This is an excerpt from Instructing Hatha Yoga-2nd Edition by Diane Ambrosini.
In the days before yoga’s popularity soared, if you had asked a non-yoga-practicing person what came to mind when thinking about yoga, he or she might have described a candlelit room filled with patchouli incense and low droning chants. If asked today, the person might conjure an image of 20 to 50 people on yoga mats packed tightly into a large room while moving in unison to contemporary music. In reality, hatha yoga practice today is approached in many diverse ways. Some instructors use live music; some use none at all. Some sessions are conducted one on one; others can, and do fill a football field. In addition, classes take place in a wide variety of settings and may happen anywhere that space is available - for example, commercial yoga studios (large or small), gymnasiums, group exercise rooms in fitness facilities, community recreation centers, libraries, and the great outdoors. Because of the increasing demand for yoga, the variations are almost limitless.
Many students feel that practicing outdoors gives their yoga a more natural ambiance and a deeper connection to nature.
Yoga classes can be, and often are, taught almost anywhere. However, some locations are more favorable for helping students achieve the release, relaxation, and overall awareness that they crave. Generally speaking, the most desirable space to teach and practice yoga is one that was designed with yoga in mind. Such a setting is spacious, comfortable, free from outside distractions, well ventilated, and warmly lit.
For many, yoga is also associated with calming music and the aromatherapy of incense, and indeed these elements can be used to help create a soothing atmosphere. However, incense burning is not always a welcome addition to class; in fact, in many facilities, it is strictly forbidden. If you teach in a facility that does allow incense, it is a courtesy to first ask the students if they mind. Many individuals are severely allergic to smoke or perfume and may be adversely affected by any scent wafting through the room. For this reason, it is also advisable to maintain a policy stating that no one should wear perfume or overly scented lotions to class.
Yoga can be practiced almost anywhere: a sandy beach, the sidelines of a football game, your living room, a mountain campground, or even the water. However, while the surface may vary, it should always be as level as possible to avoid compromising a person’s balance and to protect the joints when holding postures. In addition, as in any physical activity, some surfaces are better suited than others for practicing yoga. Because yoga is generally practiced indoors, this discussion addresses indoor floor surfaces.
Wood flooring can be found in a variety of settings, including many yoga studios; most dance studios, high school gyms, and group exercise rooms in newer fitness facilities; and some older recreational facilities. Wood provides a smooth, flat surface with a small amount of flexibility that is relatively forgiving to the body. It also provides greater warmth than concrete and other harder surfaces. Yoga studios that feature wood flooring often disallow outside footwear on the studio floor in order to maintain the integrity of the surface.
Concrete-based surfaces are the norm in older fitness facilities, elementary school auditoriums, and even some newer recreation facilities. They provide a smooth surface that is generally easy to clean. In many cases, the concrete is covered with ceramic tile or linoleum. Unfortunately, concrete flooring is much cooler than wood; it is also rigid and provides no shock absorption for the joints. Even so, it is a viable surface for practicing yoga because of the extremely low-impact nature of the activity. In addition, students can obtain some cushioning and warmth by using mats.
Some facilities have carpeted flooring. These surfaces provide the warmest floor and are very suitable for gentle and restorative yoga, during which students spend considerable time on the ground. Although carpet does provide a little extra cushioning, pay attention to what kinds of activity are performed on the carpet. A sweat-inducing activity can create a foul-smelling and unsanitary surface if the carpet is not cleaned on a regular basis.
In general, the room temperature for a nonheated yoga class should be between 70 and 76 degrees Fahrenheit (about 21 and 24 degrees Celsius). Temperatures in this range tend to create a comfortable environment for most student - not too hot, not too cold. However, these general guidelines notwithstanding, room temperature should be tailored appropriately for both the style of yoga being practiced and the student population.
For instance, peri- and postmenopausal women tend to insist on cooler room temperatures and gently moving air. In contrast, some styles of yoga use a room heated to a temperature between 96 and 106 degrees Fahrenheit (between 36 and 41 degrees Celsius) with the intention of helping warm the muscles for practice. In addition, in Bikram and other "hot" yoga classes, the room is kept at a much higher temperature that most other yoga styles, in order to help students release more sweat.
Despite the importance of temperature, some spaces do not provide easy access to the thermostat, which can cause consternation for both the instructor and the students. For instance, one instructor taught in a fitness club where an aerobics class was scheduled to follow her morning yoga class. She found that the automatic cooling fans turned on 15 minutes before her class ended - right during the cool-down and Shavasana. After much shivering and complaining by students, the management was finally convinced to change the thermostat. In the meantime, however, many students came to class in multiple layers. In fact, one student came with two layers of exercise clothing, mittens, and a parka - a remarkable situation in eastern San Diego County in the summer!
This anecdote may be extreme, but it illustrates the importance of reminding students to dress in layers so that they can accommodate variable conditions and changing body temperature. In addition, be sure that the management where you teach understands the intricacies and environmental needs of yoga practice.
Students come to yoga class for a variety of reasons. One of the most common is to attain a certain level of self-awareness and focus - to clear the mind of stress and distracting thought processes. Yet even in the most ideal yoga setting, outside distractions can seep into the class and disrupt the serene mood that students crave. In settings that are less than ideal - for example, a fitness facility in which the yoga class is adjacent to a basketball court - these distractions can seem almost too much to overcome.
In such cases, help students focus on their asanas by reminding them to notice their breathing, thus buffering outmany distractions. In addition, before class begins, instruct students that all cell phones must be turned off. Nothing is as distracting to the students or the instructor as a phone ringing during class!
The following example illustrates the importance of establishing an appropriate atmosphere for your students’ yoga experiences. Picture a yoga class set in a wonderfully spacious dance room situated in a quiet bungalow at an adult education center. The longtime students were delighted, and perhaps a bit spoiled, by the room’s seclusion, warm wood floors, and whispers of wind sneaking in from outside. Sadly, the use of the bungalow was taken away, and the class was relocated to what the center’s administration thought was a perfect space: the cafeteria. The instructor was given a floor plan showing the cafeteria with a dotted line down the middle, the word yoga on one side, and the word dance on the other. It was explained that the line represented a dividing wall between the two classes.
When she went to teach, however, the instructor saw that the so-called dividing wall was a mere curtain. Moreover, the dance class was a tap class, in which the instructor broadcast show tunes over loudspeakers as the students stampeded on an old, warped wooden stage just a few feet from the yoga instructor’s voice. As a consequence, the instructor had to shout: "Breathe!" "Relax!" Almost all of the yoga students demanded their money back, and the class was canceled. As this story shows, some settings contain obstacles that are simply impossible to overcome.
Learn more about Instructing Hatha Yoga, Second Edition.