Ask Aunt Yoga - Is it Ever OK to Walk Out of a Yoga Class?

Yoga Class. Blend Images - Dave and Les Jacobs/Brand X/Getty Images

Dear Aunt Yoga,

As a proper young lady with a Southern upbringing, I feel it is unspeakably rude to leave a yoga class before the last om has been chanted. Meanwhile, my brash city friends think nothing of rolling up their mats mid-way through if the mood strikes them. What do you say?

-Proper in NYC

Dear Props,

I am inclined to agree with you, though, as we all know, there is an exception for every rule.

I have taken a lot of classes in my time, some more to my liking than others, but I have never felt compelled to walk out of one. My feeling is that there is (almost) never a class that is so bad that you can't learn something from it. For example:

  • If you are a yoga teacher or aspire to be one, make some mental notes about methods, language, or approaches that most definitely do not work. 
  • If you find a class boring, think of it as a chance to cultivate your inner resources. Only boring people get bored, as the saying goes. 
  • If you find the class too easy, make the most of an opportunity to reconnect with your beginner's mind. Challenge yourself to perfect your alignment and engage physically and mentally with every breath in every pose. Staying aware of the present moment for 90 minutes is ridiculously hard.
  • If you find the class too hard, know that you are fully qualified and empowered to choose your own level of practice by modifying poses and resting in child's pose whenever you want. If a teacher gives you a hard time, stick to your guns and make this a learning experience for him or her as well.

    What if the teacher tries to make you do something you don't want to do? What is he or she is a bit of a bully? Like most yoga etiquette conventions, this one is based on exercising courtesy and common sense. If you are new to yoga, this can put you in a tough position. It's hard to assert your right to make your own decisions about what you will and won't do with your body when the person in a position of authority is insisting that you do otherwise.

    It's even harder without the years of experience in making your own body the boss that a long-term yoga practice gives you. Then again, haven't you ever wanted to stand up to a bully? Now is the perfect opportunity. Be exceedingly polite but firm in your refusal.

    The exception that proves the rule is a situation that feels abusive, or if you think that you in danger of being hurt.  If your common sense is flashing the danger signal, by all means roll up your mat and go. Other exceptions are, obviously, if you hurt yourself or are suddenly taken ill. A quick word with the teacher would be courteous in this situation, but do what you have to do to avoid spewing in the yoga studio or exacerbating your injury.

    Now, I'm not saying your should repeatedly subject yourself to classes you don't like. The key to maintaining a yoga practice over months and years is finding teachers and classes that you can't wait to get back to week after week. If you do find yourself in a class that is not copacetic, have the common courtesy to see it through.

    It's not like walking out of a movie you don't like. There is a person on the receiving end of your actions. 

    By walking out, you are essentially abdicating responsibility for your own experience. Don't give someone else that control. Finding a way to make the best out of whatever life throws your way, even if it's just the knowledge that you never ever ever want to take that class again, is a beneficial experience, and one that will serve you off the mat as well.


    Aunt Yoga

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