By yoga etiquette, I’m not talking about how to disguise an eruption from one of your personal crevices during class. Okay, for some of us it happens between the legs! By etiquette, I mean – showing respect for your yoga practice.
If you’re looking to develop and deepen your yoga practice, you may want to embrace these concepts of yoga etiquette.
Certainly, I am not the perfect yogi.
I can lapse in practising for years. Yet, I always go back to practice, at least, eventually.
Yoga is a little like riding a bike, it seems to come back to you, once you get going again.
I am no high authority on the subject of yoga and sometimes I do not 'practice what I preach!'
However, I won't let that deter me from sharing with you, some of the key concepts recommended to me, during my more disciplined years.
Some tips for yoga etiquette:
1. See your practice as more than a fitness routine
To give respect, and in turn, reap the plethora of benefits that yoga has to offer, it’s important to see your practice as more than just fitness exercise and a way of improving your physique. The yoga lineage will tell you that it takes a lot more than stamina and a disciplined practice to truly become a yogi. BKS Iyengar, one of the most well recognised Yogi’s of this century explains how yoga expands beyond the physical realm in his book Light on Yoga;
“Many actors, acrobats, athletes, dancers, musicians and sportsmen also possess superb physiques and have great control over the body, but they lack control over the mind, the intellect and the Self…They often put the body above all else. Though the yogi does not underrate his body, he does not think merely of its perfection but of his senses, mind, intellect and soul.” (Iyengar, 1992)
Practitioners of yoga, praise not only the benefits of a healthier, stronger body, many also profess to have a more balanced state of mind, a calmer and more optimistic attitude and an enhanced ability to deal with the day to day stresses of life.
Embrace all the gifts that yoga has to offer, beyond just increased strength and flexibility. Yoga etiquette is respecting your practice, beyond just a good workout.
2. Be humble
When you enter the yoga room, leave vanity and ego at the door. Yoga is not a competitive practice but a solo journey. It’s about you and your progress and not about how you are compared to others. Let go of vain thoughts; “What do I look like?”, “Am I fat?”, “I can’t stretch as far as that girl.” All these thoughts come from the ego. Concentrate on getting centred, connected to your own body, looking inwardly with peace rather than being outwardly preoccupied with image. And, when your practice does develop, as it will with regular practice, and you do have the strength and flexibility that you have always wanted, keep a modest mindset. Do not fall prey to showing off with yogic party tricks.
OK, it’s pretty cool to put your legs behind your ears but be mindful that one of the general ideas of yoga etiquette is to remain humble.
3. Recognise The Faith
If we look at the origins of yoga and what it symbolised to the ancient yogi’s, we find that the practice was a means of connecting to ‘God.’
In Light on Yoga, Iyengar defines yoga as “…the true union of our will with the will of God.” Mahadev Desai in the Gita according to Gandhi, says it is “the yoking of all the powers of the body, mind and soul to God; it means the disciplining of the intellect, the mind, the emotions, the will, which that yoga pre-supposes; it means a poise of the soul which enables one to look at life in all its aspects evenly.” (Iyengar, 1992)
You may or may not believe in ‘God’ in the literal sense, and that’s ok. Yoga etiquette however at least acknowledges that the birth of yoga was, in many ways, a means of connecting with a higher force.
Putting aside your own religious or spiritual standing, have yoga etiquette by keeping an open mind, maintaining respect for other people’s beliefs of faith or a higher realm.
4. Find the right teacher and school for you
In simple terms, a yoga class may be little more than a fitness class at a gym. Different classes and schools offer varying levels of spirituality, with some offering chanting and meditation as part of the class. Trying out a variety of classes, schools and teachers will give you an idea about which styles you prefer. Seek out a teacher with whom you relate and whose manner you find agreeable. If your teacher inspires you, you are more likely to make your classes regular.
Yoga commentator Hans-Ulrich Rieker advises in The Yoga of Light: “…he who uncritically trusts the first best yoga teacher – and they are as plentiful as sand at the seashore-may find that he has wasted his time and efforts with a gym teacher who knows no more (or even less) about the real goal of yoga than do his students.” (Reiker, 1972)
Taking the time to experiment with different types of classes and teachers is a concept of yoga etiquette. Or, go a step further and seek out your guru, from whom you can confidently and respectfully learn.
5. Don’t rush off before the end of the class
Our schedules are tight. Unfortunately we don’t have as much time for ourselves as we’d like, so it’s tempting to hurry the end of your practice, to change quickly and to race out back into the world to get back to “what we are meant to be doing.” Getting dinner ready, attending to the kids or partner, work commitments, visiting a family member, meeting a friend. The list of things ‘to do’ is endless. Yoga raises a lot of energy and neglecting the time for stillness at the end of your practice can result in being off balance afterwards. A great deal of energy is built up during a practice and it is necessary to restore this peacefully back within. The final Savasana (or Corpse pose) is as equally important in the completion of your practice as is the more strenuous asanas earlier in the class. Allow yourself a still moment, the quiet meditation time before going back out into the world. It might result in you having a clearer perception of what it is, in a bigger context, that you really are “meant to be doing.”
Slowing down and not rushing at the end of your practice is a crucial part of yoga etiquette.
6. Gain respect from your teacher or guru by practicing self-discipline
Anyone can go to a yoga class and follow the teacher’s instructions. Make time to study the names of the positions and to practice the positions (asanas) done in class at home. For those styles which follow a routine such as Astanga, make time to learn the sequence yourself. If you can’t remember the routine ask your teacher if you can find it in a book or if they have a printed guide, or take some notes from them. With enough personal practice, you will remember the flow of asanas as if it’s second nature.
Yoga etiquette encourages you to own your practice – after all, it’s your path!
7. Read about the history of yoga, the lineage, the asanas.
Learning about the history of yoga gives your practice more depth. Did you know that yoga asanas or poses somewhat developed through the observation of animals and elements of nature? This is why many asanas are named as such; Fish Pose (Matsyasana), Crow Pose (Bakasana) and Mountain Pose (Tadasana). There are many streams of yoga – Astanga, Hatha, Iyengar, Bikram and many others. Where did the stream you follow originate?
Learning about where your practice evolved, is a form of yoga etiquette.
8. Adapt yoga principles of a healthy diet, rest and a good lifestyle in your everyday life.
If you want your practice to be at it’s optimum, it is a good idea to adapt some of yoga’s intrinsic principles. Maintaining a healthy diet is well worth the effort by keeping body and mind in excellent shape. Getting enough rest and relaxation is important and learning stress relief techniques such as meditation will enhance the feelings of wellbeing that yoga brings.
Yoga etiquette is respecting the big picture, knowing that everything is inter-related, So ideally, yoga should be complemented with other supporting forms of wellbeing.
9. Visit India
If you are really serious about your yoga path, then what better place to put this into practice than in it’s birthplace – India! Talk to your teacher about places they know of, or if they have been? Do some online research and see what the possibilities are. India is a magic country and it is an honour to learn yoga from masters with a long lineage.
After a spell in India, your practice will feel more authentic. Of course, this is far from necessary in order to perfect your yoga etiquette, but it will add more spice!
Iyengar, BKS. Light on Yoga. HarperCollins Publishers India, New Delhi, 1992.
Reiker, H. The Yoga of Light. George Allen & Unwin, London, 1972.