Let’s Discuss: When Is It Okay to Walk Out of Yoga Class Early?



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.

POLL: Have You Ever Walked Out of Yoga Class Early?

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  • I’ve not done it but if I, 1. had a coughing fit and felt I was disturbing others, I would leave, 2. Had another bodily emergency (I think asthma qualifies for the writer), I would leave. I think it is rude to leave because of your schedule. Pick a class that works with your schedule, not the other way around. I’ve not been in a class that was so not right for me that I felt the need to leave so I can’t comment with experience on that. If I was really uncomfortable with the attitude of the teacher and it was stressing me out, I might do it – quietly. If the class was a little out of my comfort zone in terms of difficulty or style, I would probably stay and modify where I could.

  • Sharon Whitney

    A bigger question is why would the instructor disrupt class for all the other people in the class, to “call out” one person? Is it disruptive for a student to leave early, or, for that matter, come in late, once the class has started? Sure, and just how disruptive depends on how quietly and unobtrusively the person can enter or exit the studio. I attend basic classes at a fitness center, and people do come and go at times. Whatever slight disturbance a student may make,if they try to leave quietly (not, say, to answer a cell phone which should be off anyway). During a class is not the time to explore the reasons why a person may leave or determine if it is legitimate (as in having an asthma attack or having to attend to another physical need), or for no reason other than boredom or not enjoying the class. It is certainly not the instructor’s role to ruin the mood and serenity of the class to yell at someone. The instructor should “stay in character” and carry on with the class. The student might explain after class why they left, but if the student does not explain, the instructor just needs to accept that.

  • Annie

    As long as someone doesn’t step on me when leaving, I don’t find it disruptive at all. I left once when I tried to go to class (hot yoga) with a really bad cold. I decided fainting would be more disruptive than leaving.