I’ve been practicing yoga for almost a decade now, so you can imagine my disdain every single godforsaken January when I stroll into class and am ambushed by bright-eyed Groupon newbies crowding up the studio and relegating me to the loser corner with the creaky floorboard and no mirror access.
As salty as I sound, I actually do want people to try yoga and stick with it. Yoga is breathing and strength and body-worship and meditation, for all bodies. If everyone did yoga, we’d all feel better, be kinder to one another, and be able to add at least four new positions to our sex repertoire.
The best way to get the most out of your first hour of yoga is to know the basics before you start. I don’t just mean learning a standard vinyasa flow so you don’t look like you’re checking out someone’s ass when you’re really trying to see what a halfway-lift is—I’m talking about etiquette, too. Here are the nine things you should know before you walk into a yoga studio for the first time, courtesy of myself and Chelsea Jackson-Roberts, yoga teacher, Lululemon global yoga ambassador, and founder of Spelman College’s Yoga, Literature, and Art Camp.
Start with a beginners’ class even if you don’t think you need to
Even if you’re physically fit and do HIIT workouts twice a week, a yoga practice will likely challenge you in a different way, so search for a class specifically catering to beginners. Restorative yoga is a good option too, Jackson-Roberts says, as it’s slow-moving and gentle, a great option if a practice is something you want to ease into.
A little pre-gaming goes a long way
Even beginners’ classes sometimes don’t review what a proper child’s pose should look and feel like (even though a good instructor will provide guidance if you tell him or her that it’s your first time). So pull up a pose guide or a video and take a quick look. As pansy as some of these poses look, you can hurt yourself.
Tell your teacher about your wonky right knee
She or he will ask about any injuries at the beginning of class (plan to arrive 10 or 15 minutes early). Don’t be a hero.
Don’t go to Chipotle right before class, even if it’s on the way
There’s no hard-and-fast rule here, but depending on what time of day the class is, Jackson-Roberts recommends not eating a heavy meal in the hour before class, since some of the breathing exercises and inversions (postures where your heart is at a higher level than your head) might be intense enough to nauseate you.
Downward-facing Dog is a not a pose created to scroll through your IG
It is trifling (my words, not Jackson-Roberts’) to put your phone next to your mat during class. “Give yourself permission to unplug for that one hour,” she says. “If you have that privilege, get everything in order—clear your schedule, get childcare or whatever you need to do to be completely present.” Yoga is just as much mental as is it physical, so allow yourself to focus on what’s happening in the moment.
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Using a prop doesn’t mean you’re an incompetent yogi
Those foam blocks that your teacher offers you are not training wheels. They’re helpful, especially if you’re on the shorter side.
Don’t hump someone else’s mat with yours
Unless the class is so crowded that you need to. Conversely, you don’t need your own VIP section (a woman once asked me to move my mat out of her 10-foot radius because she has “long legs” and “likes to stretch them out.”) If you do end up directly next to someone, stagger your mat, or your position on the mat, with theirs so you can do a flow without hitting them. And if you do touch them, don’t sweat it. People are generally endorphin-high in yoga, which—in my experience—makes them more forgiving.
Don’t take yourself too seriously
Tight, stretchy pants are not the law. Wear what makes you feel comfortable and allows you to move freely (consider a moisture-wicking material if you’re a sweaty type). Also, don’t worry about syncing your movements up with the class. Yoga is not CrossFit in the sense that no one is relying on you to get their numbers up. Feeling uncomfortable or wobbly in some poses is a part of the process. Feeling pain is not, so do what you can and nothing more.
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