It happened one night during a quiet class, the thing I feared most in the practice. I twisted myself into Marichyasana D on the right side, and… tweet. I passed gas, and it was audible (but not smelly, thank goodness!). I was embarrassed but thankfully my teacher was on the other side of the room (not adjusting me!) and no one else seemed to notice. I kept breathing, held the pose, and quickly my embarrassment passed. We're all human, after all, and the physical body does not always cooperate when you're trying to exercise or practice yoga. Only once in almost six years of practice has that happened, and it wasn't nearly as catastrophic as I had imagined.
That moment reminded me that no one comes to yoga class to judge me, that we're all human, and that the ego is what creates embarrassment. If you do anything long enough, you're likely to uncover the unsavory elements of it. (Just ask any runner--surely they have a bathroom emergency tale to tell. My boyfriend is a cyclist, and they have so many gross and embarrassing tales to share.) Today I'm going to answer 12 of your most "embarrassing" yoga questions, and I hope I can assuage any anxiety you have so you can feel more comfortable in a yoga class. (Remember, there's no need to be embarrassed!)
1. What if I have to pass gas?
Farts happen. And if you're bending, twisting, or stretching, it can be that much harder to hold them in.
If you pass gas in class, don't make a big deal about it. If the class is lively or if people notice, laugh about it. Otherwise, I-G-N-O-R-E! Just don't force them out, and consider skipping any foods that you know give you gas on days you have yoga! If you need to relieve gas before class, try this pose. (This is a good reminder to avoid large meals a few hours before a yoga practice.)
I once taught a class where a guy kept farting all the way through class. He was new to the practice and was not the least bit embarrassed about it. They smelled. It was a full room. While we shouldn't be embarrassed about bodily functions (burps happen, too!), don't flaunt them!
2. Am I supposed to fall asleep in savasana (corpse pose, the final relaxation)?
Savasana is not naptime, though it can feel that way. It is a time to allow the energy to return to the body, a chance to rejuvenate yourself after a yoga practice. You hover between waking and sleeping, in a state of relaxation. For new practitioners, or on days when you're super tired, you might fall asleep. I certainly have.
Don't worry. It's rare that anyone will notice and even rarer that you'll sleep so soundly that you won't hear the teacher rouse the class. Drooling and snoring sometimes happen in savasana. No big deal! As you progress in your practice, you'll notice the difference between napping and relaxation, and you'll be able to hold yourself in savasana without nodding off!
3. What do I do if I fall over?
Just the other day, I fell out of the final stage of a four-part pose where you reach for the big toe with your fingers, take it out to the side, bring it back center to fold to the leg, and hold the leg out in front of you. My teacher called out an adjustment, and my leg just fell. I laughed. She laughed. I moved on.
If you fall in a pose and you're not injured, just keep going. In a crowded class, you likely aren't the first or the last. Focus your gaze and return to the pose. Keep working on the pose and consider taking a step back--not taking a bind or not going fully into the pose--until you've mastered control of the beginning steps. If you're falling out of more advanced poses, modify them or use a wall for support. Don't let falling shake your confidence. Commit to breathing and set your gaze, and you'll feel stronger in the pose.
4. What if I have to go to the bathroom?
While teachers discourage students from leaving class unnecessarily, when nature calls, answer it. If you can "hold it" comfortably until the end of class, please try to do so; if it's uncomfortable or an emergency, just leave the class. No need to tell the teacher or apologize. Everyone has those kind of moments.
When I did teacher training, we joked that once we reached a series of twists, everyone left our self-paced practices one by one. (Those twists stimulated the digestive system, and it was early in the morning!) We came and went silently, not making a big deal.
The same goes for coughing fits, allergy attacks or anything else that should prompt the need for you to leave class. Head out quickly and quietly, and return the same way. Don't worry about other people noticing!
5. I'm so sweaty! Is that normal?
Sweat is normal, and it's not gross! Don't be embarrassed if you sweat. It actually makes some poses easier, especially if you're trying to twist. If you're slipping around on your mat, place a beach towel or microfiber yoga towel on top. (I love the ones from Manduka!) The microfiber towels are great because the more you sweat, the stickier they are. You can also keep a hand towel close by to wipe your face and arms and legs.
Though it seems counterintuitive, if you sweat a lot, wear more clothes. Ever try to do crow pose in shorts when your legs are sweaty? You slide right off! Pants will absorb more sweat than shorts, and especially in warm or hot classes, you'll appreciate that the extra fabric is preventing you from slipping.
And how on earth can you focus your drishti (gaze) if you have sweat running down your third eye? I always wear a headband, and I recommend them for men and women alike. I like the Bondi Bands, and I also stock up on fun printed ones when Lucy and Prana have sales.
6. What if the teacher wants me to chant? I don’t know the words!
Never feel obligated to chant in a class. You can always listen, but I recommend giving it a try. If you're embarrassed of being heard saying the wrong words, you can mouth them or say them quietly. Teachers, myself included, will often do the chants as "call and response" so you'll listen to a line and then repeat it. Even if chanting is not your thing, join in for the "Oms"--they are really powerful and the sound of an entire group chanting Om together is inspiring!
7. What if I'm not flexible? What if I can't touch my toes? Will people laugh at me?
This is the most common misconception about yoga. People avoid the practice because they're embarrassed about not being flexible. You do not have to be naturally flexible to practice yoga, nor do you need to be able to touch your toes. I know plenty of yogis who've been practicing for years who still have to bend their knees to touch their toes. Bring yourself to the practice, and the practice will come to you. That is, just show up. Everything else can be modified. And how will you ever touch your toes if you don't try?
8. I have stinky feet. Can I leave my socks on during yoga?
You always want to practice yoga barefoot so you can fully connect your feet to the mat and the earth, ensuring better balance and strength. Socks interfere with your connection, and they can make it harder to balance. Neither you nor your teacher can see if your feet are properly aligned if they are hidden under socks, and you run the risk of injury from slipping if you wear them.
Give your feet a quick wash before class if you're worried about the smell. I stash a packet of lavender baby wipes in my mat bag and give them a wipe before class if I'm taking an evening class. (I shower before morning practices.) In winter, when my feet tend to smell funky after being trapped in boots, I sometimes wash my feet before class.
9. Speaking of stinky feet, what about stinky armpits? Should I try to cover up my B.O.?
Whether your class is heated or not, you're going to sweat in yoga. Rather than mask your natural odor, embrace it. We're all going to smell a little bit after class, but it's no big deal. We're humans, we sweat, and we stink sometimes.
That said, come to class as clean as possible. Shower beforehand if you can. Not only will this ensure you're less stinky on the mat, but you can remove any lotions or oils that might cause you to slip. Do not apply perfumes or anything else with a strong scent before coming to class. Your body heat will intensify the scent, which can be irritating to the lungs.
10. Can people see my underwear/bra/butt crack? How do I avoid the dreaded sweaty crotch look? And how can I keep from flashing the class during down dog?
Wardrobe malfunctions happen. Just ask Janet Jackson. Avoid most of them by dressing properly for yoga. You don't need to have a fancy matching outfit, but you should choose clothes that allow movement. I prefer capri pants and a tank top--the excess fabric of flared yoga pants gets in my way--but you can wear pants or tighter-fitting shorts, too. If you prefer to cover your shoulders, choose longer T-shirts that will stay tucked.
No flashing: To keep your shirt from falling down (up?) during down dog or inversions, tuck it in, or choose a snug-fitting shirt that hits your hip. Do a test: Can you lift your arms without exposing your bellybutton? If you do choose tanktops, lean over and make sure your chest doesn't fall out. Take a couple of twists for safe measure to see if anything budges. If you don't like snug-fitting tanks, choose one that has adjustable cords around the bottom or is baggy around the middle but tight at the bottom. (If you have a slip, don't make a big deal. Chances are no one is in a position to see. Adjust and move on. It happens to the best of us!)
Men and women should avoid loose running or basketball shorts, unless you wear tighter shorts underneath. The nylon isn't meant to stretch, and I've seen people split their running shorts in class. That’s embarrassing! Bike shorts are a great choice for men, but you might feel more comfortable with looser shorts on top. I taught a yoga class to cyclists, and a guy wore his bib shorts. They were tight-fitting with a padded bottom. He said he felt really comfortable in his unconventional getup.
Go with black: Light colored yoga pants are super cute, but I will only wear black to avoid showing sweat in places no one wants to see. (When they get sweaty, a lot of light colored pants are see-through, too.)
Don't go low: Low-rise pants are not a good fit for yoga. With all the twisting and flowing, you might end up exposing your crack. Test your pants before you buy them. Bend over and touch your toes (or not!); sit down and twist to one side; squat down--did you feel a breeze back there? If so, choose a pair that comes up higher.
If you're not looking to spend a lot of money, the C9 by Champion line at Target and the Danskin line at Walmart are great. If you want to spend a little more on workout clothes, check out Moving Comfort (love their leggings), Prana (best yoga tops ever!), and Lululemon (really high-quality and long-lasting).
11. What am I supposed to do when a teacher adjusts me?
Teachers offer adjustments not only as a way to correct students' form to prevent injury but also to take them deeper into a pose, to places they wouldn't normally go on their own. When a teacher adjusts you, keep breathing, continue to focus your gaze, and stay strong. It's dangerous for the teacher and the student if the student suddenly goes limp or leans all their weight on a teacher. Enjoy the gift of human touch, commit this "place" to memory, and maybe you'll have learned a new approach to a pose.
12. The dude next to me is breathing so loudly! Do I have to breathe like that?
You have to do one thing and one thing only when you enter a yoga class: Breathe. Preferably slowly, deeply, and evenly, through your nose. We use ujjayi breathing in yoga, but everyone breathes differently. Some are loud, some are quieter. Don't focus on volume. Focus on breathing in and out, through the nose. The rest will come with time.
Spill: Do you have an embarrassing yoga story? Do you have any other questions about yoga, embarrassing or not?