To be a good yoga student, it doesn’t matter how well you can do yoga poses. Your attitude, intentions, and awareness is what is important. As a yoga teacher of over 16 years, I have had many different kinds of students in my classes. Some are naturally very good at learning and doing yoga poses, while others have more difficulty.
But a good yoga student isn’t necessarily the one who can do the best poses or who has the most experience. Some people who’ve come to my classes have been very adept at doing exotic poses but have been very difficult students, while others who are stiff and have other physical difficulties have been among my best students.
What do I mean by that? Why would I say that a person who has the most beautiful yoga backbend may not be a good yoga student, while others who can’t even touch their toes may be the better students?
It’s About Attitude and Respect
You don’t need to be flexible or strong or able to do difficult yoga poses to be a good yoga student.
A yoga student’s attitude and awareness tells me a lot about that person. It is important that s/he is:
- Observant and pays attention
- Open to new ideas
Add a couple more characteristics for a great yoga student:
- Consistent in attendance
- Practices in between classes
The following guidelines are what I think are most important for being a good student. You can see that they all include some aspects of the three qualities that I listed above, especially being respectful.
These are practical guidelines that set the stage for a class that can be enjoyed by all. They’re good habits and observances that are helpful in many areas of our lives, not just in a yoga class.
Some of these guidelines may vary in different yoga traditions. Learn what guidelines apply in your classes.
Most people are occasionally late due to unforeseen circumstances. But if you find you’re often late, figure out what you need to do to arrive on time. “On time” means getting to the studio early enough to be seated with your equipment by the beginning of class.
No one wants to listen to your phone during class. If you forget to turn it off and it rings, PLEASE go turn it off . Don’t assume that people will think it’s okay that you let it ring. Come out of your pose and go turn off your phone. Your classmates and your teacher will appreciate it!
This isn’t much of an issue in my classes since we mostly dress in “midwest practical” at my studio. But keep in mind that certain attire can be distracting to other students or the teacher. Much as you might like to catch the eye of someone you’re attracted to in the yoga class, don’t come to class with that motive. Come to learn and practice yoga.
Again, this usually isn’t an issue. Most people practice reasonable hygiene. But do make sure you have clean feet. Yoga classes are done barefoot. Dirty feet make the floor and shared props dirty.
Many people are adversely affected by strong smells, including perfumes and colognes. Save them for after class, so the rest of us can breath easily during class.
It’s great if you enjoy the other people in class. But it’s best to save your conversation with others for before and after classes, so you don’t distract other students who are there to learn and practice yoga.
In many styles of yoga, your teacher can help keep you safe by suggesting modifications or alternate poses, so you’ll still get the most out of your yoga class.
Don’t attend a class that you don’t have the requirements for. Some classes are meant to accommodate a wide range of experience levels while others are geared toward more specific levels of experience. If you have experience in a particular brand or style of yoga, and the class description says a certain amount of experience in another style is required, respect that. You cannot fake it. Each style of yoga has its own expectations and vocabulary. Honor that.
That goes a long way for promoting a class that everyone can enjoy!
Other Important Considerations
Learn the Culture of Your Yoga Class
Different styles of yoga have different expectations in classes. Individual teachers within the same style of yoga will often have their own particular expectations as well.
Just as you would (hopefully) learn more about the culture of different countries you might visit so you know how to behave in a respectful manner, you will do well to learn how things are typically done in different yoga classes you plan to take. If you stray too far from the class “culture”, the teacher and the other students will notice and think you’re either being disrespectful or clueless.
Observe what other people are doing in class. Pay attention to what the teacher is saying, and follow instructions. If a pose is taught differently than what you’re used to, still follow the instructions unless there is a physical or health reason why you shouldn’t. In that case, notify the teacher, and do what s/he suggests as a modification or alternative pose.
Some yoga classes may be less structured, and more people will be “doing their own thing” at different times during the class. Other classes are much more structured and rigorous, and the teachers expect more discipline out of the students (this is more typical of the style of yoga I teach). Learn what is expected from each yoga class you’re taking.
I think it’s easier for beginners to pick up and follow the “culture” of the yoga class they’re taking, because they don’t have preconceived notions of how a yoga class “should” be.
More experienced students often get the idea that what they were first taught is the only right way to practice yoga (I remember going through this phase myself), and they may balk at what a different teacher teaches.
Develop a “beginner’s” mind for each class you take. Be open to what is being presented in each class, and you will learn more. Drop the part of your ego that says you know what’s right, even if the instructor is teaching something different.
And please don’t show off!
If you can clasp fully in Marichyasana III, but the teacher isn’t instructing that variation during that class, don’t clasp. Do what is being taught that day. Even if you can do headstand without arm support, don’t! Please! Unless the teacher is actually teaching that variation! And I bet that doesn’t happen often. (I had a visiting student do that — I kid you not! I could tell you stories…..!)
Of course do your best, but only as the poses are being taught that day. Maybe it’s acceptable in some yoga classes to show off, but I bet you that no one will appreciate it in most classes. You are there to learn, not to disrupt the class. Be open to what the teacher has to offer you that day in class.
For the Record — My Students are Good Yoga Students
And the few who aren’t, are usually not my regular students
Just in case you’re reading this, and you’re one of my regular or semi-regular yoga students and are worried that I think you’re a “bad” yoga student, undoubtedly that is not the case!
Most yoga students who come through my classes are “good” students, since they follow MOST of the guidelines on this page. But as in every worthwhile endeavor, there’s always room for improvement. So even though I think you’re all good students, strive to be even better!