Sure, the practice seems super relaxing, but there's a big learning curve. Here's what you need to know
Walking into your first yoga class can be kind of intimidating. OK, let's be real: It can be totally terrifying. (Here, 10 Things to Know Before Your First Yoga Class.)Even if you've been doing yoga at home, the first 60 minutes spent under a teacher's watchful eyes—and in full view of other students—takes practicing to a whole new level.
Which is actually a really good thing. We don't need to remind you how pushing yourself outside your comfort zone can lead to amazing things or all the ways yoga benefits the body and mind. But we will tell you that your first IRL yoga class may not exactly be the experience of your dreams. There will be a big learning curve, and even when you've been doing it for years, you'll continue to learn—a lot. That's one of the most awesome things about yoga: It's a lifelong practice in which you're constantly improving and learning.
But if your first class seriously tripped you up, take heart, and don't give up—just keep these pointers in mind before your next class. And remember: You're already have one (strong) leg up knowing this advice ahead of time.
1. You don't need to be flexible.
Despite what people think (and Instagram shots suggest), you don't need to be super bendy or have the grace of a dancer to practice yoga. There is no such thing as a "yoga body." And the best news? It doesn't take long to gain more flexibility. It depends on the person, but if you commit to practicing twice per week, you will definitely see changes, says Sarra Morton, a yoga instructor at Equinox. And most people feel a huge difference by the end of their first month. (Try these 4 Tips for Increasing Your Flexibility.)
2. You'll do way more than just stretch on the floor.
Type A exercisers may not want to believe that yoga is a legit workout—and if your first class didn't seem that hard, it can be tempting to toss yoga in the "not worth the time" category. But trust us, the more you get the hang of things, the more you'll realize it's incredibly physical: Your muscles will shake, you'll be sore the next day, and don't be surprised when beads of sweat drip onto your mat (especially during those detoxing twisting poses).
3. You will find a teacher who truly resonates with you.
All yoga teachers are different. If you didn't mesh with one's teaching style, give it another shot with a different instructor. Some classes feature lots of Sanskrit chanting and nostril breathing, some are practical and athletic, some are fast and flowing, and some are slow and stretchy. It's crucial to take a cue from Goldilocks and try several teachers, maybe at different studios, to find the one that's just right for you.
4. You will find a soundtrack you like.
Music plays a huge role. If you hated the tunes (or lack thereof) played in class, try a different teacher. Some classes, like Equinox's Flow Play Vinyasa or Y7 Studio in New York City, choreograph flows to match fast-paced music, while others rely on mystical chanting throughout. Again, try a few, and go with whatever floats your boat.
5. You will learn to use the props.
At the bare minimum, you need a mat (duh). But the other items in the room—blocks, straps, and blankets—aren't meant to intimidate you; they're meant to help. If you found certain poses difficult (or impossible) your first time, props can help you modify the moves to your level. Usually, the teacher will tell you exactly what you need before class, Morton says. If they don't, grab at least one block and a strap: "Blocks can be used to bring the floor higher which is helpful for beginners, and straps can be used for stretching if flexibility is an issue," she explains. Bottom line: Don't be a hero—grab a block.
6. You'll start to feel more present.
Teachers talk a lot about leaving your worries outside the classroom door. We know tthat may sound like crazy talk. But the more you go, the more you'll be able tap into the mindfulness aspect of yoga, actually forget about your To Do list, and let your mind stop racing. Just be sure to get there early: Walking in right when the teacher is leading "om" is awkward for everyone, and it can be nearly impossible to relax completely into your practice after rushing like crazy to get there. (Fun fact: Meditation Is Better for Pain Relief Than Morphine.)
7. You'll realize there's no shame in being in the back row.
While it's good to be gung-ho, you may not want to place your mat in the middle of the front row. In fact, the back of the room—with a good view of the instructor—may be the best place for beginners as you can watch the rest of the students. "Most yoga teachers don't demonstrate everything they're explaining, so it's nice to have people around to observe if you're feeling lost," Morton explains.
8. You don't have to do those breathing exercises.
Maybe your first class was totally out there with nostril breathing, Sanskrit chants, breath of fire exercises—the works. But whether you're confused or just not into it, don't worry—you don't have to participate if you'd prefer not to. Simply sit quietly on your mat until the teachers moves into the more physical part of the class.
9. Your lung capacity and breath control will improve.
Advice like "move with your breath" can seem incredibly confusing. We've all been there, even the pros: "In the beginning, it is very difficult to stretch your inhales and exhales as long as your teacher is asking you to—even I remember!" Morton says. The good news: Yoga literally grows your lung capacity. With time and practice, you'll learn to cultivate the oujai (ocean) breath and develop breath control (or pranayama), she explains. In the meantime, don't get too caught up with it, Morton says. "As long as you are breathing with awareness, you are doing exactly what you need to do." (These Breathing Exercises Will Better Any Situation.)
10. Your anxiety will decrease—after just one class.
OK, maybe the mere thought of doing yoga for 60 minutes makes you anxious, but luckily, the effects of the class on your mood are exactly the opposite. One study showed that even one single yoga class can help people reduce tension, anxiety, depression, anger, hostility, and fatigue. And the more often you go, the more yoga benefits your mind. Another study showed that after taking two 90-minute yoga classes per week for three months, 24 stressed-out women reported decreased symptoms of depression and anxiety and a 65 percent improvement in overall wellbeing.
11. You'll start to go with the flow.
Anyone who's felt dazed and confused in a yoga isn't alone. Again, the more you go, the more you'll start to understand the flow of Vinyasa. But before your first class, it can be helpful to know what to expect. "If you're taking Vinyasa, watching a Sun Salutation on YouTube would be helpful to do before you go," Morton suggests. And be sure you know what kind of class you're getting yourself into, level- and style-wise (there's Vinyasa, Ashtanga, Iyengar, Restorative, and more), so do your research. Finally, if you're totally lost mid-class, feel free to look around at what others are doing or just rest in child's pose if you need a breather. (Find out How to Transition Between Yoga Poses with Grace.)
12. You'll understand yoga truly is a judgement-free zone.
So you farted. Or fell. Or sneezed. Or cried. No matter what you did, you can trust that the teacher and other students aren't judging you. "Yoga is literally learning a different language both physically and verbally," Morton says. "So go easy on yourself! Be patient." And remember, Morton adds: As long as you are respectful of the people around you (not swearing or huffing and puffing!), it is fine to take breaks and just do you.
13. You'll realize savasana is pretty much the best thing ever.
Most classes involve the heavenly savasana pose at the end, which basically means you get to take a mini, restorative nap on your mat. Try to clear your mind of your worries, take stock of how you feel, and observe the difference between how your body felt at the start of class and at the end—it should be a pretty major, in the best way possible. (It's one of the 30 Reasons We Love Yoga.)
14. You'll progress, naturally.
There's no need to push it at first. One inherently awesome thing about yoga is that it's referred to as "a practice" for good reason. "It reminds me that it is a never-ending process," Morton says. "It is not something that you can, or should even attempt to 'master.' In every class, I find things that challenge me both physically and mentally, so there is constant growth, constant learning, constant struggle." Yep, even teachers still struggle with it. Don't forget, Morton adds, that yoga is a process and a path to self-discovery that reveals new things every time you get on the mat.