The First Class, Yoga Gear, Yoga Tips & Tricks

The First Class: Setting up your mat

The First Class is a series of posts where I discuss what to bring, what to wear and what to expect when you go to class. While this is aimed mostly at newbies, this is certainly applicable for people looking for tips on how to improve their yoga experience.

Last time, we talked about buying a mat. Whether you’ve decided to go with a mat/rug alone or added a towel to place on top, it’s time to take your set-up to class.

Ashtanga classes are set up in two rows on either side of the room, facing toward each other. It doesn’t matter which side you pick as the teacher will be walking between the rows to give instruction or to provide individual adjustments. There really isn’t a “front” of the room the way other classes usually are. Here is my attempt to draw what an Ashtanga classroom might look like.

In crowded classrooms, stagger your mat from your neighbors’.

As I noted, you’ll want to stagger your mat from your neighbors’ to avoid hitting them during any sweeping arm movements like in sun salutations or bringing the legs on either side a la utthita hasta padangustasana (yes, had to look that up) or a wide legged seated forward fold. Even with staggered mats, you may find that someone has to take a couple steps back to give yourselves a bit more space. Nothing’s worse than trying to balance on one leg with the other held out to the side and having your neighbor crash into you.

Staggered mats also help in the wide legged standing forward folds (prasarita padottanasana) so you don’t end up with your butt in your neighbor’s face or your other neighbor’s butt in yours.

Shifting mats is one thing for side-to-side space. What about who’s in front of you? I prefer to set up just left or right of the person in front since you’ll be doing a lot of staring, aka finding your drishti. All of the standing balances have you laser focused on some nebulous spot in front, and if you’re perfectly aligned with the mat across from you, it could become an awkward situation of who looks where. This is especially true if you find yourself across from biker shorts guy.

Now, you can take these same principles to other classes that have a more traditional set-up, where the teacher’s mat is at the front of the room perpendicular to the students’.

Traditional class set-up

Because you never know what the teacher may have in mind for that day’s practice, play on the safe side and give yourself space. Staggering just in front of or behind your neighbor will prevent potential arm and leg collisions. This also lets you have a better line of vision to the teacher to see what’s going on.

More importantly, give yourself enough space from the person in front of or behind you. Not everyone practices at the front of their mats, so there’s the potential for them to jump back into chaturanga and kick you in the face. I’ve gotten 6 inches away from being kicked, and let me tell you, it was NOT fun. Also, pretty gross to have feet land that close to my nose.

Of course, if you’ve never been to a particular teacher’s class before and everyone looks confused on what configuration to have their mats, it’s better to just ask the teacher what he or she wants. Sometimes, they want everyone to use the wall and set up along the perimeter. Sometimes, the sun is pouring into a classroom from one direction and it makes sense to flip which side is the front or back of the room. Sometimes, there are support beams to work around.

And when a class gets *super* crowded, there may be some latecomers who end up perpendicular from everyone else or a new row gets created. Be kind and shift your mat to make room for others. Just negotiate with your neighbor who’s practicing more forward or backward. It makes such a huge difference to have even an extra inch or two of space in any direction.

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