If you’ve never tried yoga, I get it. I was there once too.
From the outside, it either looks like a torturous exercise regimen for slender, flexible folks in really expensive stretch pants…or, a hippie-dippy religion that will demand veganism and colon cleansing.
While the roots of yoga are tied in with a certain spirituality and mindfulness, just know that these are things you can embrace — or hey, reject! — on your own terms. Maybe yoga will be nothing more than having a good stretch a couple of times a week. Or, maybe you’re just looking for a solid hour of me-time when you can fit it in and, that’s cool too.
But I know it’s scary to try new things, especially when you feel like you’re the last person in the world to give it a shot. But you’re not. You can do this!
So I’m here to help.
Whatever the reason you think you want to get started with yoga, I’ve put together 6 easy tips for you. Because I think it’s worth it and pays off in so many positive ways for the body, mind, and spirit.
Top Photo: Marion Michele via Unsplash
1. Find a good yoga studio.
The best (and safest) way to get into yoga is by studying under a trained instructor, so choosing a studio is the first step.
Unless you have friends who can give you a firsthand recommendation, start by Googling studios in your town. Each studio website will give you an idea of whether they lean more toward an athletic version of yoga or a spiritual one.
From there, it’s up to you which to try first. The good thing is: you can try as many studios as you like to see what works best for you. And the way to find that perfect fit, is to come armed with any questions you have.
Also know that yoga studios are not all naggy and pushy like gym membership salespeople; studio staff knows that yoga is a very personal experience and a good studio is not likely to try to talk you into a 20-package deal before you’re read.
So just start by visiting a studio. If you like what you hear, great! If not, no pressure.
2. Choose the right class.
There are tons of different kinds of yoga — from Aerial to Hatha to Vinyasa — and all have different methodologies and goals. But for those who are just starting out, you want to look for names like Beginner Yoga, Introductory Yoga, or Gentle Yoga.
Trust me — do not start with Bikram or Hot Yoga. You’ll die.
(Okay, probably not, but I definitely wouldn’t recommend this for first-timers.)
Some studios will offer a free first class or even a trial month of unlimited classes for a reduced price, so you can get accustomed to the kinds of classes they offer, and be sure that your instincts were right when you picked this studio in the first place.
You can try an online beginner class too, like Yoga with Adriene.
If you’re still feeling tentative about getting in front of people to do yoga for the first time, that’s okay too. That’s why we have the internet!
Just know that you won’t get as much from a video as you will the direct supervision of an in-person instructor. And that at home, you may be less focused, especially if you’re surrounded by laundry and kids who need a snack and a floor that needs sweeping.
So while online videos may be a good place to start, I firmly believe that once you get past any concerns about group classes, that you should definitely try a class at a yoga studio.
3. Know what to expect.
A lot of fear of trying anything new comes from fear of the unknown. And a yoga class will definitely have a lot of unfamiliar things the first time, from the names of poses to sanskrit and chanting, depending on the instructor; so get familiar with some of those things, and hopefully you’ll eliminate some of your concerns.
Most yoga classes begin with a few moments of silence. The instructor may set an intention (“Let’s focus on gratitude today…”) or just invite you to breathe slowly while lying down or in a comfortably seated position.
Easy so far, right?
Next, you’ll do some breath work, or pranayama, which can involve different weird ways to breathe. Give it a try, or, if it isn’t working for you, just go back to breathing in and out through your nose. No judgment.
You’ll then enter into a series of sitting, standing, and lying poses — what most people think of when they think of yoga — all building up to one peak pose. The peak pose is often challenging, because it will require either balance or physical conditioning. The good thing is, you only have to do the best you can . No one expects a new practitioner to pull off a perfect Crow Pose.
Lastly, as with any exercise class, you’ll have time to cool down. You’ll get comfortable on your back for savasana, or Corpse Pose. Although it may seem at first like the easiest pose — you just lie there! — know that it can be emotionally challenging after all the work you’ve just done. So use this as your time to meditate or rest.
(Don’t know how? Don’t worry — your instructor will lead you through that, too.)
And remember, there are no points for getting a perfect pose. No scoreboard. No ranking. No best in class.
Just relax and try to enjoy it the experience knowing you’ll feel so amazing having completed your first class.
4. Decide what to wear.
I’m not trying to sound superficial here, but choosing clothing was a big fear for me and definitely kept me from taking the leap into yoga. I was worried about people staring at my belly hanging out of my pants while I sucked at weird poses.
Turns out, most yogis are so focused on what they’re doing that no one looks at you at all. Which is a good thing in my book.
I’d suggest that since you’re just trying out yoga, don’t go spend a zillion dollars on fancy yoga clothes. Wear any leggings at all that you like, plus a bra and tank top that are supportive and not pokey.Choose items that will give you lots of mobility, and keep you comfortable. That’s the key: comfort.
The room is usually warm, so I’d also suggest that no matter how you feel about your body, keep your layers to a minimum. (Remember — no one is focusing on you! They’re all in their own heads, promise.)
If you do need recommendations, I go for cheap tank tops at Target (yay, Target!); but when I want to splurge on good yoga pants, I love either Onzie or Soybu leggings (shown above).
Other pro tips: Don’t wear jewelry, as it can be distracting, and rings will dig in during poses. Make sure you wear deodorant. (Just trust me on this one). And note that many yoga studios don’t allow perfume, so check the rules and be judicious about fragrance. Especially if you want to fit in and not stand out.
5. Know what to say to the instructor.
If you’re new to yoga, taking those first steps into the studio can be intimidating. Just know that most yoga instructors will introduce themselves at the start of class, help you get settled, and answer any questions you might have — whether you’re new or a regular student.
But if this is all brand new to you, be sure to tell the instructor.
If your teacher is well-trained, they’ll be able to give extra cues to explain the poses more for you and to help you along. They’ll even offer tips, like drink water and stay hydrated. (Although I’m offering them here, right now, for free!)
The instructor may even try to give you some physical assistance at first to help you with various poses, posture or positions. And by the way, if you don’t like being touched, you can feel comfortable sharing that information too.
Finally, as with any exercise, if you have specific health issues — a bad back, carpal tunnel, recent surgery, postpartum recovery — let your instructor know. Really, don’t be shy about it. This way they can offer alternate poses or little adjustments that will help you get the most out of each pose in a way that’s safest for you.
Hey, that’s me, doing aerial yoga!
6. Give yourself permission to laugh. Or, cry.
This may sound funny, but I think it’s a good beginner yoga tip to know that yoga can do surprising things to your emotions.
The first time I heard that I thought it was ridiculous…and then one time, I burst out crying during a hip opener. My instructor explained that we often store trauma in our butts and hips, which explained the emotional breakthrough about my relationship with my dad during one class.
But please don’t let this possibility scare you off! Yoga is a safe place for emotional release. Instructors understand this because they’ve experienced it themselves, and because they see it happen frequently on the mat.
If any of this does happen to you, you can stay where you are, experiencing it, or excuse yourself and go outside of the room. No one will think less of you. It’s likely that most people in class will smile kindly because they’ve been there at some point too.
Now I’ll admit, the emotional aspect of yoga can be a little overwhelming at times, but for me, it’s been wonderful. Better than therapy, actually. I often come home from yoga blissed out and calm. I’m kinder to my family. I sleep better. And I even have little breakthroughs about my feelings and my work.
So you can see why I’m so committed to helping others take those first steps to get started with yoga, right?
If like me, you spend so much of your time taking care of other people, and focusing most of your energy on your home, your job, your kids, your pets, then trust me: Go to yoga. Use that time to let everything go and focus on yourself. Even if it’s just for an hour.