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Peace Out Asana: Reasons to Bail in the Middle of Yoga Class (Or Stick It Out)

in In Class, YD News


There you are in yoga class and you can’t wait to leave. Not because you’re tired and hungover, not because they’re doing your least favorite pose in the universe (again for the third time this week — what did you do wrong to anger the karmic gods anyway??). Nope, you’re ready to roll up your mat and call it quits because you can’t stand the yoga teacher. They’re being rather rude, in your humble opinion, and you did not rush to class from your stressful day job only to be annoyed by a teacher in the sanctity of your yoga studio, on your yoga mat.

But, wait, isn’t this what yoga is about? Enduring suffering so that you may find the sweetness? Observing your reactions and changing your actions for the better? If you leave, this is exactly what they want you to do. And you’ll know that you just couldn’t take it, you copped out and now you have to live with that stigma (until you let it go because it doesn’t really matter.) Then again, this teacher is borderline verbally abusive and they really don’t seem to know very much about the practice. What to do?

NPR’s Marc Silver asked that very question in a recent article. Well, as the headline asked, ‘When A Yoga Teacher Ticks You Off, Is It Rude To Walk Out?’ He consulted several yoga teachers to gather insight on what is acceptable yoga etiquette when faced with such a precarious predicament.

Of course, there’s a multitude of circumstances as to why one might leave class early, including things like personal emergencies, injury, text from OK Cupid hottie (kidding). But all urgent matters aside, is it ok to pack up and peace out?

I liked DC’s Peg Mulqueen answer:

“I have suffered through some miserable classes,” says Peg Mulqueen, who teaches at Flow Yoga in Washington, D.C. “Somebody would have to be doing something pretty egregious for me to walk out. If someone is doing something harmful or going to destroy me, I guess I would pack up and go. Otherwise, it’s all a learning experience: You’re learning what you didn’t want. If you sit through a class, and oh my God that instructor would not shut up, you’ve learned you want to find a class with minimal talking.”

Then again, a simple way to solve the quandary is to ask, “Are you being a spoiled brat?” as suggested by Ilona Holland, a yoga teacher in Council Bluffs, Iowa (who received a lot of flack for her answer but who was just offering a blunt way to question your initial reactions. Relax folks). Or maybe we just defer to the Rolling Stones on this one: You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you just might find you get what you need.

Next time you wish you could beam yourself out the door, try asking yourself these simple questions:

1. Am I in physical danger or compromising my safety?

2. Is the teacher using abusive or triggering speech?

3. Can I learn something by staying?

If after that you’re still set on scramming, pack up your goods with as little production as possible and make your way out of the room quietly (levitation helps) so as not to disturb fellow students. Note: If you answered yes to those first two questions it would behoove everyone involved to mention this to the studio management.

If you can’t find a good reason to leave besides you “really feel like it,” then suck it up and stick it out. Everything is a learning experience if we acklnowledge it as such. In this fast-paced world we live in, sometimes sitting in a class we don’t like feels like a real waste of valuable time — you could be updating your LinkedIn profile or organizing your desktop — but instead of harping on that, let yourself dive into the practice, and as they say, let yoga do you. If all else fails, modify, modify, modify. Also, Child’s Pose.

Let’s keep the convo going. Students and teachers, do you have some yoga class horror stories? What advice would you give?


23 comments… add one
  • Jenny

    If you have triggered an injury that requires immediate care, notify the teacher first then leave to attend to yourself. I can’t think of any other legitimate reason to leave.

    A teacher guides and offers suggestion. You are free at any time to choose another option, a modification, or simply opting out of a pose altogether and taking a seated meditation, child’s pose or savasana (where you would not risk injury and would continue to receive the benefits of attentive breath and shared space without disrupting the teacher or students). People need to start taking responsibility for themselves; their perceptions, beliefs, emotions, tendencies, and choices – on (and off) the mat.

    Who you are on the mat is who you are in life. For better or worse, yoga practice holds up a mirror to our inner selves, projecting outwardly exactly what is active in our inner world. This is both the blessing and curse, as yoga can allow us to come to terms with what is causing pain and therefore needs changing, and likewise not allowing us to hide or run from our deepest selves, thoughts or tendencies.

    If anything is bothering you at all in class, it is YOU who is bothered, you who is generating whatever negative emotion you are experiencing. To attribute anything to any external source is absolutely unequivocally false. The sooner you can own up to YOUR anger (without blaming a teacher, another student etc); the sooner you can release it from the hold of your own psyche/mind/body. This is a highly important life lesson. Yoga practice provides an exceptional opportunity to observe your tendencies on the mat where you can’t run, and find a way to accept whatever comes up without judgement or even trying to change it at first. Like everything in life, change is constant. This too shall pass. Stay. Breathe. Become comfortable in the uncomfortable. This is your training ground for life! It is remarkable to observe the inner changes that develop over time, that ebb and flow and shift and stick. To walk out means to deny yourself the incredibly important experience of resolving and releasing negative emotion (not to mention likely prolonging your experience in that phase).

    It is incredibly rude to the teacher and other students to leave. Even if you “hate” the class, it is an excellent opportunity for self development. I often tell students to also try the class, style or teacher they most resist because that one will be your greatest teacher.

    Do not deny yourself the opportunity for growth and expansion, and have respect for others because you attracted everything around you into your life for your own growth. Practice real yoga. Notice. Accept. Non judgement. Breathe. Change.

    (Side note – where are these abusive teachers? I’ve yet to come across any teacher even remotely resembling these attributes. Strange)

  • John

    I remember some one walking out of a class in disgust because it involved chaturanga and “that’s not yoga, it’s just a press up”. She might have benefited from staying and being slightly open minded but the class was better off without her and her aggressive ignorance.

    I’ve yet to walk out of a class (I’m very careful which classes I go to) but I don’t see anything wrong with doing so if you’re as discreet and polite about it as possible. Life is too short to waste on granny yoga/a class that’s far too advanced for you/a teacher that really doesn’t work for you. You might learn something by staying, but it might be nothing more than that you’re a slave to convention

  • Laura

    As a student, I do think it’s rude and disruptive to walk out of a yoga class half way through. There have been yoga teachers I just haven’t clicked with, but I always stuck it out in those situations and was always glad that I had. That being said, there is one time I actually walked out of a class. It was a yoga class at our university rec center with a teacher I had taken before and loved. When I showed up to class that day though the teacher announced it was a hot yoga class (I had somehow missed that memo). I’m extremely sensitive to the heat and have had medical issues in the past associated with overheating. I figured I’d try to stick it out though because I didn’t want to insult the teacher by leaving. Fifteen minutes in, I was feeling faint and nauseous even though I wasn’t doing the routine full out. I had several classmates and the teacher tell me to stick it out and that it was a normal feeling during your first hot yoga class, but I walked out anyway. It was good that I did too because shortly after that I was violently ill. I guess my point is that there’s being a baby and then there’s listening to your body. Yoga shouldn’t be harmful, and if a class is detrimental to you in some way (either physically or mentally) it’s completely okay to peace out even if others are pressuring you to stay.

  • Valerie

    I’ve toughed it out through a lot if shitty classes, riding the waves of my own irritation and learning about my judgy mind. I’ve definitely benefitted from this–it’s helped me dig into my breathing and find my center, all handy tools for all sorts of tight spaces in life. But I’ve decided I’m too old and love myself too much to stick through total misery anymore. From an abusive teacher who actually kicked my foot as a form of adjusting it to one who screamed at me for being out of alignment to accommodate an injury. I can have my soul pissed on right outside the door in NYC just walking down the street, I don’t need to pay for it and suffer as a self-flagellating form of good yoga. And even when the situation isn’t so extreme or negative, I think it’s appropriate and allowed to follow your heart. Mine sometimes realizes I would be much better served by sitting on a bench in the sunshine than sucking it up through a class that isn’t working for me. Yoga has taught me to breathe through pain, but it’s also taught me to cultivate pleasure, and follow my own energy when it truly calls. It’s also taught me the difference between brat brain and wise heart. And sometimes following the latter means leaving the mat.

  • Melanie

    Growth is rarely comfortable. Even in the worst class you can focus your attention and awareness on your quality of breath. I don’t believe it is going against your own instinct or a failure of loving self to challenge yourself not to give up and open yourself to the lesson(s) available to you in those moments. Regarding something that doesn’t automatically please you as not worth your time is a failure on your part to learn within uncomfortable spaces. Such is life! Life will not always turn out the way you hope, how do you react when things don’t go your way? Part of the training we do and a lot of the growth comes from the unexpected, the uncomfortable, the challenging. You can choose to avoid this, or like the practice, dive into the sensations and emotions and rise above it. Imagine how much better you would feel to stick it out and work on your own feelings and vibrational frequency, leaving feeling confidant that nothing can sway or influence your good feelings. That – is true contentment. Leaving in a huff all worked up that you didn’t get exactly what you want or at best dismissing someone’s teaching (that they probably worked, studied, practiced very hard for) as a waste of your time (rude your time is more valuable than the time they are giving to teach?) Not exactly the same outcome right? Why not train yourself to be internally consistent in your feelings of satisfaction and contentment. Nobody can take that from you unless you let them. So learn how to retrieve your own power! I’ve never been to a bad yoga class because I’ve learned from them all 🙂

  • I once bailed on a “hot” yoga class because it was too damn cold.

  • I have been practicing and teaching for many years now. As a teacher, with a nice size following, I almost always have had very positive reactions to my teaching. BUT, one day, I told the class, “today we are going to really get into pranayama and work through some deep tension.” At the end of class, one of my students followed me to my car, she was very upset, she said “I feel like I just wasted an 1 1/2 hours on breathing, now I am going to have to go to the gym because I did not get a workout, I feel so upset!!!” She started crying. I walked to my car and felt upset, that I had done something wrong.. but then I had another student call me later that day and tell me it was the best class they had ever had. I called a fellow yoga teacher and told her of the experience, she reminded me that part of the journey, is learning to breathe through the poses we like, and the ones that are difficult. She reminded me that very likely this woman was processing some stuck emotions. And in that case, I know she is right. Having said that, I have experienced some not so wonderful classes, I tried a class, in Tampa once, and I could not stand the teachers voice. It irritated me so much… I started to focus on her voice, instead of my breath. But perhaps there was a lesson in that too. Namaste~T

  • Nicole

    I was in a class this week actually. It was a morning class 7-8:15 am. At the 8 am mark people started to leave, just as we were getting settled into pigeon. The teacher remarked that he understood people would have to leave because of work obligations or whatnot, but if you could stay the extra 15 minutes, to stay.

    My mind started going, ‘Do I stay?’ ‘Man those extra 15 minutes might make me get to the office a little later today.’ But I’m also a big believer in the benefits of completing the class and the floor sequences and especially savasana. I’ve always felt that we shortchange ourselves so often in life and rush rush rush. So really, what do those 15 minutes mean? That you can get a good shower in, have time for makeup, blow dry your hair?

    I got in a tad later than normal, but I was happy that I shut out the doubt and stayed until the very end of class.

  • VQ2

    Perfectly acceptable if the yoga class is offered in a full-service gym (whether or not the price is included in the gym fees) … I’ve done it once, felt a touch of embarrassment upon doing so [I was practicing a row in front of my then-mat pilates teacher] and felt no compunction in returning to the class after a grueling day with a really impossible (though short-lived in my life as such) boss … a number of short months later. Turns out this class is all downhill in challenge from the mid-point at which I’d walked out …

    Less acceptable in a studio. But I have ways of dealing with that. Believe me, if a studio teacher pisses me off they hear about it for a long time … and staying in class is done under duress, of course … resulting in class-management problems with me, personally (as well it should) …

    I later switched studios and styles. Took me 5 tries. Nothing is impossible when you’re looking for fit. Big hint: Not a pure yoga practice is the one I found. I bruited it all over my blogsite. Problem solved.

    • MnBska

      I walked out just tonight. I feel super conflicted. But the teacher (at an LA Fitness in Minneapolis) had possibly the thinnest voice, the most confusing breath prompts, and honestly some of the weirdest combinations of poses. I just told myself I am too old to sit through another 30 minutes of hating this instructor. I left quietly, noted her name, and will never attend another class of hers again. I feel sorry but I was afraid at some point I would start verbalizing my thoughts.

  • I had an experience where my instructor was totally distracting as he was making all sorts of unnecessary (and inappropriate) noises as he stretches out. I’d say that around 4 out of 30 students walked out because they couldn’t stand it, but I sucked it up and stayed…. and never came back. I totally agree, it taught me a lesson. and I never went to another class from that same instructor ever again. – Kevin

  • Panic is a fine reason to leave. I have panic disorder and have come very close to leaving on a few occasions. But that wasn’t because of the teacher.

    In four years of teaching I’ve had people walk out maybe three times. You never know what’s going on with them. I try not to take it personally.

    Being in a class taught by someone you find annoying is frustrating, but recently it doesn’t seem to matter whose class I’m in, my main wish is that they would stop talking so much!

  • Susan

    All this talk about rudeness and manners seems to be placing too much emphasis on the feelings of the teacher. I don’t think we go to class to nurture a teacher or their ego, so we need to instead emphasize our own experience. Rather than stay out of deference to a teacher or the yoga studio (anywhere can be a Yoga studio), we stay if we are getting what we need, and I would only want to study with a teacher who trusts that their students can make the best assessments of their own needs.
    I’ve walked out of a workshop that was a much more vigorous than advertised, when I was needing much more rest than I expected (on my period). Sure, I could have stayed in Savasana and ‘stuck it out,’ but I felt called to have that kind of experience in a quiet space, not to do my restorative poses while an athletic vinyasa class was being sequenced.

    Bottom line, just don’t think we need to judge ourselves or others for our decisions to go to class, stay through class, leave early, stay late to chat, etc etc. Yoga is everywhere always.

  • Cesare

    It’s not just deference to the teacher, but rather deference to the tradition of yoga. In most traditional Asian cultures, including India, complete obedience to the teacher is expected. Granted this has caused all sorts of abuse. I was at one class that ended up being heated when it wasn’t advertised as such. I was to the point of vomiting and fainting. I quietly told this to the teacher and apologized for leaving (not for being sick). I was simply trying to be polite in respecting the school, not because I was worried about hurting the person’s feelings.

    I’ve also been to some Astanga classes where the teacher refused to allow me to use props or modifications for my arthritis. I explained my situation to them, and when they didn’t care I proceeded to ignore their continued instructions that I knew were dangerous for me. I then made it quite clear they were not to touch me, presenting the same visage I use when getting mugged. The teacher got the message and I actually went back to the class without further issues.

    • VQ2

      Not great at doing a convincing “game face”, myself. But that’s one way to do it, if you are not completely SUBDUED and exhausted by the practice by that point in time. Too often, I had been. THAT’s why I’d had to switch studios and styles. Teachers insisted on teaching to their “styles” rather than to the people in the room. They also had no IDEA of what limitations and future debilities lay beneath the surface. “He who fights and runs away, lives to fight another day,” as the old saying goes. So, I’d had to find something mild enough for my limitations at that time, to be able to not–shall we say–act out, rather than respond …

      Like I said, took me 5 tries …

  • Jackie

    I wanted to leave one yoga class because the male instructor was being very inappropriate. I have had male teachers before and none had other bothered me. When I was in a bent over pose he stood DIRECTLY behind me. During yoga training my teacher gave specific instructions on how to assist this pose as to not make someone uncomfortable (genitals need not to close to touching, thank you!) I do know there are several down dog assists that feel delicious but you wouldn’t necessarily do to a stranger to your class, butttt this was not one of them.

    He adjusted me oddly several other times and gave me more attention than the other students. I didn’t leave (it was a college session I popped into and the director of the gym was taking the class…) but I felt very uncomfortable. I observed him with other students and he let his hand linger too long, didn’t gaze in a different direction, etc, etc. Many of the women in this class were middle-aged teachers and raved about him, and I very much feel like he used that psuedo-sexual “yogi” persona to his advantage.

    Looking back I wish I had quietly excused myself, because I don’t really believe it is all that “fine of a line” between giving a good assist and getting handsy by way of acting like a zenned out, highly enlightened yoga practitioner.

  • Dede

    I was always told “never leave a class”, so I once spent 45 minutes in child’s pose during an Ashtanga class at a Yoga Journal workshop (waaaay too advanced). No one seemed to mind and I did focus on my breath and the energy around me. I ended up feeling much better than I would have thought….on the other hand, I once left a yoga class where the teacher had decided we should practice in total darkness because I became panic-y and frightened.My money, my time, my life. So, I have total acceptance for whatever a person wants to do. Yoga is about non judgement, so that needs to extend to all students. Yoga teacher’s need to just chill and never take it personally!

  • Adri

    I guess I’ve been lucky that I’ve never been to a class where I felt unsafe to the point I would need to leave. That being said, I have definitely taken classes with teachers who annoyed me for one reason or another. My solution is to just note it for future reference and attend class with another teacher, but not to leave in the middle. Prior to practicing yoga, I did kung fu and perhaps that deference to the teacher stayed with me. It’s really easy to just say thank you and go somewhere else you’re more comfortable next time (assuming you are in an area with a lot of choices that is!)

  • I walked out of a yoga class very recently, and I can’t believe I did it! However, the instructor started with “My friend is dying,” and then followed it up with “He’s leaving behind three little children.” It went on and on. Finally, I realized I had been in a pretty good place when I entered the room, but I needed Xanax with a vodka chaser about 30 minutes in. Honesty, is not the best policy when we teach. Sometimes we need to put the needs of our students ahead of our need to vent.

  • April

    I decided to take a donation based only studio with extremely hard parking. After paying $5 for parking and rushing to my vinyasa class I was astonished to see the teacher instructing everyone to massage each other. He wanted us to see where the C2 and C3 was, proceeding down the spine. I thought to myself “Am I in the right class?” After another 15 minutes of awkward touching he finally started the class. I had prior reservations to do wine tasting so since the schedule said the class got out at 730 pm I thought I had more than enough time to make my tasting that lasts till 830pm. He played no music, which I thought was odd since right next door is a karaoke bar that was radiating noises of people yelling, talking etc. But what was worse was to my dismay, the teacher just kept going and going and going, and I knew the time was getting really late. During Savasna I could not center myself or quiet my mind because all I could think about is getting out ASAP to make my reservations. When Savasana ended I rushed to my car and it was 8:20pm…. I missed my reservations and was left feeling unsatisfied in my yoga practice. I wrote the studio an e-mail stating that I am a teacher myself and would never walk out of a class since its disrespectful, but hes disrespecting me as a student taking my time.

  • VQ2

    Not being totally straight here. I really can’t afford to waste any more time in a yoga class. Period. That being said, a former yoga teacher of mine, whose adjustment to my body had been a little aggressive and harsh; also teaches pilates. Like night and day. I went back to her, with the full faith that I know what she is capable of (full kindness) when teaching pilates.

    Just like with that first teacher with the intolerably challenging (I’m not talking about advanced asana at all, just interminably-long holds … or is everyone [else] not practicing in that old-school way any more? and just gunning for rhythmic gymnastics?) class. Until the hard day at work and I’d returned, for the full class.

    I’ve no guilt in leaving, shoving them off my body, or returning to their class ANYWAY, when I keep in mind MY needs. They take precedence of a teacher’s needing to feed the studio’s coffers or his or her ego … This ain’t The Karate Kid at $18 per 60 minute walk-in.

    I will “wax on and wax” off my own abode, thank you very much …

  • You don’t need a reason to leave. The simple desire to get out is more than enough. After all, one of the primary facets of learning Yoga is to listen to yourself over others… including the teacher.

  • Ted

    I have never walked out on a class, but but looking back there is one instance where I wish I had. I was relatively new to yoga and was taking a Saturday morning class at my gym, taught by someone with great credentials (many years of experience and an editor of a yoga magazine). I ended up right next to my Sunday night yoga teacher who was taking the class for her own enjoyment. At one point in the class, the instructor came by and proceeded to critique the pose of my Sunday night teacher. I’m not talking about an adjustment, or a quiet word while walking around the class. This instructor literally stopped the class to drill down on a minor point of form in front of everyone. I have easily taken over a thousand classes since then, from at least a dozen teachers and I have never seen anything like that. To her credit, my Sunday night teacher handled the situation with more grace than I would have. And if she had walked out I would not have stayed. Still, it bothers me that my staying in the class that day could have been interpreted as tacit acceptance of the behavior of that instructor. Needless to say, that was the last time I attended that class.

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