You can become a pro without bending like a pretzel

By Jessica Matthews
September 24, 2014

Yoga is known for its many mind and body benefits, but to some, the poses and culture can come off as a little intimidating. To set you up for success, we went to a few of the country's top yoga teachers and asked them to share their top beginner tips. Here's what to know before you go.

Get Excited


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It's normal to feel a little out of place when you try something out of your comfort zone, but ultimately, you should celebrate that you have the courage to, says Jane Bahneman, co-owner of Blue Nectar Yoga Studio in Falls Church, VA, and director of fitness and wellness operations for CENTERS, LLC. "During your first yoga class you might feel clumsy and awkward, but keep in mind that every yogi was in fact an awkward beginner at one point."

Pick a Class That Fits Your Goals


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Do some research and find a class with a description that aligns with your specific goals, shares Heidi Kristoffer, creator of CrossFlowX Yoga. "If you are seeking something a bit more athletic and want to sweat, look for words like ‘strong' and ‘power flow' in the class description. Alternatively, if you want to chill out, relax, and restore, find a description that matches those desires, such as a ‘gentle flow' or ‘restorative' class."

Be Early


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Plan to arrive a few minutes before class so you can get situated and ask any questions you might have. Amanda Kriebel, registered yoga teacher and creator and founder of Awareness Physical Therapy suggests new students arrive to class at least 10 to 15 minutes prior to complete any paperwork, introduce themselves to the teacher, and ask if any props (such as a block or strap) will be needed during the session. "Stash your shoes and socks at the door, then pick a spot to set up in the middle or toward the back of the room where you can see the teacher and can also glance around at what other people are doing as you're learning the poses."

Come Prepared


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Pack your bag with a few basics like water, a small towel to wipe away sweat, and a yoga mat if you have one (though you can always call ahead and ask if they offer mats or mat rentals). If you decide yoga is something you want to do more of, you may want to buy a mat. "A good yoga mat does make a difference, so I encourage new yogis to invest in a quality one sooner rather than later," Bahneman suggests.

Dress the Part


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Wearing apparel that allows you to move without restriction and be comfortable throughout class is a must, says Lisa Yee, yoga teacher, personal trainer, and owner of LisaFIT in San Diego, CA. "I constantly see beginners struggling to tuck in shirts when in inverted poses or trying to hold up low-rise bottoms when bending forward," she says. "Instead, wear form-fitting fabric that stretches so that you can move with ease and the instructor can see your form." Layers are great for when you warm up and cool down.

Flexibility Isn't Required


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No, you don't have to be super-bendy to do yoga. "Resist the temptation to judge your body based on what someone is doing next to you," shares Jonathan Old-Rowe, San Diego-based yoga teacher and Lululemon ambassador. In fact, one of the many benefits that a regular yoga practice provides is increased flexibility, both physically and mentally.

Ease Into It


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Like learning to play the piano or building up the endurance to run a marathon, yoga takes time and dedication, Kriebel says. "It's a new way of moving your body and training your mind, so take it slowly and go easy on yourself," says Stacy McCarthy, yoga and wellness expert and creator of the Yoga Body DVD series. "Progress from yoga comes from practicing earnestly and meeting yourself where you're at physically, mentally, and spiritually."

Focus on Your Breath


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"Doing yoga without the breath is like surfing without the waves," McCarthy says. Understanding the critical role that the breath plays and realizing that ultimately it serves as your best teacher throughout your class experience will set you up for lasting success, shares Kristin McGee, New York City-based celebrity yoga and Pilates teacher. "Resist the urge to rush into a pose or to push too hard. Instead allow your breath to be your guide and to help you progress at your own pace." If you find your breath becoming short, rapid, or constricted, that's your cue to back out of the pose and to try a modification or alternate posture that best serves your body.

Respect Your Body


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Instead of trying to forcibly push your body beyond its current abilities, focus your energy on seeking postures that make you feel great. "Yoga is supposed to feel good, so if there's a pose or movement that causes strain or pain remember you can always modify or go into a grounding posture such as child's pose," shares Gillian Gibree, SUP yoga instructor, and owner of Paddle Into Fitness. Acknowledge that each day is different and not every pose will happen on every day. "There's always a modification you can explore," she says. "Sometimes I just lay on my mat and relax in savasana."

Try Different Teachers


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"Try different classes taught by different teachers to find the right approach and instructor for you," suggests Lawrence Biscontini, mindful movement specialist and world-renowned, award-winning mind-body educator. It's OK if you don't love the instructor who teachers your first class, but be open-minded enough to try another. Consider asking your friends or doing research on sites like RateYourBurn to get insider info regarding the kind of teacher you're mostly likely to resonate with, Kristoffer notes.

Be Open to Advice


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You may find that an instructor offers you a physical touch or adjustment in a pose-typically something they will only do with your permission. This is offered as an opportunity for you to experience the pose in a new way and to assist you in evolving your movement. "Providing an adjustment isn't an instructor picking on you, rather he or she is simply paying attention to the details of your practice," Kriebel says. If a teacher gives you an adjustment at any time, take it as a compliment.

Come Back!


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Regardless of how the class goes and what happens, make it a point to come back and experience it again, says Old-Rowe. "During your fist class, your mind might jump around and you may judge yourself or feel as though you are doing it wrong, but it's all a process. Come back to your mat, smile, have fun, let go, laugh at yourself, and above all, smile."