In the past two decades, yoga has transformed from a hippie-dippy hobby to a way of life, complete with expensive stretchy pants and personalized mats. Still not sure it’s for you? We double-downward-dog dare ya to try it.
Many people tap into the physical aspect of yoga without realizing it can be transformative in deeper, more personal ways. Not only can yoga strengthen and lengthen your muscles, it can also provide positive effects on your mental health, offering tons of benefits for people suffering from anxiety and depression. Research in Alternative and Complementary Medicine even showed that those who practice yoga regularly often walk away from their practice with increased self-esteem and a further interest in self-care.
Yoga benefits our physical health in a variety of ways, as well, promoting everything from metabolic health to bodyweight and nervous system support, according to Indian Heart Journal.
For many people, though, yoga is intimidating—especially if you don’t know the moves or are used to other forms of fitness, like cardio. (Cue the image of fit, ultra-flexible yogis, gracefully moving through poses in synchronicity.) You might even feel like there’s some mysterious yoga class “rule” you aren’t privy to.
Related: Does Yoga Count As A Workout?
There’s good news: There’s no secret! You just show up and try. There are tons of beginner classes out there, which will help you learn the basic poses and understand the difference between, say, Vinyasa and Bikram. If you’re ready to take that first step, here are six things that can help you prepare for your first class.
1. Invest in Proper Gear
Maybe you own a few pairs of yoga pants—for running or wearing around the house. But are they comfortable? Do they restrict movement? Yoga involves a great deal of stretching and holding various positions, so it’s important to find clothing that isn’t distracting. (Aerie sells super-affordable and very comfortable leggings and yoga pants in their Chill Play Move line, while Lululemon is renown for their chic yoga pants at a higher price point.)
You’ll also need a yoga mat that prevents slipping and provides some cushioning. (Lots of classes provide mats, but having your own is helpful, and prevents you from coming into contact with other people’s sweat and germs.) Oh, and don’t worry about footwear. You’ll find that most yoga practitioners go barefoot during class.
2. Start Online
More good news: You don’t have to leave the house to attend your first yoga class. There are plenty of “Yoga for Beginners” videos available online and many are free on YouTube. Try a few different videos (Hatha is popular for starters, as it’s very mind-and-body focused) to get a hang of the basics, then consider whether you want to move to a studio or gym. Not only will this let you build your stamina in private, but you’ll also be able to determine the type of yoga you want to practice.
Hatha for Beginners:
3. Know Your Options
Yoga is not a one-size-fits-all form of exercise. There are lots of different kinds of yoga (you can read about a few of them here), but most beginner classes focus on either Hatha (a very general term that can applied to lots of yoga types) or Vinyasa yoga, which are less intense than other forms. Do a little research, or talk to the instructors at your local yoga studio, so you know what you’re getting into.
Some other most common kinds of yoga include Kundalini (an intense combo of breathing and repetitive poses), Ashtanga (a more athletic form of yoga that can be done at its own pace), Bikram (hot yoga that moves through 26 poses), and Jivamukti (a Hatha-based form that focuses on physical, ethical, and spiritual practice).
If you’re not into the whole power-yoga scene, “there are gentle and restorative classes for people who are older or injured, want to treat their bodies more gently, or are looking for a deeper sort of connection,” says Sara DiVello, certified yoga instructor and author of Where In The Om Am I?
And what about the right instructor? “I always say that finding the right yoga teacher is like dating: Sometimes you have to kiss a few frogs before you find The One,” says DiVello. “So ask for recommendations from friends who do yoga, research the teacher’s qualifications (where did they do their training? How long have they been teaching?), and then go on a ‘first date’ to see if you vibe with them.”
When you’re in class, DiVello recommends trusting your gut on whether it’s the right fit or not: “Do you feel safe in this space and with them? Do you feel comfortable? Never trust a teacher more than you trust yourself. You’re the ultimate expert when it comes to your body, your abilities, and what’s best for you.”
4. Rest AS NEEDED
Don’t feel bad if you can’t hold a pose for as long as your instructor or others in your class do. Even in a beginner class, there will be people who have been working out for a while. The best thing about yoga is that practitioners are encouraged to do what feels right for your body.
If you feel a certain move is too strenuous, modify it so it’s more comfortable for you. If you need to rest, go back to Table Pose or Easy Pose and focus on your breathing. If you need a little help reaching, use a yoga block, and if you get overwhelmed, take a deep breath and try again. Other practitioners know that yoga is a process.
5. Find the Right Studio for You
Not all instructors, studios, or types of yoga will be right for you. Try to avoid a monthly commitment until you’ve at least taken a couple of classes from one instructor. (Your best bet is to ask if a studio offers a weekly package or a low-commitment trial.) And know that an instructor can make or break an experience, so don’t let one not-so-great class scare you out of trying yoga. If you don’t feel comfortable with one instructor or at a studio, there are plenty of other options out there.
Related: Shop yoga gear for your first class.
6. Find a Buddy
If you’re terrified at the thought of walking into a class alone, find a friend to go with you. Having a fitness accountability partner can be life-changing; when you feel like you want to skip a class, the thought of letting down a friend can push you to show up.
If you can’t find anyone, don’t worry. It’s easy to make friends at class once you start attending on a regular basis.