When I first stepped onto a yoga mat about 4 years ago, I never anticipated how much it would change my life. That sounds dramatic, but consistently practicing yoga has not only affected me physically, but also emotionally, mentally & spiritually. If I don’t go to yoga for a few days, I actually feel off balance (true story). It’s completely a part of my life.
That said, I realize that not a lot of people have been exposed to yoga or have even tried it before. And I think sometimes it can be intimidating when all you see on Instagram are they crazy yogis in contorted postures. So I decided to dedicate a post to all the things to expect from your first yoga class. Hopefully it’ll put some of your worries at ease & encourage you to try it. Remember, the hardest part is showing up to your mat. Read on to learn how to become a yogi~
Types of Yoga
Before you attend your first yoga class, it’s important to know what style of class you’re signing up for! This is by no means an exhaustive list of all the different types of yoga, but the ones I’ve personally tried. Also, if you’re ever considering trying out a class and not sure why style it is, give the studio a call. Most studios teach a specific style of yoga so they can tell you what to expect.
- Vinyasa: My personal favorite type of yoga. In Vinyasa classes, you flow from one pose to the next relatively quickly. It’s very similar to dancing & every movement is coordinated with your breath. There’s a certain “flow” and rhythm of a vinyasa class, and the sequence of poses can vary by class/teacher. “Vinyasa” also refers to a specific sequence of poses (Chaturanga to Upward-Facing Dog to Downward-Facing Dog) which you’ll do a number of times throughout the class. Vinyasa classes can be room temperature, warm or hot.
- Ashtanga (Primary Series/Mysore): Similar to Vinyasa classes, Ashtanga also coordinates breath with movement in a moving meditation, yet there is a specific sequence of poses you go through each class (i.e. every Ashtanga class you attend, you’ll be mastering the same poses). There are different series, but most Ashtanga classes will focus on the Primary Series. If you’re interested in deepening your Ashtanga practice, you can also sign up for a Mysore series (learn more by clicking here). Most astanga classes are room temp or warm.
- Bikram: Not going to lie, Bikram is not my personal favorite, but some people absolutely love it. First off, all Bikram classes are taught hot & last for 90 minutes. There is a 26-pose sequence that every Bikram class offers, so no matter what studio you go to, you can know what to expect. It goes pretty fast–it may take a couple classes to get used to the sequence. Also it’s a little strenuous so take it easy if it’s your very first time. All Bikram classes are hot.
- Yin: Whereas all the types listed above you move through a “flow,” Yin slows it waaaaay down. In Yin, you hold poses for several minutes to get into the deep tissue which is super good for you & a nice compliment to other types of yoga. You’ll often use props to help your body sink deeper into each posture. I find Yin particularly challenging because it’s really mind over body so it takes a lot of practice to slow down your thoughts. I’ve had Yin classes that are room temperature or warm.
Before Your Class
Yay you signed up for your first class! First step to becoming a yogi. Here’s what to know as you prep before you get there. I’ve also made some extra notes specific to hot yoga*
- Pack your bag: I always bring a water bottle and obviously my mat. No shoes or socks required, you do every type of yoga barefoot. Don’t have your own personal mat? Most studios allow you to rent them there.
- *Hot Yoga: Bring a towel and/or old tshirt. You will sweat A LOT so you need something to wipe it off with. Also consider getting a towel for your mat to help you from slipping.
- What to wear: I personally like long or cropped leggings & a tank top. Occasionally, I’ll just practice in a sports bra and leggings depending on how hot it is.
- *Hot Yoga: Some people like to wear short spandex to hot yoga classes, but I think it makes it harder to do arm balances that way.
- Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. Doesn’t matter what temperature your class is, drink lots of water beforehand.
- *Hot Yoga: Hydrate a normal amount and then double it. The worst thing is feeling light-headed in a 90 degree room in downward facing dog.
- Grab your props: You can either buy your own personal props (Target has a great selection), but most studios have them for you to borrow. There are a number of different kinds but the most common ones are blocks & straps.
Once you’ve made it physically onto your mat, here are some things you can expect:
- There may be some ‘om-ing’. “Om” is the universal sound of peace. Most yoga practices open and close with some sort of “om.” If you’re not comfortable joining, you can just listen, too.
- Calling to mind an intention. Most classes will open with setting an intention. It can truly be anything you want–a thought, feeling, mantra, etc. It’s something you can come back to during the class to refocus you.
- Deeeeep breathing. There will be some sort of focus on your breath. Whether the teacher has you do some breathing exercises in the beginning or reminds you about it during class, you’ll be paying attention to your breath a lot.
- Some sanskirt words. Depending on the teacher, he/she may name poses in English, Sanskirt or a mixture of both. Usually you’ll be given instruction on how to get into each posture, but if you’re confused, just look around. You can usually figure it out.
- Adjustments. Again, depending on the teacher, they may physically adjust you during your practice. This is just to help you get into a posture correctly so you don’t hurt yourself or to help you get deeper. If you don’t want to be touched/have an injury, just let the teacher know ahead a time.
You’ll feel super, duper zen (hopefully). Class usually ends with some form of Savasana (the best part) and a closing “namaste.” Namaste has has a bunch of different translations, but my favorite is, “the light in me recognizes, honors, respects the light in you.” Right after class ends, I usually dedicate my practice to someone to send them some good vibes (optional, of course). If you do hot yoga, make sure you drink lots and lots of water afterwards–sometimes I even drink coconut water after just to replenish my electrolytes.
Tips for Beginners
And finally, just some general tips that I wish I had known when I first started practicing:
- Try warm yoga first. If you’re super new to yoga, your muscles are probably going to be a taaaad tight. Obviously, take it slow and don’t push too hard that you hurt yourself, but being in a warm studio might make it a bit easier.
- You don’t have to be flexible to be “good” at yoga. Fun fact: I couldn’t touch my toes when I first started yoga. (So when I try to drag my friends to a yoga class & that’s their excuse, I make them come anyway :)) They most amazing thing about yoga is that there is no “being good at it.” There are correct ways to do certain poses (mostly so you don’t hurt yourself!), but every person’s practice is different, and they are all good. I totally understand that it’s intimidating to see someone pop a handstand next to you (trust me, I’ve been there), but out of any physical activity/sport, yoga is the least judgmental atmosphere so don’t get too caught up in where you are in your own personal practice.
- Don’t worry so much about what you look like, focus on your breath. Breath = the most important. It doesn’t matter if you can contort your body into the most amazing shape, if you can’t breathe in it, it’s not worth it. At it’s core, yoga is a moving meditation & it’s all connected to the breath.
- Ask questions. That’s what yoga teachers are there for! Most teachers have to go through 200+ hours of training so they are super knowledgeable about all things yoga. Ask about how to get into certain postures, where the names/tradition comes from, the correct way to do a pose if you have an injury, etc. The more you ask question/get to know yoga, the more you’ll enjoy it.
- Don’t take yourself too seriously. Yoga is fun. Smile. Laugh. If you fall on your face (hint: you will. Multiple times.), get back up. It’s just yoga. Some days I get frustrated because I can’t get into a certain pose that I could do the day before, but that’s okay. Some days you can hold crow for 5 whole seconds and other days downward facing dog makes your legs shake. Don’t be too hard on yourself–it’s all about practicing as you are, where you are.
- Be as present as you can. The main reason I love yoga because it’s more than just a physical practice. It’s a chance to slow down & just b r e a t h e. Take an hour for yourself & stay present.
Yoga is definitely not for everyone, but I do think everyone can benefit in some way from doing yoga. If you’re nervous about going to a class, I encourage you to just try it. What do you have to lose?
Feel free to ask me any questions in the comments below & I’ll try to answer them the best I can. Namaste future yogis. &
As a final note… I think it’s important to include this picture here^ Yoga isn’t about all the “cool” poses that are super Instagram-worthy. Obviously the pictures in this post have been edited & only represent a small number of many, many photos taken. And in some cases, it’s taken me years to get into those postures. But this picture of me is totally unedited & represents my yoga practice–raw, imperfect & truly me. Wherever you are & however you practice, honor yourself always.