Tips for Practicing with a Group Yoga Class

Are you new to the group class situation? Intimidated by what to expect, how to act, and if everybody will be able to tell that you're a newbie?

Or maybe you're a seasoned pro, with many sweaty hours of practicing with a crowd under your belt thinking "I got this!" when asked if you are comfortable in a group setting?

Well, here's a list of everything I can think of to help you navigate the waters (pools of sweaty waters!) of a group yoga class. And even if you're one of those seasoned pros, we can all use a reminder now and then of proper etiquette and remember what it feels like to be new to the game. 

1.     Arrive at least 10 minutes before your class. Try to avoid being late because it is not only distracting to the other students (especially if they are forced to stop Down Dog'ing to move their mats to make room for you), but you will miss out on the opening poses that help to center you and warm up your body.

2.     Remove your shoes outside of the room. Leave them neatly lined up on the floor or put away in cubbies if the studio provides them. If the previous class is still inside, remain quiet, whispers only. It's horrible when you are trying to relax in Savasana and can hear the students outside talking.

3.     Turn the sound OFF on your cell phone during class. Do NOT answer it in class.

4.     Each time you take a class from a different teacher, introduce yourself to them and let them know about any injury or condition you have that might affect your practice. Let them know if you do not wish to be physically touched during the practice.

5.     Don’t leave in the middle of Savasana. If you must leave early, roll up your mat and quietly exit the room before Savasana starts.

6.     Feel free to say “Namaste”, pronounced nah-mas-tay, after the teacher says it at the end of class. This Sanskrit word means that the light in me, honors the light in you. Or the teacher in me, honors the teacher in you. It’s said as a form of respect and to recognize that we all are important and all learn from each other.

7.     It’s best to not come to class on a full stomach. Many yogis like to eat no more than 2 hours before a practice. But if you need to eat sooner than that, make it something small such as a banana, a few almonds, or some greek yogurt. Avoid acidy foods.

8.     If the teacher recommends you grab certain props before class to use during it, do so! Props are a great way to get more out of your practice. Don’t get sucked into the attitude that props are for beginners only and that you are too advanced to “need” them. Using props is a sign of great maturity in a yoga practitioner.

9.     Don’t stress if your yoga teacher calls out poses in their Sanskrit name. Just follow along with what the teacher and students are doing and you’ll start to recognize the names after you’ve been practicing for a while.

10.  Don’t forget to breathe. Breath is very important in yoga, so check in now and then with yourself and make sure you are breathing purposefully and mindfully.

11.  Yoga allows us to become more present in our body and sometimes this can make you experience an emotional release. It might be tears, or frustration, vulnerability, fear, sadness, or joy. This is a beautiful thing and totally normal! Notice it, acknowledge it, and just let it happen.

12.  Leave your ego at the door. Yoga is not a competition, with yourself, or with the students practicing beside you. There is no correct way that a pose is supposed to look. It looks different on everybody, because every body is different. There will be things you can do, that will be hard for others, and vice versa. Accept your practice where it is today.

13.  Sometimes a class is very full and you might find you have only a small amount of space left between your mat, and the student’s next to you. It’s okay, you’ll get used to it. And if it’s a deal breaker for you, find a class with fewer students so you can have more personal space.

14.  Some yoga classes will include a chant or a group Om. Give it a try, you might enjoy it! But if you decide it’s not for you, you do not have to participate, simply sit quietly and respectfully until the group is done.

15.  Recognize your edge and learn to recognize between pain and discomfort. It’s okay to feel discomfort. But if the sensation is hot and sharp then it’s pain and you don’t need to feel pain in yoga. So if you do feel pain, stop what you are doing, modify it into a variation that does not give you pain, or wait in a Child’s Pose until the class moves on to the next posture. When feeling discomfort only, however, try to breathe into it. If there’s no pain, remain!

16.  Speaking of Child’s Pose – many yoga classes can test your physical stamina. If you need a break from the action for a few breaths, just go ahead and take a Child’s Pose and rejoin the class when you are ready. You’ll see even the most advanced yogi’s taking a Child’s Pose now and then. Honor your body!

17.  And always remember the golden rule! You are your own best teacher and you know your body better than anyone else. So if something feels wrong, it probably is.