The Beginner's Guide to Yoga

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New to yoga or haven’t been to a studio class in a while? You probably have a few questions about how the whole process works! Before I went to my first class I was terrified that I would wear the wrong thing or not have the right props when I needed them. When you’re already pushing yourself to try something new, the last thing you want to do is fret about not being prepared enough! 

Not sure where to begin? Here’s everything I was dying to know before taking my first yoga class:

Do I need to bring my own mat?

If you already own a yoga mat that you like to practice on, by all means bring it! If you don’t yet own one, most studios have mats that you can borrow for free or for a small fee. (Yoga mat rentals are $2 per class at my favorite studio.) If you plan on doing yoga at least once a week, I’d recommend buying your own mat! Bringing your own mat to class will solidify your commitment to your practice & help you to feel more comfortable during class. 

What should I wear to class?

You want to stick to clothing that is stretchy, comfortable & form-fitting. My go-to outfit is high-waisted leggings & a sports bra with a fitted tank top over. If you overheat easily & would rather wear shorts, try spandex. You can always throw a pair of running shorts on top! Try to avoid loose tops because anytime you go upside down (I.e., every single down dog) you shirt will come down over your head. & for the gents: my husband’s go-to outfit is loose, stretchy running shorts with spandex under & a fitted, moisture-wicking shirt on top.

How early should I get to class?

If you’ve never been to a particular studio before, you’ll likely have to fill out some paperwork. Showing up about 20 minutes early will ensure that you have time to do so without stressing. Even though I’ve been going to classes for months, I still love to arrive about 15 minutes early. There’s nothing I hate more than rushing to a yoga class! Showing up early allows me more choice of where to set up my mat & gives me time to run to the restroom, stretch my legs & take a moment to breathe before class begins.

Where should I set up my mat?

Where you set your mat is completely up to you & you’ll likely develop a preferred area! I’m a solid middle/middle person: I like being in the middle row in the middle of the room. I know if you’re nervous, it can be tempting to hide in the back, but you’ll likely feel more comfortable if your view of the teacher isn’t obstructed by rows of students. & if you start to feel self conscious, just remember: no one is watching you because they’re too busy watching themselves! 

How far away should I put my mat from the person next to me?

I’ve been in classes with 4 people & with 40 people. How close you’re practicing to the person next to you is all going to depend on how full the class is! Your instructor will always tell you if you need to rearrange your mat, so it’s better to start further away from your neighbor - no one likes to feel crowded! I usually set my mat down at least a couple of feet away from the person next to me & scooch over as needed if the class starts to fill in.

What props do I need? When should I get them? What if I need a prop in the middle of class?

It can feel overwhelming when you walk into a studio & there’s a wall of props to choose from. Don’t worry - you won’t need every single prop every single time & your instructor will usually tell you what to grab before class starts. If you’re new to yoga, it’s generally a good rule of thumb to grab 2 blocks & a strap. If you’re unsure about what you might or might not need, just grab everything! If you don’t end up using a prop during class, no harm no foul. Worse comes to worse, if you find yourself needing a prop in the middle of class, you can always quietly get up & grab it then. I know it might seem taboo to leave your mat for any reason, but it’s more than okay to take care of yourself & grab what you need!

What if I’m not flexible enough to do a pose? 

The beauty of yoga is that even in a group setting under the guidance of a teacher, it’s still an individual practice. No matter what, you are always in charge of what happens on your mat! Can’t reach the floor? That’s okay -  that’s what your blocks are for! Place your blocks at a height that allows you to reach them comfortably, but not without effort. Can’t clasp your hands behind your back? Not a problem - that’s what your strap is for! Use your strap to lengthen your reach & choke up on it, one hand at a time, to gradually bring your hands closer together. Don’t ever feel lesser for modifying a pose to meet your needs. Your practice is going to look different then your neighbor’s practice & your practice today is going to look different than your practice tomorrow! 

What if a pose doesn’t feel good? Do I have to stay in it?

Don’t ever feel like you have to do something just because your instructor tells you to. If a pose hurts or if your alignment is suffering because your muscles are too tired, back off. Getting the pose “perfectly” is not worth hurting yourself. You always have the option to modify or to go down into Child’s Pose at any point if you need to rest. Your practice is yours! As long as you respect your instructor by not completely doing your own thing, customizing your practice will never be a problem.

Is savasana mandatory?

Obviously you’re free to leave class at any time - you’re paying for the experience & the door isn’t locked. That being said, savasana is necessary to settle, nourish & revitalize your body after a vigorous yoga practice. Every pose you do is done with the intention of bringing you to that final resting pose. But if you absolutely need to leave before class is truly over, just do so as quietly & respectfully as possible.

Help - I sweat all over the mat & props!

Sweating is natural & nothing to be embarrassed about - it simply means you were working hard! You can make cleanup a little easier next time by investing in a yoga towel to cover your mat. This way, the towel will absorb your sweat & your mat won’t get slick. If you’ve borrowed a mat from the studio, they will likely have mat cleaner for you to use before you return the mat. 

I know trying something new can feel overwhelming, but as long as you show up with an open heart, an open mind & the intention to respect everyone in the room (including yourself), you’re going to do just fine! Yogis are some of the kindest people you’ll ever meet. Many of my current friendships started in yoga class!