When does yoga start?

A student pokes her head through the door to ask, “When does yoga start?” So many responses come to mind:

“On the inhale”

“When you were born”

“Your last class never ended”

But I know what she means, so I reply, “12:15, you’ve got 10 minutes.”

(Another student recently reminded me of the time she asked, “What do we need today?” and I replied, “You have everything you need within. And grab two blocks.”)

But the question “When does yoga start?” is such a good question. For a public yoga class held at a studio, gym, or community centre, there are a few start times to consider.

There’s the time written on the schedule. This is the time we need to know in advance so we can arrive on time. “On time”, in this case, means 5-10 minutes before the scheduled start time, because we need time to remove our shoes, unroll our mats, and settle in before the teacher begins.

There’s the time when the teacher opens the class. This typically corresponds with the time written on the schedule, but sometimes it’s a few minutes later. Personally, if there are a number of late-comers, I will postpone beginning a class until the room is mostly settled because a good beginning sets the energetic tone for what’s to come. And, in my experience, the sounds of zippers, Velcro, and mats slapping onto the floor is not a good beginning. This is why I recommend people arrive 5-10 minutes before the scheduled start time.

There’s the time when we cross the threshold. There’s something about thresholds, isn’t there? I love to cross a threshold, whether that’s a literal threshold, like stepping inside a friend’s home for a fun evening, or an energetic threshold, like a milestone birthday or the start of a new project. Crossing the threshold into a yoga space can be a powerful signal to slow down, breathe deep, and become aware of our surroundings. It’s an opportunity to turn off our phones and unroll our yoga mats with care and intention.

Speaking of unrolling our yoga mats*

I recently took a group of students by surprise by asking them to roll up their mats partway through class. The class was listed as an intermediate/advanced practice, so, after leading them through a strong flow, I introduced an extremely advanced yoga movement. Holding my rolled yoga mat in both hands, I demonstrated how to carefully unroll a yoga mat on the floor without making a sound. There was some laughter from the group, and possibly some derision, but I assured the group that I was entirely serious.

Unrolling a yoga mat is akin to lighting a candle on an altar, or entering a sacred space. The very act of bending over to unroll the mat requires us to bow. Many traditions view bowing as an act of deep respect. We could ask ourselves, when we bow, who or what are we bowing to? Yoga and Buddhism teacher Michael Stone said that when we bow, we are bowing to the present moment and the whole of life that is this moment.

When does yoga start? A good question with more than one answer. “12:15” is a perfectly good answer. But depending on how we want to define our practice, there are other good answers. Lately, I’ve been liking:




*This video shares two techniques for unrolling a yoga mat.

Image © 2019 Erin Bidlake

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