Your first yoga class is sure to be filled with flexible bodies, strange props, wall-to-wall mirrors, and in some cases, the occasional odd-sounding chant. It’s no surprise that yoga can intimidate even the most hardcore gym rats.
But if you’ve seen a devoted yogi body or heard about its many benefits, you’ve probably thought about trying it.
To put your mind and body at ease, we asked several seasoned yoga instructors to give us some helpful tips to get you through your first class with your dignity intact.
Sign up for a beginner class. A beginner class will ensure that the fundamental principles of alignment and safety guidelines are broken down, says Sam Debicki, a yoga instructor in New York City. If you don’t see any classes that are clearly listed as basic or beginner, she recommends an Iyengar yoga class, which teaches the basic poses. Classes labeled as ‘Hatha,’ ‘alignment,’ or ‘slow flow,’ are also suitable for beginners, as they tend to move at a slow pace and offer precise instruction.
Be familiar with a few basic moves. Johan Montijano, an instructor who offers private lessons and teaches at several well-known health clubs, suggests that you 'YouTube' some basic poses like Downward Dog, Upward Dog, Child’s pose and the Warrior poses. If you know the basics, you’ll have a much easier time following along. As Debicki notes, “Beginners tend to have their hands too close to their feet in down dog,” but in fact, the distance should match the distance between your hands and feet as if you were in a plank or push-up position.
Wear spandex or long pants. You do a lot of stretching in yoga, and “those little running shorts might not be enough,” says Montijano. “You’re already going to be embarrassed so don’t give yourself another thing to be embarrassed about.”
Know the equipment. “Before class starts, set your mat down and grab and props you need,” says Debicki. It's polite to stagger your mat with the person next to you so you avoid bumping elbows. If the instructor doesn’t provide direction as to what equipment you need, “grab two blocks, a blanket and a strap (sometimes referred to as a belt),” says Alie Flynt, a yoga instructor at New York City's YogaWorks studio. "These 'yoga toys' will make your life a whole lot easier in the beginning.”
Respect yourself. Be mindful of the feedback you receive from your body. Montijano tells beginners, “Respect yourself and be very conservative in your first class.” Flynt says that pain, twinges, dizziness and shortness of breath are all signs to slow down. "Just like people don’t like being pushed around, the body doesn’t either,” she adds. “You have to ease into the practice with care and attentiveness.”
Avoid any unwanted attention. If you’re a newbie who wants to hide from the more advanced-students, Montijano suggests positioning your mat in the back of the room. There, you can follow along with those in front of you while not worrying about others watching you. Also, “Don’t put your mat against the left side wall of the room,” says Debicki. “A number of poses involve facing the side of the wall and the right side is usually done first,” she explains. If you’re facing the left side of the room, “you won’t have anyone to look at for guidance!”
Check your ego at the door. “Don’t compare yourself to other, more advanced students in the class,” says Flynt. Remember that everybody in the room has had a first yoga class — and they’re back for more.
Tell your instructor you’re new. Flynt says that by telling the instructor you’re a beginner, they can keep a close eye on you and give you appropriate modifications and variations. “We try to make ourselves especially useful to new yogis and keep an eye out for them,” adds Debicki.
Breathe! “When in doubt, breathe, breathe and breathe some more,” says Flynt. “Yoga is the perfect practice to learn to breathe when things are challenging.”
Stay for the whole class. Savasana is the final resting pose where you lay on your back with your eyes closed. It may seem silly at first your first class, but you’ll quickly appreciate it as a time for your body and mind to absorb the benefits of the practice “like a sponge” says Flynt. If you absolutely must leave early, “make sure you do it before savasana,” says Debicki.
Namaste, new yogi!