March 13, 2013

Overcrowded Yoga

Yoga is an ancient practice that is defined as the union between the individual self and the divine. With its roots tracing back to Hindi philosophy, various traditions of yoga practices can be found throughout history in Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism.

The spread, and subsequent boom, of yoga to the Western world has continued in an upward spiral since the 1980s with studios popping up throughout the US in a constant rise since the early 2000s.

I don't consider myself to be an expert on yoga (by any means) and I've only very recently gotten into practicing regularly. Lately though, I've noticed an upward swing in higher prices and overcrowding at yoga studios which I've found to be extremely frustrating.

When I was in New York, I used to practice at Yoga to the People, a donation-based studio that I stopped going to after a particularly overcrowded class left me banging my leg up against the back wall of the room every time I kicked my leg up.

I stopped going to the studio because I had gotten tired of smacking arms with someone whenever I switched into Warrior 2 or kicking walls and just not having enough space.

Yoga to the People via
I attributed it to the fact that Yoga to the People is donation based. Their mission is to make yoga available to everyone and I both respect and appreciate that...but the popularity just got a bit overwhelming and it wasn't for me.

Enter my move to DC where I recently purchased a monthly unlimited pass to Downdog Yoga, a hot yoga studio in Georgetown. The classes at Downdog are a whopping $18, which I was hesitant to spend, but they had a special going and the monthly pass only cost me $50 so I figured it would be worth it If I went to the studio at least 3 times.

Last night, I went to the studio which was a bit hotter and more crowded than I've seen it before but I didn't think anything of it. There was the usual smacking arms, kicks in the face, but nothing out of the ordinary* and I progressed through the class, not having a great class, but feeling pretty ok throughout it. (*The fact that I consider this to be 'nothing out of the ordinary' is an issue in itself.)

With about 15 minutes to go, the instructor gave us free-for-all time to get into whatever inversions we wanted to. Not being terribly advanced, I popped into shoulder stand and was focusing on going further into the pose and controlling my breathing in the 95 degree room. All of a sudden, while I was about a minute into the pose, the girl behind me, who had been in head stand, came crashing down.

As she fell, she bent her knees leaving her feet to come crashing down into my chest and her butt to come right down on my face. She came down on me so insanely hard that I blacked out for about 10 seconds, having gotten the wind blown out of me. 

I spent the next few minutes in child's pose, feeling too dizzy to get up and the only reason I finished the class was because we went into savasna right from there and I needed the time to just lay down. When I came home, I had a splintering head ache and a huge red bump on my forehead. I felt absolutely awful and had to take some aspirin and put an ice pack on my head.

This never should have happened.

This picture, which I borrowed from Meaghan's review of Downdog, shows just how close together the mats are.

Downdog's Bethesda studio via
The Georgetown Studio via
The girl who fell on me felt absolutely terrible and I kept trying to assure her that this wasn't her fault. The issue at hand is that we never should have been that close together. Is she now going to limit herself from trying to go into headstand in the future for fear that she'll fall on someone again? I know that I've skimped on poses in the past for fear of hitting someone. Doesn't that defeat the entire purpose of yoga? And at $18 for a drop-in rate, it just seems absurd to not close classes once they've reached maybe 2/3 of the number of students they currently let in.

In a class this crowded, can the instructor actually...instruct? Can they really see what's going on with each of their students, making sure poses are being done correctly, making adjustments as necessary? Whenever I've gone to a class that is this crowded, I've never heard the Instructor ask if there are any injuries or beginners. These are questions that are important for an Instructor to know so that she or he can gauge the class and lead it accordingly.

This post isn't meant to be a rag on Yoga to the People or Downdog, but it does pose a question: should yoga studios limit the number of students to a class so that students have more space to freely flow through poses - without having to worry that someone is going to fall on top of them mid-class...or that they are going to fall on someone.

I wasn't seriously hurt yesterday, but I definitely didn't walk away from class feeling refreshed and cleansed. Rather, I walked away bruised and a little shaken. Who's to say that that couldn't have been worse? Someone trying headstand - maybe for the first time - should have support so that they don't fall. She could have broken her neck falling out of that pose.

I understand that yoga is gaining widespread popularity and I'm very in favor of yoga for everyone, but at what price? Are yoga studios risking the safety of their students in favor of earning an extra buck?

How do you feel about this topic? Have you been to a yoga studio that was overcrowded? I'd love to hear your thoughts!



  1. OMG I can't believe you blacked out and the class wasn't stopped or anything?!?!?

    I had my first hot yoga session this past Sunday and it was a smaller class and we were packed in there. I had the butt's of each girl to the sides of me in my face at one time or another. I slapped arms every other pose. It was annoying and definitely prevented me from focusing on what was going on as I adjusted to get out of the way. But, because no one acted like it was a big deal, I just thought that was the norm.

  2. Yes, they should definitely close classes when they've reached capacity (within reason)! I bought a Groupon for a yoga studio a few months ago and even though the website said classes closed at 15 people, some of the classes had at least 25. The normal rate was $20 per class I stopped going after I used up my 10 (for $25) classes. Most classes are ridiculously overpriced and this is why I prefer to do DVDs on my own at home.

  3. Wow, so sorry this happened. The yoga stydio I go (or well used to go) has a limit, since the room is very small. At the beginning of each class they hand out passes (you can get that at the front desk) and once they ran out, no more people can join the class. You can not get the pass way in advance, only within 1 hour of class.

  4. Hi, new follower here. This is a great post. I can't believe that the class was so crowded that she was able to take you out like that. I'm sure it hurt!

    I haven't been to a class that crowded, but just looking at those pictures makes me claustrophobic! How could you even relax?

    I agree, there has to be a limit for everyone's benefit!

  5. I have been to several overly crowded yoga classes, similar to what you described. I can honestly say that similar situations led to my yoga hiatus. Then I discovered Georgetown yoga. This little treasure is tucked away on the P street, conveniently located between Georgetown and Dupont. The studio is small and you will never have a class with more than 16 students. The intimate setting prevents from the hitting, kicking and falling on others as described in your post. It also allows for more student teacher interaction and for the yogis to better relax.

    Since you currently work in Georgetown, I highly recommend you pop in for a visit and I promise you won't be disappointed in your yoga experience.

  6. As someone who is claustrophobic to begin with, I would have a HUGE problem with being that crowded. I wouldn't do it. Plus, it doesn't seem safe - look what happened to you!

  7. Yikes!! New follower too. I've never been to a yoga studio that crowded before but being so close to another is definitely a turn off. Recently I've tried Circle Yoga near Chevy Chase which is also a community studio and Tranquil space in DuPont circle is pretty fabulous, but pricey.

  8. I rarely go to yoga classes, but gosh, I would NEVER go to one that is that crowded! Good that you are ok!

  9. Holy cow-- glad you're okay! I love hot yoga, but that many people in a room is nuts. I started going early in the morning-- WAY less people than right after work. They really should put a cap on how many people can be in there.

  10. Most of the classes I go to aren't insanely crowded like this, but I did go to a free class during an open house weekend of a new location of the studio I go to. It was just as crowded as yours was, it seems, and I didn't like it at all. Yes, it helped me view others and see if I was doing a position incorrectly since the instructor was busy with the other tons of people there, but it made me uncomfortable that I was basically putting my face into someone else's butt half the time!! I definitely think they should put a limit on the size of the class. I also know that most people just want to walk up if they don't plan on doing a yoga class during the week, but they should at least call ahead and reserve a spot or do so online. It's just more fair and safe.

    That being said, I'm glad you're ok!!! That's a ridiculous thing that happened and I hope it doesn't happen again!!


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