It’s happened to all of us, whether in a standing position such as Utthita Hasta Padanghustasana (Hand to Big Toe pose), or seated, as in Upavista Konasana (Wide Angle seated forward fold) and even in a reclined pose like Supta Padanghustasana (Reclining Hand to Toe pose); suddenly we feel like we’re on top of each other. We end up hopping around, falling over, or shifting on the mat, and even outbursts of laughter with other yogis. It’s not a big deal; certainly we could attach a metaphor in these events that is relevant to everyday life such as learning to be tolerant of others and cultivate patience. However aren’t there already enough life metaphors on the mat?
Constantly shifting around during class to avoid someone’s foot, or to keep your own extremities out of someone’s face, can be funny in the moment, but it can potentially take us right out of the practice and connection that we are sometimes just settling into.
A common reason that these interferences in our personal space occur during a class is because mats are lined up in a perfect row. Sometimes this occurs as students merely follow suit of one-another; however oftentimes it is the teacher who insists on it. In the case of the latter is there a basis for this layout that positively affects the students? Or is it what the teacher has learned and as a result they feel comfortable seeing neat rows of people in perfect lines? Whatever the reason, it’s worth some research in energetics to see if it’s the most effective way.
In the study of the subtle bodies, each of us has our own energetic composition and alignment. On any given day we can feel completely together and flowing, stressed out or stuck, or overworked, exhausted and low. The beauty of yoga is that usually by the end of a class we feel unified, more at peace. But in a room full of strangers, how do we know how others subtle positioning will effect us? As much as we like to think we are there as an individual, it is indeed a social interaction and awareness of others is important to factor in when it comes to what you want to get out of your practice. This applies to every class size, spacious or packed.
In my experience teaching over the last few decades I’ve always suggested that students stagger their mats as it creates a more fuss-free environment for everyone. When we have space at the top and bottom of our mat it gives us room to extend limbs, twist, fold and bend without being concerned of a collision with our neighbor. It enables us to stay centered in our practice. We can breathe more freely when we have space around us and feel less restricted physically and energetically. Additionally, it creates better energy movement within the studio, and more space for the teacher to interact with students individually; rather than simply instruct and walk between them.
I suggest you try a class with staggered mats to see if it effects your practice. Experiment with how you feel having that little extra space either side of you; how it affects your physical practice and the energetic flow of your practice.
If you typically line mats up, try staggering them for a few classes. It may not look as aesthetically pleasing to you, but allow some time with these changes to observe the shift in the energy of the class. This will change the experience not only for the students, but for yourself as you’re able to individually assist each student with more space.
Shift your mat forward or back, and see how it feels to have more space and freedom to move around you during the class. Notice if your concentration improves and if you feel more relaxed overall. Even in a classroom setting, yoga is a self-practice; so don’t be afraid to experiment.
I’ve posted a video along with this article for a visual demonstration of aligned mats and staggered mats.