So you want to try yoga, but you are not sure what to expect. I was in the exact same position just a few months ago. The choice to practice yoga has been one of the best decisions I have made for my health, mind and body. It can be scary getting started with something new, not knowing what to expect. I wanted to share some basic yoga etiquette I have learned, and give tips for attending your first yoga class.
Lots of people practice yoga at home and it’s easy to do since there are so many options for videos and pose guides online. However, if you are just starting out, I would highly recommend you take a class or a beginners workshop. Being in a class setting allows you to be supervised while learning the basics of each pose and also frees your mind from thinking about what pose you should be doing next. Having an instructor present has a huge impact on the way I practice because they help with variations for each pose to increase or decrease the difficulty and assist in getting me positioned correctly to avoid injuries.
Preparing for your first yoga class
Wear comfortable clothes. Ideal yoga attire is clothing that will bend and move with your body. However, you do not want to wear clothing that is too lose as it may fall open or overhead throughout some of the poses, showing more skin than planned.
Hydrate and don’t have a full stomach. Drink water before class, during class, and after class. Hydration is important for everyone and can only benefit you in overall health, but if you plan on attending a hot yoga class, where temperatures can reach 110 degrees, this step is a necessity. Also, eating a light meal before class is okay, but you do not want to be bending, squishing, and squeezing your body in a room full of people with an overfilled belly. Practicing while full can make for an all-around uncomfortable experience.
Get to class early. Arriving early ensures you will have time to put your things away, find a spot, and get any props you will need for the class. It is also nice to have a few minutes to relax, stretch, and adjust your mindset.
No shoes or socks. There will typically be an area near the door to leave your belongings, including shoes. No-one wears shoes into the practice area because you occasionally come into contact with the floor. It is just respectful to keep it clean.
Turn off electronics. One of the main goals of yoga is to stay present in the moment and focus on what is happening within your body. You do not want any type of distractions including phones and watches. Make sure any fitness gear you wear is silenced so everyone can have the best possible experience.
What to expect during practice
You may hear a few different or unrecognizable names for poses. Yoga was originally written in Sanskrit, an ancient language of India. While you may have heard some common western names for yoga poses, also called asanas, many instructors use the original language of yoga when calling out poses, which might throw you off a little bit. If you were expecting to hear “Downward-Facing Dog” and instead get “Adho Mukha Svanasana” don’t worry, your instructor will describe each pose in detail. If you’re not sure what to do take a quick glance around the room to see what others are doing or make eye contact with the instructor so they can assist you.
You never have to do anything. This is so important. Do not think there is an expectation about what you are supposed to accomplish on the mat. Do what feels right and skip what doesn’t. Pay very special attention to your body and how it is feeling. If you need to take a break Child’s Pose is usually a great place to rest. You can also lay on your back until you are ready to rejoin the group. If you need some extra time in a pose stay there until you are ready to move on. Yoga is about you, it is YOUR practice. Do what feels right.
Breathing is vital. I’m not going to lie, I laughed way to hard when writing that last statement because respiration rate is a vital sign, and I get way too caught up in puns. Anyways, breath is important when practicing yoga, and your instructor will likely remind you to breathe throughout the class. Many people do not realize they hold their breath while trying to maintain a pose, but it happens all the time. Breathing is also important for staying present or in the moment. If you are focusing on breathing in and out, you are not worried about what happened yesterday or what is going on after class.
Variety of people, flexibility, and emotion. Yoga is for everyone. Classes I have attended include students of all ages from teens to a few people in their 80’s. I personally had a very limited range of motion when I first started going to yoga, and I am still nowhere near as flexible as most of the people I practice with on a daily basis. I have learned not to compare myself to others. Don’t go to class with expectations, just the intentions of what you would like to accomplish. I have also seen a lot of different emotions come out on the mat. Yoga is such a self-reflective practice that when you start releasing built up tension in the body it tends to make its way out. Emotionally I believe yoga can help as much as a therapy session.
Items you might see and use during class
Mat— Yoga mat is the most basic item that you will use every single class. There are so many options available for thickness and materials that an entire post could be dedicated to them. My observation has been that thinker mats are more comfortable because of all the cushion, but they make it much more difficult to maintain balance and they tend the stretch which can keep you from holding a pose. I would recommend a standard thickness until you have the opportunity to discover any additional needs. If you are going to a yoga studio for your first class, they will typically have mats available to rent for a few dollars. This can help if you’re not ready to make an investment.
Block — Blocks are handy tools to have in a class, especially as a beginner. If you aren’t the most flexible or don’t have great range of motion, blocks help bring the ground closer to you so you can practice the poses. Blocks are also used a lot in restorative yoga classes to help position the body. Most classes have these in the studio to use for free. If you are practicing at home and find yourself in need of a block try using a dense supportive pillow or a folded blanket.
Straps, bands, and weights — Some studios use straps, bands, and/or weights in specific classes to combine yoga with toning exercise. I have never been to a class where these weren’t provided if they were going to be used.
Towel — Depending on the type of class you will be attending you might want to bring a small towel to keep your mat and hands dry if you start getting sweaty. There’s nothing worse than the mat turning into a slip and slide in the middle of class. There are yoga mat towels that are used on top of the mat for extra traction, but unless you are attending a real hot class these typically aren’t necessary.