Peace and Courtesy on the Mat: 5 Ways to Avoid Yoga Rage
I live in urban New York, so I dont drive, and therefore dont experience road rage. I do, however, experience its distant cousin—yoga rage. As a yoga practitioner for the past 10½ years, perhaps I should embody a love for all humankind at this point. But still, nothing gets my yoga pants in a bunch like rude yogis and yoginis who dont observe the rules of the road. So for rookies to seasoned class attendees, here's a list of simple, common courtesies that every yoga practitioner should observe.
1. Give others their space
The other night in yoga class, I set up my mat near the far, windowed wall, and though the room was practically empty on that rainy evening, a woman came in and plunked her mat down right next to me—too close to allow me to spread my arms wide for the Swan Dive Into Standing Forward Bend at the beginning of Sun Salutations without hitting her. Annoyed, I moved my mat closer to the wall and then reclined resentfully as I waited for class to begin; the cold wind blowing through the windows gave me chills.
As we settled into our meditative seats and the teacher led us in a supposed-to-be soothing chant of the mantra “om namah shiviya” (there is not an exact translation for this but I have heard it described by a yoga teacher as “I bow to my highest self”), I seethed inside at this personal space invader and engaged in an angry internal dialogue with her, admonishing her for squishing me into a cold, windy corner when there were only about a million other available spaces in the room.
2. Stagger when space isn't available
Last week, in a full classroom, I set up my mat next to a girl who grudgingly offered me a bit of space. Again, our mats were too close to do the Swan Dive without colliding, so I moved my mat up in order to stagger and have enough room to spread out my arms. She moved her mat up. Then I moved my mat back. She moved her mat back. This woman was clearly oblivious to mat-staggering etiquette!
[ pagebreak ]3. Do not take what's not yours
Midway through that same class, the teacher instructed us to use our blocks for a pose that required props to make it easier to reach the ground. The non-staggerer at this point grabbed for one of my blocks, and without asking to use it, absorbed it into the rest of her practice. Moving my remaining blocks to safety and out of her entitled reach on the opposite side of my mat, my rage flared up yet again as I (internally) blasted her for not having the courtesy to ask to use something that didn't belong to her.
4. Keep hands and feet to yourself
One of the worst bouts of yoga rage Ive experienced was this summer, when I took an after-work class at a popular downtown studio. The room was so packed that there was a boundary of only a couple of inches between me and other practitioners on all four sides, which meant, among other things, that I would have someones feet in my face for the whole class and have to dodge being kicked in the head during Downward Dog Splits, in which one leg shoots up into the air.
Of course, my feet would similarly assault the person behind me, but at least I was conscious of this fact and tried to adjust or limit my motions accordingly. The kicker (no pun intended) was that during Side Crow—a complicated pose in which you balance on your hands and rest both knees on one upper arm—the sweaty, uncoordinated guy next to me lost concentration and clumped his feet down at the head of my mat—right where I rest my face between poses.
5. Gentlemen, wear a shirt
It seems obvious, but apparently some yogis don't feel that shirts are required even in a hot, crowded studio. Remember Sweaty Side-Crow Guy? Make that Sweaty Shirtless Side-Crow Guy. With no top to catch his sweat droplets, they were flying around willy-nilly onto other students. In addition to the feet in front of me and the arms on either side, I was also forced to dodge sweat droplets all class long.
After an hour and a half long (internal) tirade, I emerged from the studio with a friend who had found a spot on the other side of the classroom; she had not been tormented by the shirtless sweater. She had transcended the overcrowded class and felt uplifted by the collective energy in the room. I had failed to attain any sort of yogic bliss and was in a sulky rage.
I go to yoga class in part to defuse my anxiety and agitation, not to add to it. I want people in class to obey common sense and unspoken rules, and to respect my boundaries with their mats and their person—and when they dont, I get really pissed off. And I know I'm not the only one who feels this way: A U.K. article earlier this year reported that yoga-induced anger incidents are on the rise. Even deep inhales and exhales cant soothe me when I encounter an inconsiderate, reckless yogi or yogini, and at these moments I wish that there were clearly marked road signs and yoga police to keep the offenders in line and let me get back to my relaxation in peace.
I'd love to hear your yoga class experiences—what types of behavior ruin your session, or are you guilty of breaking an unspoken rule? Personally, I may be on the yogic path that leads to lovingly embracing all humanity, but I know I've still got some road (and some rage) ahead of me.