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11 Yoga Basics and Etiquette Tips from a Teacher

I love yoga. I want everyone to practice yoga. I think it changes lives.

That said, it took me every bit of five years of dabbling in it to finally decide it was for me. It’s complicated. But it shouldn’t be. One of the things I’ve loved most about writing this blog is introducing so many people to yoga. I have received so many emails and messages from readers who tried yoga after all of my proselytizing and ended up with a regular practice or even going through teacher training themselves. That alone is reason enough for me to write this blog!

I’m here to answer all of the yoga-related questions that might run through your mind whether you’re a newbie who is hesitant to try a class for fear of feeling like a fish out of water or an experienced yogi who wonders what your teacher really thinks about certain topics.

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I have been teaching yoga for four years now and as a teacher…and I see it all. In general, I am very relaxed and kind of have an “anything goes” mentality when it comes to classes. I’m not going to chastise you for showing up five minutes late or leaving five minutes early, I don’t care what you’re wearing as long as you’re comfortable, I have no expectations about what you should or shouldn’t be able to do, etc.

My first priority is for my students to feel comfortable, safe and taken care of in class. I tell them all the time, “I’m here for you…not for me!” My mantra is, “follow the feel good.”

All that said, I thought it might be helpful to share a few general pointers and etiquette reminders for things I see regularly in class and questions I hear a lot.

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1) You don’t need your socks.

One of the things I see most with new yogis is not taking their socks off. I know it can feel a bit weird and vulnerable to have your bare feet out there for everyone to see but it’s for your own benefit! Your bare feet will have a lot more traction on your mat than your socked feet. And while we’re taking about feet…your feet DO NOT gross me out, I am not judging whether or not you’ve had a pedicure and I totally do foot rubs at the end of the class on my own free will!

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2) No shoes in the studio. (And other personal belongings.)

Studio space is sacred. Just bring yourself, your mat and your good energy into class. (And water/towels if you need it!). Wearing shoes in the studio kind of takes away from the purity of the space…as does having your bag, keys, personal belongings scattered around your mat. Most studios have cubbies or lockers for belongings. If you’re concerned about valuables, leave them at home!

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3) Absolutely no cell phones in the studio. (Oh look there’s a picture of me with a cell phone in class. If you need to take a selfie, do it before or after and take the phone out of the room! :))

You’re probably thinking, “duh.” And I wish I was kidding…but it’s actually a huge issue. I have actually seen students checking phones in the middle of holding postures (this has also happened in BodyPump and other group ex classes too). This is not okay on many levels. First, in regards to the student’s ability to disconnect and be present and second, in respect to the teacher and other students. Leave your cell phone on silent in your bag, in your car or at home. If you are a professional on call or nervous you’ll miss a call from your child’s school/nanny/etc., leave your phone with the front desk. They are usually happy to let you know if you are needed in a way that is respectful and tactful!

4) Blocks (and other props) are your friends.

There is NO SHAME in using blocks, straps and blankets. They help with both making your practice experience more pleasant and in finding proper alignment. For whatever reason, students are sometimes hesitant to use props. It is not a sign of weakness! I use a block every time I practice. Grab props and utilize them.

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5) It’s okay to be a few minutes late…I just want you to practice!

I have had students not enter class because they got stuck in traffic and end up running 10 minutes late. I would rather you quietly come in late and find a spot than skip practice and go home. I totally understand that life happens.

6) But don’t be “that yogi” who is chronically late for no reason.

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7) Leaving during savasana is no bueno!

Let me repeat…DO NOT leave during savasana! Final rest is the most sacred time of practice. It is extremely distracting and disrespectful to other students (and the teacher) when you’re rolling up your mat, walking through the middle of class and opening and closing the door in the middle of savasana. If you need to leave early, just give the teacher a head’s up (we understand!) and do it before savasana.

8) On the topic of savasana…relax!

I see new yogis fidgeting on their mats during savasana. Sometimes I can tell they feel really uncomfortable and unsure of what to do. I have also had some regular students who choose to continue practicing or doing abs or some other activity like fixing their hair or cleaning their mat during savasana. This nervous energy can be felt by others in the room who are in savasana. I totally get that it’s hard but try to train yourself to take a deep breath, let go of control and be okay with being in silent surrender for a few minutes. I hear all the time, “I can’t stop my mind in savasana.” It’s okay…just like your physical practice improving with time, so will your savasana. I fall asleep regularly in savasana now!

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9) Place your mat in the designated space.

If all the mats are facing one direction, don’t arrange yours in a totally different way. And if there are clear markers for where to place your mat…use them! This helps create enough space for everyone, prevents shuffling around when it’s time to start class and allows the teacher to navigate the room.

10) If you have a hangnail, dead piece of skin, old band aid, etc. that you just have to get off during class…take it with you!

Seriously. And the same applies for used tissues. I can’t even tell you how many hairballs, dirty band aids and finger (and toe!) nails I have cleaned up in my time teaching. Definitely not a job perk.

11) And my last piece of advice for the day…check your yoga pants to make sure they’re not see through!

I really, really, really do not judge what anyone decides to wear to practice…if it makes you comfy and happy, wear it! That said, there are a LOT of yoga pants out there that are completely see through when stretched (this applies to expensive brands). I feel like this is a PSA I need to share. Ways to check? Do a down dog facing a mirror or ask a friend or family member to do a little check for you.

Want more take on what runs through your yoga teacher’s head? Read my “Answers from a Yoga Teacher” post.

Give me all of your yoga related questions. I am here to help!


{ 51 comments… add one }
  • 1
    Sarah March 26, 2015, 11:01 pm

    Im about to start YTT in May. Im so excited and nervous. I’ve been practicing for about 5 yrs pretty much everyday. I went back and forth about whether or not I wanted to teach. Like you, I wonder if I will enjoy teaching as much as I love practicing. Yoga has definitely changed my life. I was wondering, when you first started teaching, did you plan out the course of your class or did you just go on a whim. I’m most worried about not being able to fit a whole class in an hr and forgetting the sequence. I’d love any and all feedback!

    • 2
      Jen March 27, 2015, 8:56 am

      hi sarah! congrats on committing to TT. it’s a life changing experience. ultimately, i’m really happy i did it although it definitely did change my personal practice. (in good and bad ways)

      your training program should teach you how to put together and sequence a class. when i first started teaching i would literally write out the whole class from child’s pose to savasana and memorize it. then i got to where i was comfortable teaching the warm up and floor work without planning but still wrote out my standing sequence. now i teach so much that i just walk in and teach to the energy in the room…but it took me over three years to get to that point!

      let me know if you have any other questions! i hope you have an amazing experience!

  • 3
    Cassie March 26, 2015, 11:08 pm

    LOL, I really need to do more yoga!

  • 4
    Cat March 27, 2015, 2:01 am

    Ha! Ok I’m feeling less nervous about going to my (first!) hot yoga class today. I’m so used to practising on my own I forget what yoga etiquette is… This doesn’t sound hard though!

    • 5
      Jen March 27, 2015, 8:57 am

      don’t be nervous! good luck and i hope it goes well. report back! πŸ™‚

  • 6
    Michelle March 27, 2015, 6:17 am

    This was a great read!! Great tips and you also had me laughing!!
    What types of classes do you recommend for someone just getting her feet wet in yoga?
    With other classes, modifications are presented. Would I find that in a yoga class?
    I hear it is for every BODY all the time – is that really true?
    Can you suggest a simple practice flow or video to try?

    • 7
      Jen March 27, 2015, 9:00 am

      thanks michelle!

      most studios offer beginners or basics classes so that might be a good place to start. or a slow flow. the best way to get started is just to jump in and remember that everyone attended their first class at some point. i love having new yogis in class.

      YES! modifications are always presented in yoga classes (at least they should be if you have a good teacher). yoga is full of modifications that start with the most basic form of the posture into more advanced things like binds, inversions and arm balances.

      YES! yoga is for every body! i have students of every single shape and size and flexibility level!

      check out yogaglo. it’s an online yoga video streaming option with a variety of teachers and styles.

  • 8
    Michelle March 27, 2015, 6:33 am

    Me again! Does anyone ever fall down? What’s the most catastrophic/embarrassing thing you have ever seen in one of your classes? (I’m just picturing falling and taking others down like dominoes).
    Regarding no socks and a hot studio, how do you prevent picking up a germ (flu, foot fungus)?
    Sorry if I’m all over the place with my q’s. These are things which always go through my head when I think about entering a class and then just don’t.
    How did you feel when you first walked into a yoga studio?

    • 9
      Jen March 27, 2015, 9:03 am

      hey michelle!

      sometimes people lose their balance and have to come out of a pose but they really only ever “fall down” when attempting arm balances and inversions. i totally encourage my students to embrace these types of falls because it’s how you grow! there is no judgement happening if you fall out of trying a more advanced posture!

      the studios i teach in are pretty clean…all of the blocks are sprayed with alcohol between classes and we clean the floors with a mop and floor cleaner between every class.

      like i said, it took me a while to fall in love with yoga. i definitely felt a little out of my element in the beginning but when i finally found the right style, right studio and right teacher…i was hooked.

    • 10
      Julie March 27, 2015, 2:01 pm

      I totally did a face plant (which morphed into a kind of sideways somersault) while trying to get into crow 1 time. Not my most graceful moment ever, but pretty hilarious. I wasn’t embarrassed at all, really. I’m generally one of the better balancers in my class so if it helped someone else to “go for it” once in awhile & not feel inhibited, then that’s awesome! πŸ˜‰

      • 11
        Jen March 27, 2015, 5:45 pm

        hey julie – i have definitely had my share of face plants too! thanks for sharing your experience! πŸ™‚

        • 12
          Michelle March 27, 2015, 6:23 pm

          Jen, thank you SO MUCH for answering all of my questions! If I can find a teacher like you in Charlottetown I will be a very lucky gal!
          And Julie, thank you so much for sharing your experience! Both of you have got me looking into what is available around here this week. If I can survive an ill-fated step/dance class where I rolled all over the step in front of everyone than maybe I can survive this and actually ‘thrive this’. I could use some savasanas in my life, and, as everyone can, some mindfulness and peace.
          Again, great read, great discussion. Many thanks!!

  • 13
    Emily @ My Healthyish Life March 27, 2015, 7:21 am

    I love and agree with all of these! One of my biggest pet peeves is when people think they blocks and props are a sign of weakness. I have perpetually tight hamstrings and hips that will probably never go away so I have no shame in using a block to help me reach the ground in some poses!

    • 14
      Jen March 27, 2015, 9:04 am

      i agree emily. my left hamstring stays really tight most of the time and i always use blocks in revolved triangle and some other poses that seem to really challenge that tightness.

  • 15
    Sarah March 27, 2015, 8:52 am

    This is a great post and great list! But number 10 is so bad – I hope that has never been me!

    Have a good weekend, Jen!

    • 16
      Jen March 27, 2015, 9:06 am

      thanks sarah! and yes…that is a bad one! πŸ™‚

      hope you have a great weekend too!

  • 17
    Julie @ Running in a Skirt March 27, 2015, 9:46 am

    I kind of feel like– make sure your pants aren’t see through is a PSA for everyone!
    Thanks for the tips!

  • 18
    kristin | W [H] A T C H March 27, 2015, 9:56 am

    Okay, the fact that you said number 10 makes me really wonder about what nasty leave behinds you’ve witnessed! So gross.

    • 19
      Jen March 27, 2015, 5:54 pm

      haha! i’ll keep those details private! πŸ™‚

  • 20
    Rebecca @ Strength and Sunshine March 27, 2015, 10:13 am

    Haha, this is great (ew to #10!) I don’t have to deal with any of these things though since my yoga practice is solely at home which I always and forever love!

    • 21
      Jen March 27, 2015, 5:54 pm

      love that you have a home practice! so amazing!

  • 22
    Sarah March 27, 2015, 11:03 am

    Hi Jen, thanks for the insight! I have a couple of questions:
    I’ve been practising yoga 5 times a week for 7 months and whilst I love it, I can’t seem to make any progress on challenging poses like crow and wheel. I practise in a large studio where there are at least 40 students in each class and the instructor hardly adjusts anyone/gives one-on-one advice, so I never know if I’m doing something wrong. How do I learn to do these poses without hurting myself?
    Which brings me to my next question…I developed Carpal Tunnel Syndrome in the last 2 months, my physio said it’s probably from yoga/incorrect technique. Do you have any advice on practising with Carpal Tunnel and how to improve it?
    Thank you x

    • 23
      Jen March 27, 2015, 5:54 pm

      hey sarah!

      your question is a common one. i do private sessions with students who want to work on specific challenging poses. you can also grab your teacher after class and ask a few quick questions too. if it’s out of your budget to do a private, consider checking out youtube tutorials. i have several on my youtube channel: https://www.youtube.com/user/jdecurtins. there are so many good ones out there. i especially like kino macgregors stuff and she has a ton of videos.

      regarding the carpal tunnel…i’m sorry to hear that. i’m surprised to hear that they think yoga caused it because yoga is usually prescribed as therapy for it. check out this article: http://www.yogajournal.com/article/health/wrist-remedy/.

      • 24
        Sarah March 30, 2015, 3:58 am

        Can’t wait to check out your videos & the article on CTS was very helpful – it didn’t occur to me that mental health could play a part too. Thanks so much Jen, love your blog! x

  • 25
    She Rocks Fitness March 27, 2015, 12:45 pm

    People who bring their cell phone into the room drives me NUTS!!! Like totally bonkers that I almost want to say something, but I’m too chicken. And too funny about the see through pants, but I’ve seen so many of them, especially since I always am in the back of the room. LOL!

    • 26
      Jen March 27, 2015, 5:48 pm

      i know! it’s crazy. and yes…the see through pants are a sad epidemic…even with brands that you wouldn’t think you’d have that issue!

  • 27
    Lyndsay March 27, 2015, 12:58 pm

    Shoes in the studio = biggest pet peeve EVER. thanks for writing, great post.

    • 28
      Jen March 27, 2015, 5:48 pm

      ha! you are welcome!

  • 29
    allie@sweetpotatobites March 27, 2015, 1:11 pm

    great tips! i finally found a neighborhood studio i love, so i’ve been practicing more which is awesome.

    how many years of yoga to you recommend before diving into something like YTT?

    • 30
      Jen March 27, 2015, 5:48 pm

      YAY allie!

      there is no set amount of time. we’ve had TTs that have practiced 6 months, 6 years and 20 years! it just depends on when you’re personally ready for the journey and want to learn and deepen your practice.

  • 31
    Jodie March 27, 2015, 1:46 pm

    Great tips. What are the best yoga poses/ stretches for beginners to do to avoid having low back pain in dancers pose? Thanks

    • 32
      Jen March 27, 2015, 5:47 pm

      i would actually work on the form in dancer not to have low back pain. you should not be compressing the low back in dancer. instead of just kicking the foot up as high as you can back behind you, think about reaching the center of your chest both forward and up so that you are backbending through the upper back and chest and keeping the low back long and neutral. it also helps to make sure the hips are in alignment and that you’re not lifting the hip on the lifted leg open to the side (common error).

      • 33
        jodie March 27, 2015, 6:58 pm

        Thanks. Oh I got my book yesterday love it.

  • 34
    Julie March 27, 2015, 1:55 pm

    Just an idea – if you’re having trouble clearing your mind & relaxing during savasana, oftentimes I will pray. (Silently inside my head, of course! God still hears you.)

    • 35
      Jen March 27, 2015, 5:45 pm

      i <3 this julie! thank you! prayer is so powerful.

  • 36
    Cristin Burns March 27, 2015, 3:54 pm

    Jen,
    Can you help me to understand how it’s good teacher etiquette to take a photograph of your yoga class while they practice? This would not be ok for me as a participant. Thanks.
    Cristin

    • 37
      Jen March 27, 2015, 4:42 pm

      Yes, great question. A lot of these pictures are from the yoga studios social media accounts and we have okays from students to use them. It’s common practice to verbally ask if people are okay with it and if anyone is not okay with it we obviously would never post. It’s not unusual to have professional photographers for special classes and events and the students love having the photos of themselves. It usually ends up creating a lot of conversation online and they share them frequently with their friends. It kind of inspires more people to practice that don’t if that makes sense.

      If you look at the websites and social media accounts a lot of yoga studios as well as internationally well-known teachers, you will see that they commonly post photos from their classes and workshops…

      https://www.facebook.com/kino.macgregor/photos
      https://www.facebook.com/kathrynbudigyoga/photos_stream
      https://www.facebook.com/yogateachertrainingwithgracemorales/photos_stream
      https://www.facebook.com/TiffanyCruikshank/photos

      https://www.facebook.com/omyogasc/photos_stream
      https://www.facebook.com/yogaonecentral/photos_stream?ref=page_internal

      So it’s not just me! πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ Hope that helps!

      • 38
        Julie March 27, 2015, 6:13 pm

        I was wondering the same thing. Do you ask each class before you take pictures? Or do they sign something when they sign a contract with the studio? I would be really uncomfortable with this.

        • 39
          Nikki March 28, 2015, 1:18 am

          As a student of classes where photos have been taken, usually there is a disclaimer on the studio’s waiver, or on the event page/studio page that asks students who do not wish to have photos taken of themselves to let the instructor know. For special events, same thing. Usually, though, like Jen said, students find it cool to share the photos and to check their form in certain poses that way that they can’t normally see in pose.

  • 40
    Ashleigh March 27, 2015, 5:49 pm

    This is exactly the post that I needed to read today. I haven’t been to a yoga class in so long that I have been somewhat embarrassed to start back for fear of how I will look in class. Not anymore, I am going in the morning… Thank you for always being candid!!

    • 41
      Jen March 27, 2015, 5:55 pm

      yes! so happy to hear this ashleigh. don’t even think about how you look…just focus on feeling good and listening to your body. NO ONE there will be judging where you’re at on your mat! xo

  • 42
    lisa March 27, 2015, 6:36 pm

    If I only lived by you! I would love to go to your classes and I would make the time to go them too. I get up at 3:30-4:00 am for work and cross fit afterwards. I’m usually in bed by 8:00 sometimes 7:00! So I yoga from you tube when I can, which honestly, isn’t much. Most of my yoga experience has come from p90x. Which I dreaded when it was yoga day. But I have to admit as much as i have yoga in my heart, it is complicated. It’s like I love everything about it but hate it while im doing it. But I want to love it so bad. Hey, I have a great idea! Have you ever thought of making a yoga DVD? I would buy every one of them! I’m sure other people would too.

  • 43
    Katy Bullock March 28, 2015, 3:13 pm

    Hi Jen – quick question about heat. I love hot yoga (I’m terrible at it, but I keep trying because it feels so good) but in the past few years I feel like studios have gotten hotter and hotter. I have some autoimmune issues and I simply cannot regulate my temperature at such high heats. Both studios I used to attend are now way too hot. Any suggestions (those are Y2 and Charlotte Yoga btw!). I do already try to position myself near the door, drinks lots of water, leave when I need to…it’s just disappointing to miss out because the heat is too much. :/ Some studios offer cooler classes during the day but I’m at work! Thoughts?

    • 44
      Jen March 28, 2015, 5:57 pm

      Hey Katy! I hear you on the heat…and unfortunately we are moving into the time of the year when it gets a little more intense. Have you tried Yoga One? I find that their heat isn’t quite as intense. It’s a Baptiste studio though so no music. Y2 is adding 10 non-heated classes starting April 13. They will be at noon and 5:30 p.m. Not sure if that might work in your schedule a little better. Also, at Charlotte Yoga, Kyle keeps his classes a little less hot and is very generous with fans and doors. Have you tried his class? And yes, going next to the door is always the cooler spot.

  • 45
    lisa March 28, 2015, 6:18 pm

    I posted a reply but something happened to it. It was probably me I’m sure, anyways, I wish I lived near you to go to your classes. My only yoga experience has been with p90x. And I dreaded every Thursday when it was yoga day! It was one and a half hours long and I hated it. Did i mention how much i hated it? Lol. But I want to love it and embrace it. I want to be strong and do those wonderful poses. I would love to go to one of your classes. Have you ever thought about making yoga DVD’s? I would buy everyone of them. You put so much of you heart and soul into it that it would come right through the tv!

  • 46
    Carrie March 28, 2015, 7:29 pm

    I had surgery to correct severe scoliosis when I was 16. The surgery required 2 rods through my spine that run from between my shoulder blades down to nearly the bottom of my spine. While I am cleared to exercise, run, ski, etc. by the doctor (it’s been 20 years and I have no restrictions), I do have limited flexibility. An example – I can do a sit up, but not a crunch. My spine just doesn’t bend that way.
    I have heard amazing things about yoga and feel like I could gain a lot from it, especially in learning to quiet my mind and becoming more fit. My biggest concern is that I will be limited in poses and it could be a hinderance to the instructor. I truly fear being “that student”.
    Please give me your honest take.
    Thank you so much!

  • 47
    Brooke@SWEETNSWEATY March 29, 2015, 10:50 am

    I have been practicing yoga for 6 years or so and have never attempted getting into inversions. I don’t have the confidence to try in class and I don’t know how to start. I once scheduled a private session with the teacher for inversions and paid $75 per hour for her to only show me some “deep stretches” not sure how that happened given I specifically scheduled it for inversions! Anyway, looking for any advice on how to get started. I work out 6 days a week and running is my jam.( half and full marathons) but it seems no matter what I do my upper body strength is lacking!

  • 48
    CP April 2, 2015, 3:57 pm

    Just discovered your blog through Honeystuck and I love it! I have to say I used to silently judge people that used their phone at inappropriate times like yoga class until my husband was deployed and I was really worried about missing a call from him and ALWAYS had my phone on me. Leaving it with the front desk is a great suggestion though πŸ™‚

  • 49
    erin April 5, 2015, 4:39 pm

    Awesome tips! Especially the one about being a little late – I’m glad to know that if i’m a few minutes late, it’s OK. Also, great reminder to try to stay until the very end and enjoy the benifits from savasana.

  • 50
    dharol stevens July 19, 2016, 4:40 am

    As I progress in my pregnancy there is an increasing number of poses that I have to skip out on, and I also find it necessary sometimes to leave the room for a minute to cool off once during class.
    I feel really self-conscious about missing so much of the “flow”, and especially about leaving the room.
    I would stop going, but my yoga class makes me feel better than anything else.
    in the karmic yoga world, how selfish and rude is it to leave a class for a minute in the middle, and to spend about 25% of every class doing your own flow? I don’t want to ruin 30 yogis’ experience twice a week for four more months, but the thought of giving up my yoga class for four more months is so sad, and prenatal classes just don’t serve my body the same way my normal class does.
    Thx!

    • 51
      Jen DeCurtins July 28, 2016, 5:19 pm

      Hey there –

      Okay, my take on this is as a teacher is to listen to your body and do what you need to do. Personally, I am totally okay with my students leaving the room for a little bit or leaving class early if they need to. Just put yourself in the back by the door and let your teacher know ahead of time the situation that you’re in. Many of my regular students stay in normal classes throughout the duration of their pregnancies and just modify as needed. Many never go to prenatal! Keep it up and so happy to hear that it’s making you feel good.

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