Stretch Etiquette for Yogis-published June 3 in the New York Times
Yoga is about casting off petty annoyances and toxic judgments — a seemingly Sisyphean task for those hopped up on New York City living. But what if irritation trails you right onto your mat, in the guise of ring tones, exhibitionists or bliss-busting interruptions?
Is there no compact of dos and don’ts inside a yoga studio? Not really. Common sense and fellowship usually dictate. Still, teachers and students, no matter how tolerant, harbor pet peeves.
Here are a few, in no particular order, culled from interviews and online rants.
BARGING OUT Hearing a fellow student leave class noisily, as you soak in those final minutes of well-earned relaxation, is akin to being awakened midsleep by an air horn (well, almost). It is too sudden, too soon.
“You are Zenned out,” said the blogger yogadork who asked to remain incognito, describing the splendor of savasana, resting pose. “And people are fumbling for bags and rolling up the mats.” Note from Darlene: Imagine going to a gourmet 5 course meal and skipping the dessert-that is what happenning when you skip savasana!
BARGING IN The same goes for people who march into a class, whip open their mats and plunk down their belongings, sometimes while others are meditating.
“The thwapping of the mat — that is very jarring,” said Anya Porter, a teacher and teacher manager at Yoga Works in Midtown. “The class is quiet. Sometimes there is music playing. People can be really loud.”
OVEREXPOSURE Some men take a minimalist approach to yoga wear, and not everyone is pleased about having a sweaty, stripped-down man within arm’s reach. “There are guys in European bathing suits,” said an outraged yoga lover and comedian who lives in Brooklyn. “We’re not in Capri here; it’s Cobble Hill.”
Ralph De La Rosa, a manager at Go Yoga in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, who describes himself as mostly tolerant, also draws the line at the half-naked male practitioner. “I like it when guys keep their shirts on,” he said.
Worse still are the men who wear loose-fitting shorts for comfort, with nothing underneath, prompting discomfort in the ladies around them. “It’s wrong,” said an anonymous woman who posted on the Web site fitsugar.com, which recently riffed on what not to do in yoga class. During lunges, she said, “it was all hanging out.”
GOING SOLO Ms. Cunningham strongly objects to people who defy the chanting of “Om,” and instead belt out “Ah.” Again, the culprit is usually a guy. “It’s a syllable,” Ms. Cunningham said, incredulously.
Yogis and yoginis who conduct their own session within the class, choosing poses that diverge from the instructor’s calls, can be a challenge for teachers. “It is certainly distracting,” Ms. Porter said. “It brings the attention and focus onto that person.”
SOUND EFFECTS Jennifer Ginsberg, a blogger who posts on angstmom.com, wrote recently about the day her teacher uncharacteristically played a pop song in class and the “unimaginable happened.” “The woman doing yoga next to me began to sing along to the song,” she wrote. “Loudly and off key.” Ms. Ginsberg refrained from yelling an obscenity-laden command for her neighbor to shut up. She thought about leaving the class. But her teacher came to the rescue and asked the woman to stop singing.
Broadway-caliber grunts are more common than singalongs and only slightly less exasperating. Grunts are, of course, acceptable since they are a natural reaction to exertion. But, as the YogaDork pointed out, it gets awkward if they sound “orgasmic.”
CELLPHONES It goes without saying: Cellphone chatter, unending ring tones and texting are roundly booed. One teacher whose list of grievances was posted on fitsugar.com remembered a woman who answered her cellphone and shouted, “I’m in (expletive) yoga. Why are you calling me?”
HYGIENE No one smells like a rose in yoga class. And you shouldn't, because some people are allergic to or just dislike inhaling perfume. But body odor shouldn’t make you gag, either. Foot odor can be even worse. “I can handle B.O.,” the Dork said, “but there is nothing worse than stinky feet when you are mat-to-mat and you are upside down and close to people’s feet.”
In theory, none of this should bother us — or at least some of us. “Not to sound pessimistic,” Ms. Cunningham said, “I feel like the only people who have achieved that degree of serenity are the teachers who have been practicing in India in mud huts.”
So, for those who live in walk-ups, arise to the melody of garbage trucks and slumber to the lullaby of barking dogs: Keep your clothes tight, your cellphone off, your oms in line. And, for Shiva’s sake, wash your feet.