Going to your first Bikram class is a pretty unforgettable experience: The combination of Speedo-clad strangers surrounding you and 105-degree heat beating down on you tends to leave a mental mark. But my first Bikram class wasn’t unforgettable because of the Speedos; it was unforgettable because of the teacher. More specifically, how the instructor yelled at me—yes, yelled—when I tried to leave the class before class was over.
Now, it’s no secret: Bikram yoga is a difficult practice, and many folks say making it through the first class is the toughest part. I, being a Bikram newbie, was aware of this. My roommate was a Bikram regular, and she’d mentally prepared me for the total ass-kicking that would be my first class. But regardless, about 50 minutes into the 90-minute long class, I broke: I was dying for my inhaler. And for a sweet, sweet taste of air-conditioning.
I’d almost made it to the door when a loud voice screamed, “You, stop! You’re. Not. Going. ANYWHERE.” I turned to see the instructor pointing at me, and I quickly realized he was not joking. I felt like a teenager who’d gotten caught sneaking out after curfew. Embarrassed, me and my beet-red face scurried back to the mat and suffered through the remaining 40 minutes of class.
After that class, Bikram and I continued our relationship. That instructor and I did not.
This brings us to the question of the day: When is it okay to leave a yoga class early? My bad Bikram experience came flooding into my mind yesterday when I read an NPR piece debating exactly this question. So I decided to talk to local yoga instructor and Be Well Philly cover gal Jennifer Schelter to get her take on when it’s okay to ditch the downward dogs and walk out of the classroom.
“It’s okay to leave if you feel the teacher is showing off, is not in touch with you or your needs, is too pushy or abusive or is giving assists that feel inappropriate. If the class is not your speed, level or serving your needs, it’s best to leave," she says.
She's right: When it comes down to it, it’s your time, your money and, most importantly, your body. So if you feel like your mind and body aren't benefiting, why waste your time? (And if you’re wondering if she’s ever walked out of a class, the answer is “Hell, yes!”)
But then the question is, how do you exit a class without looking like a total jerk? Jennifer’s advice: “I would appreciate that person saying, ‘Thank you. I need to go, but I’ll email you.’ I’d prefer direct feedback and a dialogue to understand how I can give the student what they need or direct them to another teacher who will be able to serve them.”
In other words, don’t make a scene and storm out. And don’t try to avoid that instructor for the rest of your life, like I did. Good yoga teachers appreciate feedback, so politely explain to them later why you weren’t feeling the class. The teacher might not change his or her entire philosophy just for you, but they will probably be able to point you in the direction of an instructor who is a better fit. As Jennifer explains, “No class is a one-size-fits-all. It’s a real balance and collaboration between teacher and students to create an ideal environment.”
And just because there are a few legitimate reasons leave a yoga class, it's also important to point out that there are plenty of unacceptable reasons, too. Like, don't cut your yoga class short because you want to squeeze in a sweat session and a manicure before dinner. Don't rush out to answer a phone call. And don't sneak out during Savasana because there are still 10 minutes left on the happy-hour clock and you juuust might be able to make it. The list goes on and on.
We got one instructor's perspective, but I'm sure recreational yogis and yoga instructors have a slew of differing opinions to offer, so please share: Have you ever walked out of a class, or would you never? Yoga instructors: Does it bother you when a student leaves your class, or do you brush it off as a bad match? Let us know in the comments section below.
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