If you've never taken a yoga class before, the idea of setting foot in a studio may make you more anxious and intimidated than relaxed and blissed out. But with a little bit of planning -- and some insider know-how -- you can breeze through your first class like a pro.
"Instructors are always happy to see beginners in their classes," says Laura Burkhart, founder of Yoga Reach International and an instructor in San Francisco. "Introduce yourself beforehand and let your teacher know if you have any concerns or questions, and then just try to go with the flow and enjoy the class."
A big part of feeling comfortable in class, of course, is blending in and being able to follow along with your instructor and fellow students. Luckily, the following tips will help you do just that. Namaste! (That literally means "I bow to you" and is a gesture acknowledging the soul in one by the soul in another; your teacher may say it at the end of class.) See? You're an expert already!
Get the right gear
You don't have to buy a ton of expensive designer yoga apparel or a room full of props to practice at home, says Burkhart -- but it does help to have one or two outfits that work well in a yoga class. That means tops and bottoms that are comfortable and allow you to move freely, but aren't too baggy; you may be doing inversions (postures that require you to flip upside down) or open-legged poses, and loose clothing can sometimes reveal more than you planned. Form-fitting clothes also allow your instructor to see your form and alignment, and can adjust you if needed. Buy your own mat, too, says Burkhart (you can find them online ranging from $20 to $80), so you can practice at home in between classes.
Take a beginner class
Pay attention to the name and description of the class you're walking into: You'll find it a lot easier to keep up with a Level I or Beginner-specific class than an Advanced or Level III one. (If you see "open level" on a description, it means that all skill levels are welcome.) Most studios and gyms will offer a variety of classes throughout the week -- maybe even a variety of different styles -- so talk to an instructor or front-desk person to decide what class best fits your needs.
Don't give up too fast
"I recommend sticking with it for a minimum of 10 classes," says Burkhart. "That can help lay down a really strong foundation, so try not to get frustrated or form too many opinions about your practice before you reach that mark." Of course, you'll keep getting better long after then 10-class milestone, and you'll continue to see your practice evolve for months and even years, if you keep it up and practice regularly.
Don't try too hard
One of your main goals in yoga class should be to blend in -- and this rule goes for newbies as well as for advanced yogis who might be tempted to show off, breathe extra hard, or "om" extra loud. Simply follow along with the people around you, and take a break (rest in Child's Pose) if you need one. Most importantly, don't compare yourself to others. "Don't be judgmental toward yourself or toward others," says Burkhart. "If you can't do something that someone else is doing, don't compare yourself to them. Just modify the pose so that it works for you, and focus on your own practice."
Focus on your breath
To get the most out of a yoga class, you should connect your breath to your movements. Many instructors will ask you to use your "ujjayi breath," which means that you should breathe through your nose with your throat slightly closed, so that your breath is audible, like a whisper. This will help increase your concentration, and flow more seamlessly from one pose to another as you inhale and exhale. Try to match the volume and rhythm of others in the class, and breathe deep into your belly for best results.
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- Burkhart, Laura. Founder, Yoga Reach International, and yoga instructor. Personal interview. March 21, 2013.
- Ives, Gloria. "6 Yoga Tips for Beginners." Active.com. (June 13, 2013) http://beta.active.com/yoga/articles/6-yoga-tips-for-beginners
- Whole Living. "5 Tips for Yoga Beginners." (June 13, 2013) http://www.wholeliving.com/179125/5-tips-yoga-beginners/@center/179721/yoga