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Crowded Classes Test The Zen Of Yoga

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Crowded Classes Test the Zen of Yoga

By Kathleen A. Hughes
Feb. 16, 2015 11:00 p.m. ET

The ancient art of yoga is supposed to offer a path to inner peace.

But in this age of anxiety, many yoga classes—which teach poses and breathing designed to quiet the mind—have become so crowded that finding a spot on the floor is becoming a competitive sport.

And that’s leading to some very unenlightened behavior.

Consider my recent morning in “Strong and Calm Yoga,” a class offered by the Equinox gym in Palos Verdes, Calif.

Stressed, harried and rushed, I arrived only two minutes before the start of my favorite class. It was packed. There wasn’t a single space on the floor large enough for my mat.

Spotting an empty mat in front, I moved it—just a tad—to make enough room. But then, worried about the mat’s owner coming back, I repositioned it. I was frantically trying to fit myself in at a perpendicular position to the rest of the class when the woman returned...


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First, I loved the cartoon showing all the people placing their feet and hands on other people's mats. I enjoyed finding the one guy already in shavasana, lying perpendicular across his mat!


In all seriousness, trying to avoid the awkwardness of finding a place in a crowded class makes me stress even more to make it to yoga classes sometimes.  But, work meetings can run late, or other things happen that I can't control, so, I've decided arriving a few minutes late (no more than 10 minutes) is more beneficial for me than skipping yoga. Nowadays I just do yoga videos at home if I find myself going to be late so I don't get stressed out or get upset that work almost got in the way of my practice.


I found most studios have a sign to not enter until chanting has stopped.  I usually enter quietly and do not unroll my mat or grab props until after the class starts moving into poses.  Usually there may be a seated meditation or quiet stretching in the beginning, so I sit down quietly and participate on the floor, with my mat still rolled up.  At that point when it's done, the teacher will then direct which students to make space if there isn't already an open spot.


This just happened last week for me, for a class of 15 students (almost full house).  It's a good thing I entered because the meditation went on for almost 15 minutes! The instruction was nice and said "We are going to be here for 15 minutes, so please grab any blankets or pillows to make yourself comfortable for that time." Plus, another classmate arrived just right after me, so, I wasn't the only person. 


And yes, there are still some students who are reluctant to move their mats for latecomers, even when instructed by the teacher. I can understand though if they thought they had an "established space" that is now diminished because of me.  Others are more generous. So, when there is only like a few inches apart from the mat, then I just stagger between my neighbors and go behind them, so when we raise our arms, our hands do not bump into each other.  Staggering the actual mat helps too if the full length of the mat is needed.


So, since I understand the mindset of why people might be late, I am no longer annoyed with latecomers and interruptions that may come from it.  I thought before it was because latecomers were casual practitioners and don't care about screwing everyone else's practice. But I tsomeone th am more sympathetic to latecomers now because they really were trying hard to be on time, but life gets in the way of plans. It seems cruel to deny someone the one thing that de-stresses him or her.  The instructor really does set the mood - most thank you for making it to practice, and they'll forgive the lateness if that means they can see you present.  


Regarding how late I get to class - I draw the line for me at 10 minutes for even a 90 minute class because without proper stretching in the beginning, I may risk potential injury.  At the YMCA, we had a 90 minute class and a woman came in 30 minutes late (who comes in usually 10-15 min late - she must have had a schedule conflict). The instructor came up to her and said "It's too late, I'm sorry. We're already warmed up," and the woman left disappointed. So, depending on the class fee structure, I think studios will be more forgiving to accept latecomers because they get more money. At a monthly membership-based place, the instructor may be stricter and turn latecomers away.

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