Yoga can be intimidating, especially if you're a newbie. Not only is it challenging to learn the lingo (pranayama wha?) and master the poses, but the overall vibe of yoga is very different from your typical fitness class. And while most yoga studios are incredibly warm and welcoming to beginners, there are a few important etiquette tips that are helpful to know before you hit the mat. (Even if you're a practiced yogi, this might be a good refresher!)
1. Before you leave the house, refrain from putting on any strong scents. "Most yoga classes emphasize deep breathing," says Chelsea Jackson Roberts, PhD, who leads yoga teacher trainings and blogs at chelsealovesyoga.com. "So you want to be mindful not to overwhelm your fellow yogis with perfume, scented lotion, or body spray."
2. Be considerate about where you place your mat. You don't want to set up too close to someone else (and risk smacking her during sun salutations), but in a crowded studio, it may be difficult for latecomers to find a place if all the mats are spaced far apart. In a full class, a good strategy is to stagger your mat, so it's not perfectly lined up with your neighbor's. "This will help you avoid colliding arms or having a butt in your face when you do side straddle," says Health's executive deputy editor (and frequent yogi) Jeannie Kim.
3. Limit conversation before class. If you're with a friend, try to keep your voices down while you're waiting for the teacher to begin. "This is especially important if the classroom climate is silent," says Roberts. "People typically come to yoga to unplug and find their zen, so it's challenging to do that when you're surrounded by chatter."
4. Take your shoes off at the door. Most yoga studios provide cubbies or lockers for your personal belongings—use them. Once you're inside, go barefoot or wear socks.
5. Never step on someone else's mat. "Your mat is basically your personal space," says Kim. "So it's gross for someone to put their feet there when you're about to put your face and hands on that same mat."
6. Seriously, no selfies. "Save them for after class, to show off your post-yoga glow," says Roberts. In fact, it's good practice to leave your phone in the changing room with the rest of your belongings, she adds. "This will eliminate any opportunity for it to vibrate later on—which will inevitably happen during Savasana." (For novices, Savasanna is the restful, meditative pose that comes at the end of class.) Plus, separating yourself from your digital devices will make it easier for you to focus.
7. Allow the teacher to guide you. As an instructor, Roberts finds it frustrating when people move ahead of the rest of the class. "I know it can be hard if you don't feel challenged enough, but try to resist the urge to create your own sequence," she says. "This can be confusing for any first-timers in the room." Instead, make sure you've signed up for the right class for your skill set (e.g. beginner, intermediate, advanced, or open level). That said, if you're tired or have an injury, don't hesitate to rest in child's pose—you can catch up with the class in downward dog before the next sequence.
8. Try not to barge in late. "You're messing with other people's zen, especially in a class that starts with chanting and deep breathing," says Kim. Roberts agrees, adding that if it's your first class, it's even more important to be timely. "The vast majority of yoga studios will require you complete a new student information form on your first visit," she says. "And in general, it's a good idea to check a studio's arrival policy and really try to honor it."
9. Same goes for leaving class during Savasana. "I get that sometimes you have to sneak out early, but it's annoying when you're trying to relax and let everything go, and someone is packing up really loudly," says Kim. If you absolutely can't stay for the last few minutes, try to nab a spot near the door so you can quietly exit without disturbing your classmates.