If you think you’re “not flexible enough” for yoga, think again.
New York City-based yoga instructor Lauren Taus has taught a slew of people — children, women in their 90s, people with physical disabilities and domestic violence victims. “Yoga is not about women wearing tight clothing making flexible shapes,” she says. “Yoga is for everybody.” And yes, it will help you become more flexible, but yoga also improves strength and balance, helps decrease anxiety and stress, and is great for cross-training since it increases mobility and stability.
So “let go of your expectations of what yoga is,” Taus recommends. “There are a lot of misnomers about what you ‘should’ look like. Your body can do it. Keep an open mind and recognize that you can start at any place.”
Why not start now? This expert guide answers all your questions so you can enter your first yoga class with confidence.
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What class should I take?
Hatha yoga is best for newbies. “In a hatha class, the teacher will break down the alignment of each pose and where to put your hands and feet,” Taus explains. This will give you a strong foundation to try other styles later on, adds Jessica Matthews, professor of yoga studies at MiraCosta College in San Diego.You could also try vinyasa, but those classes move faster than hatha ones. You may feel lost at times, Taus says, so be sure you’re comfortable with that before you go in.
Either way, look for a “beginner” or “level 1” class.
What should I wear?
The only thing that matters is that you feel comfortable and confident. A comfortable sports bra and tight-fitting capris, or a looser shirt and pants would all work. You can do yoga in any clothes that you’d work out in, Matthews and Taus say.
That said, if your clothing is too loose, it can prevent your teacher from seeing if your body is in alignment, or leave you adjusting your shirt every other minute. Be sure you can move around free of restriction and the urge to fidget.
You may also want to dress in layers, Matthews adds. Your body will warm up during class, and then you may feel chilly come savasana (a.k.a. corpse pose, where you lie with your eyes closed) at the end. It’s nice to have a long-sleeve shirt such as the Under Armour® Women’s Twist Tech Long Sleeve Shirt to take on and off.
If you buy new clothes for class, remember that in our golden age of athleisure, yoga gear isn’t just good for yoga. You can also wear it to brunch or when running errands around town. One last thing that not everyone knows: Don’t sweat the shoes! Yoga is practiced barefoot.
What do I need to bring?
Most studios have mats you can use for free or a small rental fee. However, you may want to buy your own mat, especially if you’re a germaphobe, Taus says. (Though most studios and gyms have wipes to clean down the mats.)
“You can get a decent mat for about $10 and this gives you your own ‘place to be,’” Matthews says. You don’t want just any exercise mat, though: You want a sticky mat. Simply feel the mat between your thumb and index finger. It should feel “grippy,” which means it won’t bunch up or slide — and you won’t slide around on it. If you have joint-related issues, you may also want a thicker mat.
What should I expect from my first class?
Every class and teacher is different, but in general, a yoga class will start with slower, simpler poses to warm up your body. Then you’ll move through some sun salutations, which have more of a “flow” and move fluidly from one pose to the next. Class will slow down toward the end as you do poses seated and on your back, finishing in savasana.
The poses might be entirely new for your body, so remember: “It’s a practice, not perfect,” Matthews says. “You are not expected to have perfect alignment or hold a pose for any certain length of time. Wherever you are that day, it’s a great place to be.” And you may discover things you want to work on in your fitness regimen. For example, are single-leg poses like tree pose hard? Maybe add some balance work.
Many teachers will give hands-on adjustments to help you come into a pose safely. If you prefer not to be touched, politely tell them so, Taus says. If you have any injuries, be sure to tell the instructor before class; he or she can give you variations on poses as necessary.
While your personal goal may be to get good exercise, yoga isn’t just about the poses. Typically you’ll also learn breathing techniques. There may be some chanting (anything from a single “om” to a call and repeat), and the instructor may use Sanskrit at times.
“Hearing words they don’t know can turn some people off, and if the chanting includes names of deities, some people can feel threatened if they have a different religious practice,” Taus notes. But yoga isn’t a religion. The word “yoga” means “to yoke” or bring together. “It’s about a deeper connection with yourself. And that can happen beautifully within any system of beliefs,” Taus says.
How soon will I see results?
It depends on many factors such as the style of yoga, how long classes are and how often you practice. However, Matthews says within 3 to 4 weeks your body and brain connection will be stronger. In about 6 to 8 weeks, you may see changes in muscle definition. That’s right, you do build muscle in yoga (especially if you do lots of chaturanga, which is like the bottom part of a pushup).
What if I don’t like the class?
It happens. We’ve all taken a fitness class and not enjoyed it. If that’s the case with your first yoga class, Matthews suggests reflecting on your experience to figure out why it wasn’t right for you. Did you want more of the spiritual side? Less chanting? Or maybe the instructor’s personality didn’t gel with yours.
Feel free to politely tell the teacher, Matthews says. “Share what you enjoyed as well as what you were hoping to gain that didn’t happen. When students do this, I can direct them to another teacher or class,” she explains. Not every hatha class or vinyasa class is created equal, and we all like something different. If you don’t feel comfortable talking to the instructor, ask the person at the front desk or another student for recommendations.
Bottom line: Keep trying! “Yoga is a practice for everybody. There are a lot of styles and teachers, and there’s a fit for everyone,” Taus says.
Do you have tips and tricks you want to share with beginners in yoga? Share below.
Brittany is a writer, editor and digital strategist specializing in health and lifestyle content. She loves experimenting with new vegan recipes and believes hummus is a food group. To stay sane from working too hard, she turns to yoga, strength training, meditation and scotch. Connect with her on Twitter, Google+, and LinkedIn.