Seasoned yoga instructor Mariza Smith has a confession.
“Nobody wants to see the inside of what’s happening in your shorts,” Smith told CNN. “You do see a lot of that in yoga classes.”
Yoga’s popularity, which has almost doubled in the past 10 years in the U.S., evidently has its downside, ushering in a rash of newbies unaware of the teaching’s finicky (and often justified) unwritten rules.
To be fair, attending a yoga class for the first time can be a hugely daunting experience. Yogis can dress strangely (or scantily), they can make funny noises, they sometimes smell awkwardly, and twist themselves up like pretzels or flip into a handstand just to warm up.
In an effort to soften the eye-opening introduction into the yoga world, Smith, along with veteran London-based teachers Leila Sadeghee and Norman Blair, break out the 10 types you are likely to encounter in a yoga studio:
1. The yoga strutter
“There are a lot of yoga strutters in this world (who) strut in literally like peacocks,” says Smith, who began practicing in 1995 before training in Mysore, India and qualifying as an instructor in 2008.
“And they’re like, actually I can do the more difficult variations so that I’m just going to show you how good I am. That’s when it’s frustrating.”
“I have seen it where the version of what is being taught and a version of what a student is doing is so different that it can actually be distracting to others,” explains Sadeghee, who suspects that the yoga strutter attends class for “an energetic crutch,” rather than a structured routine.
“It is very supportive to practice in a group, but then they want to do whatever they want to do with their bodies,” she adds.
Blair says nearly all yogis start off as strutters, many of whom enroll for what he dubs the “WMB” syndrome, or Want Madonna Body. “But if you’re still practicing to get a Madonna body 10 years later, then something’s gone wrong,” he says.
Does the yoga strutter have a uniform?
“Oh of course! Lulu head to toe!” Smith says, referring to the ubiquitous high-end yoga apparel brand Lululemon.
2. The heavy sweater
If you know you have the propensity to sweat buckets, then by all means bring a towel with you, encourages Smith.
“Absolutely, because then the teachers can lay the towel over you while they adjust you, or they can wipe their hands after they touch you,” she says.
“I try to give everyone equal attention, so it’s not fair to the student if you don’t adjust them … but, you know, make it easy (on the teacher).
“The things that irritate from a teacher’s side are sweaty people and really stinky feet,” she adds. “I mean no-one wants to touch your feet if they’re really stinky or ugly. We do it because we have to, but you’re like, ‘Oh no, now I’m going to wash my hands 25 times at the end of class.’”
Sadeghee, whose vinyasa flow classes will often cram 95 people into a studio, says getting splashed during intense classes is a result of yoga’s popularity in big cities.
She recalls getting doused in sweat on a weekly basis by a certain celebrity at trendy Jivamukti Yoga in New York.
“You literally have about one centimeter between your mat and the next person,” she says. “One entire side of my body would be drenched – the side that was next to Woody Harrelson. He was just wide enough to have his sweat going in my direction.
“This is how I got my initiation on how to be relaxed in the yoga room,” she explains. “So for me, the cost of this experience was being doused in man sweat. And then you kind of learn to let go and just rinse off after.”
It’s not for everyone, however.
“Keep your clothes on,” says Blair, a heavy sweater himself. “That’s my personal preference.”
3. The Type ‘A’ workaholics
“There’s often the super (finance) types that will come in on their Blackberries texting until you’re halfway through your first Om, and then checking their phones from their mat all the time,” Smith says.
“And they don’t want to lie down for savasana (the final relaxation pose), so they will leave before savasana because they don’t want to stop (working).”
Blair is not averse to naming and shaming when he hears a phone go off. “I have on occasion searched it down and then waved it around,” he says.
4. The Zen yogi
The traveler who just came back from India/Thailand/Sri Lanka/Morocco etc. is a fixture in most urban classrooms.
“Oh yes, always in their Thai yoga pants. With a shaved head and a new tattoo,” Smith says, knowingly.
“Mostly what I experience with those guys is it’s not a show,” says Sadeghee. “They are definitely living to be a conduit for a certain kind of love or certain kind of frequency of energy, and usually they are receptive and happy to be there.”
5. The know-it-all
“The know-it-alls who know it all,” says Smith. They have no problems correcting the teachers – even when they’re wrong.
Do's and don'ts in the yoga classroom
Although Smith has been told to move the positioning of the mats in her classroom from one side of the floor to another, she is yet to have a student correct one of her poses. “Thank God,” she says.
At times, however, the know-it-all can also be helpful, says Blair. “I’m a human being, we all make mistakes,” he says.
“I may say something about the anatomy, and a student who knows a lot more than me would say, ‘No, I’m not so sure about that,’ and if they do that quietly then I really appreciate their intervention.”
6. The name-droppers
They will often start a sentence with, “When I was studying with (insert name of seminal yoga pioneer) in Rishikesh…”
“Those people, yeah, they exist,” says Smith.
7. The teacher’s pet
“Who are always at the front, who like you on Facebook, and want to impress, which is fine,” chuckles Smith. “It’s beautiful and it’s lovely that they want to learn, like any kind of educational environment.”
8. The groupie
Larger-than-life male yoga gurus and their devoted female followers have been scandalously blurring the student-teacher divide for decades, if not longer.
“Are you kidding me?” exclaims Sadeghee. “I trained in the Anusara school. Look what happened with John Friend, I know all about this.”
“We all have these wounded egos. We all have a desire to be seen by an authority figure,” says Blair. “It’s important that there is some level of boundary.”
Smith was shocked to witness one London-based teacher verbally abusing his students – only to hear women fawning over him in the locker room afterwards.
“He’s like, ‘Who do you think you are coming to my class? You can’t even do a triangle!’” she recalls.
“I was literally horrified in this yoga class … and then in the changing room, all the girls were like, ‘Oh my God, he shouted at me, oh my God oh my God! That’s so exciting, he noticed me, he shouted at me!’”
9. The human pretzel
“Who will do the most advanced yoga pose they can at breakfast, just to show you that they can,” says Smith. “That’s (especially true) in Mysore (classes), that’s really special.”
“There is the assumption someone is doing stuff to show everyone,” says Sadeghee, “but a lot of times people are just bendy and it feels good for them to enact bendiness.”
10. The unintentional exhibitionist
This type applies only to the male students, says Smith.
“Men in very short shorts that are extremely revealing? That’s not OK,” she asserts.
Part of being in charge of a yoga class, however, is to sometimes point out the obvious.
“I did that myself many years ago,” admits Blair. “The teacher said, ‘You need to put some (underwear) on,’ and I was grateful for her advice.”
Ultimately, reading the signs of yoga personalities can be a boon to instructors looking to unlock their students’ potential, says Sadeghee.
“All of this stuff is in the body register,” she says. “One of the core competencies for a future cutting-edge yoga teacher is to recognize what shows up, so that they can meet the whole person – not just this body making a shape – and then they can help this person get free.”