Do you think yoga is only for flexible people? This may come as a surprise, but today, most yoga classes are approachable for a wide range of people, even “tight guys.” If you have never taken a yoga class, but have made comments like “I should do yoga…” drop the shoulda, woulda, coulda and go take a class! Here’s what you need to know:
How to prepare
Go easy the night before yoga, and keep the mantra “everything in moderation” in mind. Avoid binge drinking and eating a Philly cheesesteak, but if you’re craving the Pasta alla Carbonara and a glass of wine, go for it! Just make sure to drink a large glass of water before you go to bed.
Avoid any extreme forms of exercise that you don’t normally do on the day of your yoga class. Yoga is physically challenging and you don’t want to feel burned out before you begin.
Give yourself two hours to digest a meal before yoga. If you have low blood sugar and require several small meals during the day, have a light snack like a piece of fruit, yogurt or a handful of nuts an hour before class.
What to wear
It doesn’t matter if your clothes are Lululemon or another athletic-chic brand. Choose something you’re comfortable in and that is peep-show proof. (Buh-bye pants that fall down every single time you wear them!)
To make sure you’re super relaxed, wear capri or full-length leggings or stretchy pants, rather than shorts. Some yoga poses, for example Crow Pose, ask you to bring your knees into your arms and if you don’t have a layer of clothing between your limbs, things can get really slippery. Choose a tank top or t-shirt-and-sports bra combo that you won’t fall out of or need to adjust.
Tip: If you like wearing a baggier top, get one that has elastic around the bottom, you can tie in a knot or tuck into your pants so it doesn’t fall over your head in inversions. Moderately loose clothing works fine, just avoid the flowy outfits.
Men should wear athletic shorts that have built in man-undies or put on compression shorts underneath athletic shorts. Wear a comfortable t-shirt or tank, ideally made from a wicking fabric so your sweat doesn’t weigh you down. Remove belts, socks and hats.
What to bring
As a first-timer at yoga, it’s understandable if you do not own your own yoga mat. Most yoga studios rent yoga mats (expect a small fee). But here’s the truth: A yoga mat can make or break your experience. For this reason, if you plan on renting a yoga mat, bring a towel with you. The mats at the studio might be slick, and if you find your hands sliding down the mat in downward dog, you will be distracted the entire class.
Tip: Don’t have a special yoga towel? There’s an art to choosing the right bath towel. Look for one that has seen better days. A worn, thin towel without fancy embroidery is best. If you are going to a non-heated yoga class, you can get away with just bringing a hand towel and laying it across the top of the mat where your hands will be in downward dog so that the friction keeps your palms from sliding. If you are going to a hot yoga class, read this guide on what to bring.
Want to buy your own mat and fancy yoga towel? Ask your yoga teacher or friends who practice yoga regularly what brand they like. There’s a wide price range, and with yoga mats, it is worth it to pay for a good one. Yoga towels not so much — get whichever color/pattern/texture appeals to you or stick with your trusty old bath towel.
Your checklist before you leave for yoga: yoga mat, yoga towel, water bottle and cash in case you are renting from the studio. Some styles of yoga use props like blocks, straps and blankets. You do not need to bring those, as most studios will provide them.
When to arrive
Arrive 15 minutes before class so you have time to fill out paperwork, familiarize yourself with the facilities and meet your instructor. It’s very important that you lay your mat down and are in the classroom prior to the class starting. Yoga classes are designed to be taken in their entirety, and if you come in late or leave earlier, you are losing the potency of the benefits. Because the meditation portions at the start and end of class are just as important as the actual movement, it is considered rude to your instructor and everyone else in the room if you are not there from start to finish.
If you have any injuries, limitations or medical conditions, tell your instructor before class. Many yoga teachers are knowledgeable about anatomy and various health conditions and will give you alternatives when what the rest of the class is doing is not the best choice for you.
What to expect
Unless the class description says “restorative,” expect your yoga class to be challenging! In yoga, you are bearing your own body weight, which strengthens your muscles and builds bone density. You will do yoga poses that stretch your body, but in most stretches, you are also engaging so that your muscles become longer and stronger at the same time. In addition to being physical, yoga class can be a mental game, as the poses have Sanskrit names (like Utkatasana) and specific technical instructions. Classes called “flow” or “vinyasa” will likely move from pose to pose, and for a newbie, you might just be taking in the names of the poses and the general shapes.
Most yoga classes will have a breathing component. The instructor will describe how to breathe, and this breath control is called pranayama. There are many different kinds of pranayamas: slow, fast, sharp, smooth, and all serve a different purpose. Keep an open mind, do your best, and know that each time you go to yoga, it will make more sense.
That said, don’t be afraid to take yoga! Wherever you are, there is a yoga class for you. Even if your form isn’t perfect, you are benefiting from the practice. Trust that you will learn as you go and with each class, you will feel your confidence building. It’s a familiarity game, that’s all.
What to do next
After yoga class, allow yourself to move slower than you usually do and enjoy the way your body and your mind feels. Avoid rushing to do something. Drink lots of water or coconut water to rehydrate. Your senses are usually heightened after yoga, so it is particularly enjoyable to have a good meal, even a beer or Pellegrino with lime. Yoga makes life taste better — seriously!
If you are new to yoga, get on the yoga train two times per week. Dedicate yourself in a way that is sustainable and complementary to the other things you do in life. Most importantly, if you didn’t love your first yoga class, try another. There are many different styles of yoga, and teachers speak to yoga in different ways. If it didn’t click for you this time, try another class.