as someone’s caretaker and are being employed to assist them through the class then DO NOT PLACE YOUR HANDS ON ANOTHER PERSON! Don’t do it. Ever. I’m sure your intentions are good, but forcing someone’s body into a shape it’s not used to making is a great way for them to get injured. If you think you might be tempted to touch them, then see the suggestion in #6 – put your mat elsewhere.
  8. Stay the entire time.
    • Please, please, please stay the entire time. Savasana (Corpse Pose) is essential to the practice. It allows students to practice letting go of the grasp on thoughts and observe them entering and exiting the mind as they please. If you aren’t quite ready to practice thought control, then think of it like a cool down for any other physical activity. It lets the body calm and relax and the practice integrate with the body. This allows the body to reap maximum benefits and decrease the risk of injury.

This list and my thoughts might seem a little harsh, but these are all things I’ve experienced as a teacher and as a student. These are things I’ve had students complain about or wish would be practiced more often. The studio space may be just a workout space for some, and that’s fine, but the studio space is also a sacred space for others. No matter your reason for coming to a studio, please respect the space and the people you share it with.

If you practice at a studio, what are some other guidelines you wish others would respect? Do you try to practice all of those listed above? Maybe you are someone who unconsciously does one of the things listed about, would you be willing to make a conscious effort to do something different? Leave you comments or insights!

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Coffee, Accessibility, Bali, and Connection

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Tuesday, I had the pleasure of meeting one of my lovely friends for coffee. She’s also a yoga teacher. A little about my friend, she teaches weekly classes at a couple of studios, goes into a local prison to teach inmates, teaches life skills and yoga classes with inmates about to be released, and teaches yoga at a shelter for women recovering from violence, addiction, and sexual exploitation. She is one of my favorite people, and it had been a month since we’d seen each other.  So much had happened in a matter of four weeks. Time to connect was definitely needed!

As we sit down, we’re both so excited about what the other has going on in their lives. I’ve been diving deeper into my passion of body positivity, inclusivity, and accessibility of yoga. She’s been traveling. First a yoga retreat in Aruba then a trip to Mexico with friends, and soon…Bali.

We go back and forth between our desires, dreams, goals, etc. She’s decided to ask herself if she could do anything without having to worry about anyone or anything else what would that be. She wants to immerse herself into her study of yoga so she can go further into her teaching. She’s found, what sounds to be, an amazing school in Bali that aligns so much with who she is. She’s also allowing herself to be open to possibility. While she has a ticket back to the States, she might take some extra time to travel to neighboring countries before returning home. But only time will tell. A hope of hers is to apply new teachings and a new understanding of herself to her work serving the under-served.

I, on the other hand, am staying put. I’ve recently completed a training called Yoga for All, in which I learned how to teach open-minded classes that are accessible to students of all body sizes, shapes, types, and abilities. In the near future, I am hoping to offer a workshop focusing on body image and yoga. As part of my teaching philosophy, I wholeheartedly believe every single person who wants to have a yoga practice can have a one, regardless of age, race, gender identity, sexual orientation, size, shape, income, and whatever else. Unfortunately, yoga is quite exclusive, but I’m hoping to add my voice to choir of those fighting for inclusivity.

Although, her path and mine appear to be quite different from the outside, I really don’t think they are. I think our end game is the same. What I see is two teachers looking to create deeper connections with themselves so they can connect more fully with others, especially those who are “unseen.” I’m going to miss my friend so much while she’s gone, but I am so excited for the moment when our paths will cross again and we get to reconnect…hopefully, with coffee.

 

Impermanence: Life’s Fleeting Moments

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Recently, I’ve been granted an opportunity to inherit classes at a local studio. This particular studio has values that align well with my teaching philosophy, and there is diversity among the students, which I rarely get to see. Excitedly, I accepted the studio owner’s offer to take on these classes.

The particular teacher I was inheriting the classes from had been with the studio since the first location opened four years ago. The students love her, and I can’t say I blame them. I was able to take a class with her before she left, and she is quite lovely. As I was preparing for my first night of classes I kept remembering the words of one of my teachers who recently moved away. When she announced she was leaving she said, “When a teacher leaves that is the Universe saying you’ve learned all you can from them in this moment, and the Universe is making space for a new teacher to come in with new lessons.” This kept sticking with me, but I couldn’t quite pin-point other ways to express this idea. I didn’t want these yogis to think I was humble bragging or coming in with this gigantic ego to teach them The Yoga.

I decided to put my teacher’s words down in my journal and re-focus on my sequences for the night. For whatever reason, I decided to start listening to Elizabeth Gilbert’s podcast, Magic Lessons – which is wonderful by the way – while I was working. I got through the first three episodes before I had to teach some other classes. That night during the drive to the new studio I turned the podcast back on. The concept of episode four was Impermanence, and the light bulb clicked in my head. This is what I needed to share with my new students! This is what I was looking for!

Impermanence. This idea that everything is in a constant state of flux. Elizabeth states an insightful observation, “The beautiful and equally terrible thing about our lives is that nothing remains the same.” Which is so very true and amazing, and yet so heartbreaking. We go through our lives wanting the beauty to last forever, and the bitter to leave immediately. For these students, they were in a very bittersweet moment of having lost this teacher they clearly love and having to go through the change of a new teacher coming in. Obviously, I can’t take her place because I’m not her, but having gone through a similar situation I can relate to how they felt, which I hope was a reassurance to the students.

This idea of impermanence brought up ideas of earthwork, artwork created with materials found in nature and are meant to deteriorate and return to nature over time. I spoke to this idea of creating impermanent art. That our mats are blank canvases each time we roll them out. Our bodies create the art as we connect with ourselves and move. Some days the art might be messy. Other days the art might be soft and elegant, but once we roll up our mat the art is gone. So if it’s a “bad” day put it all out on the mat and release it because it’s not serving a purpose to hold on to the negativity. If it’s a good day enjoy the feelings and file them away in the heart space. Even though our canvas is washed clean each time we complete a practice what we can take with us is the lessons we learned in that instance.

Going forward I know I’ll be trying to keep this idea of impermanence with me. Nothing can last forever. Although, we can’t keep the sweetness we can hold on to the memories of it and return to them as needed. And while we can’t make the bitter end a quickly as we might like we can choose to release what it brings up for us. In both instances, there are lessons to be learned.

As the students were leaving class one of them said to me, “You are no longer the new girl,” which was so true. In an instant I went from the new teacher to just their teacher. I’ve filed away the excitement and warm feelings I had while teaching those first classes with them, but I’m glad to no longer be the “new girl.”

“Impermanence is the soul of the universe.” – Rob Bell, Magic Lessons, Season 1, Episode 4