If you’ve wanted to try a yoga class but are anxious about being a beginner, have no fear. We’re here to ease your nerves and prepare you for your first yoga class. The most important thing to remember is that most yoga studios are welcoming environments—no one will criticize you for being a beginner! Yoga is all about connecting your mind and body through movement and breath. Some people use yoga as purely physical exercise, some use it as a way to release tension and anxiety, and others view it as more of a spiritual practice and a journey into the self. With that being said, western yoga is not affiliated with any religion, and there are no particular beliefs you need to have to practice it—just show up with your mat and get your yoga on. Read on to learn about where yoga came from, the different types of yoga, and some helpful things to know before your first yoga class.
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History of Yoga
The practice of yoga can be traced back nearly 5,000 years, with some researchers suggesting it actually extends as far back as 10,000 years. Yogic teachings were mentioned in the Rigveda, an ancient spiritual text. The word yoga comes from the Sanskrit word yuj, which loosely translates to “to yoke,” “to unite,” or “to join,” and this makes sense when you consider how yoga was viewed during these early stages: as a means of uniting the physical body with the spiritual realm. As centuries passed, yoga also became celebrated for its purely physical benefits—how it energizes and strengthens the body—but to this day the belief that yoga helps bring the mind and body into harmony is one of the biggest things that draws people to their mat.
By the beginning of the 1900s, yoga began to make its way west. There are many different type of yoga, but the form that initially took hold in the west is considered Hatha yoga. Hatha is a general category that includes most of the yoga types we think of today, from Ashtanga to Iyengar. Hatha simply refers to practicing poses (or asanas) and breathing exercises (called pranayama) to find balance, release tension, and calm the body and mind. Today, there are yoga classes of many different varieties available at yoga studios, gyms, and even online. Whether you prefer more of a vigorous physical workout or a slow and reflective practice, there’s a yoga class for your mood and needs.
Different Types of Yoga
There is no one-size-fits-all yoga practice. The yoga class for you is the one that brings you what you’re looking for. Some days you may really want to sweat it out, and a hot yoga class is for you, and other days you may choose a yin yoga class to hold poses for longer periods of time and really get a deep stretch. Check out each of these yoga types and see which will be a good fit for you.
As stated earlier, Hatha is somewhat of a blanket term when it comes to yoga—it just refers to linking poses with breath. What’s called Hatha yoga today, however, is usually set to a bit slower pace, requiring you to hold each pose for longer than, say, a Vinyasa class. Hatha classes are great for both beginners or yogis who want to deepen their practice, because holding the poses for longer helps you sink into each them and ensure proper alignment.
Vinyasa classes are more fast-paced, with the idea that you are synchronizing movement with breath and learning to work your way through a series of poses in a fluid manner. Vinyasa offers a vigorous movement with a continuous “flow” from one posture to the next. This style will be more dynamic and athletic in nature to hit the person searching for more of a “workout” rather than a time for relaxation.
Ashtanga classes use the same series of poses for every class. You have to master the first series before going onto the second, and so on, making it ideal for perfectionists. Beginners might want to dip their toe in Vinyasa or Hatha before going to an Ashtanga class.
Yin yoga requires you to hold poses for several minutes at a time, requiring you to really soften and relax your muscles to target deeper connective tissue and fascia. Yin yoga is a more meditative class than the others, but it can have wonderful benefits for both your muscles and your mind.
A Kundalini yoga class is a little different, incorporating intense breath work and even chanting or meditation. The purpose of kundalini yoga is more centered around elevating your consciousness and activating energy centers or chakras in your body.
Bikram yoga includes a specific sequence of 26 postures and two breathing exercises—it also has to take place in a heated room. The added heat is said to help your body stretch deeper, detoxify better, relieve stress, and can also help with chronic pain. Vinyasa classes are sometimes heated as well, but typically when you think “hot yoga” it’s a bikram class.
The Mind-Body Benefits of Yoga
There are countless benefits of yoga, and most of them apply to your mind and body simultaneously. When we hold tension, trauma, stress, or fear in our bodies, it not only causes mental distress but physical problems as well. So many physical ailments are made worse from (if not directly caused by) stress, from tension headaches to digestive problems and more. Here are just a few high-level benefits you’ll get from a regular yoga practice:
- Strengthens your muscles
- Reduces stress
- Increases range of motion and flexibility
- Boosts circulation
- Reduces inflammation
- Improves focus and concentration
- Alleviates chronic pain
- Improves your balance
- Helps you sleep better
When tension is relieved from your body and mind, your overall health improves. Incorporating yoga into your weekly workout routine can help your muscles and mind recover, which is so important for a well-balanced fitness regimen.
Related: 25 Reasons To Do More Yoga
How To Quiet Your Mind
Yoga is not only physically challenging, but mentally challenging as well. In fact, perhaps one of the hardest parts of a yoga practice is learning how to quiet the mind in moments of stillness. While different yoga styles offer different things, almost all of them will incorporate moments of stillness or meditation. Many classes incorporate this part at the end where you’ll wrap up your practice in savasana or “corpse” pose. Some newbies find savasana (usually the last part of a class) the hardest part of yoga—it looks something like this:
- you lie on your back in gentle relaxation
- the instructor will help you find a quiet breathing pattern
- you be encouraged to listen to the sound of your breath
- listening to your own breathing helps draw attention away from your busy mind
- for those who have difficulty, it help to find a mantra, or phrase, that you can repeat with each breath. Something simple like “Just be” or “I am grateful.” The repetition matched with the breath is very soothing
Just like in meditation, it’s important to remember during a yoga class to simply let your thoughts come and go. We all have “monkey mind” as they call it, where our thoughts jump around chaotically, but don’t judge yourself—become the peaceful observer of your thoughts and watch them come and go. Learning to quiet your mind during yoga or meditation takes practice, so allow yourself to be a beginner and do the best you can.
Do’s and Don’ts of your First Yoga Class
Here are a few tips to help you navigate your first yoga class. Remember: don’t be intimidated! The yoga community is centered around compassion and non-judgment—you’re in a safe space.
DO find an instructor you like
Just like there are different kinds of yoga you can try, each yoga instructor has a different teaching style. You might find one whose teaching style you like right away, or you might try a few different classes to see what you prefer best.
DON’T take a hot yoga class right out the gate
Look for beginner classes in either Hatha or Vinyasa. Hot yoga is fun, but save the heat for later on once you’ve mastered some of the poses because yes, the heat makes it harder!
DO let the instructor know you’re new
Instructors will offer more support and guidance if they know it’s your first time. They may suggest modifications or offer to stay and provide additional help. Don’t hide in the back if you want to find success.
DON’T bring your cell phone
Nothing kills the vibe of a yoga class more than someone’s ringtone going off—leave your phone in the lockers or cubbies that most studios and gyms have.
DO let the instructor know if you want to be adjusted or not
Before you begin any yoga class, the instructor will likely ask the class to raise their hands if they do not want to be adjusted during the class. Adjustments are used to help you perform your poses with proper form. Most yoga instructors will walk around the class and gently place their hands on you to help you find proper form if you need some adjustment. However, if you’d prefer not to be touched, there is no shame in raising your hand and saying you’d prefer not to be adjusted. It’s whatever you’re comfortable with, and the instructor wants you to enjoy your practice.
DON’T wear an oversized t-shirt or sweats
The minute you find your first downward dog, that big t-shirt will fall over your head, be covering your face and exposing your belly. Yoga should be done in fitted or gently fitted clothing. You can even put your clothes on at home and try out a few poses to be certain.
DON’T walk out during the final relaxation
No matter what your personality is—yes, even if you are “Type A”—it is healthy and important for you to be still for a few moments and to train your body and mind to relax. Think of it as your dessert after a healthy meal. If for not other reason, however, don’t walk out during final savasana because you will annoy the other class members! It’s a no-no.
DO consider buying a package
Drop-in classes at most yoga studios will be pricier than if you buy a package of ten classes at a time or one month unlimited. If you want to go back after your first class, consider buying a package to save money.
DON’T go to class on a full stomach
A small snack an hour beforehand is perfect. 100-200 calories of something that sits well in your stomach like a banana or toast with peanut butter is perfect. A full meal is not. You bend, twist and move in ways that likely won’t work on a full tummy.
DO see if you need to bring your own yoga mat
Call ahead and find out if mats are provided. Sometimes they are, sometimes they are for a cost, and sometimes you have to bring your own. Find out in advance. Don’t forget to bring a small towel for your sweat and a bottle of water.
DON’T be afraid to go to child’s pose if you need
Yoga is challenging—it forces us to sit in discomfort, both physically and mentally as we work through hard poses and our brain’s own belief that “I can’t do this!” Any yoga instructor worth their salt will both encourage you to work through discomfort but also let you know that’s it’s fine to go into child’s pose—a comforting pose—whenever you need. Yoga is all about your individual journey.
DO try yoga at home!
Taking yoga classes at a studio or gym is great to get started, but once you’ve got your poses down, don’t be afraid to practice yoga at home, too.
How To Do A Sun Salutation
A staple of many Vinyasa yoga classes are sun salutations. As its name suggests, a sun salutation is a series of poses designed to energize you for the day ahead (although they can of course be done at any time). Though there are many types of sun salutations, here’s an example of one to get you started. You can practice this sun salutation series at home as many times as you want per day to build strength, increase flexibility, and start to get used to some of the basic poses in a Vinyasa yoga class.
1. Start in Mountain Pose
- Place the feet together or 2-3 inches apart, parallel, and facing forward.
- Inhale lifting out of the waist and sweeping the arms up reaching towards the sky.
- The palms are lightly pressed together with the shoulders back and down.
2. Exhale into Forward Fold
- Press the palms flat to the floor; if necessary, bend the knees slightly. If you have the flexibility, bring the finger tips in line with the toes.
- Reach the nose towards the knees.
3. Inhale and step the right foot back into Crescent Lunge
- Make sure the left knee is directly over the ankle and the toes and knees are pointing forward.
- Shoulders are back and down, the chest presses forward, crown lifts up, and the back leg is straight.
4. Step the left foot back into Plank
- The body is one straight line and in a push-up position.
- Press the heels back and reach the crown of the head forward.
5. Exhale down into Chaturanga
- Bend the knees to the floor if desired, then bend the elbows to lower the chin and chest to the floor.
- Hips stay slightly above chest with abs engaged.
6. Inhale into Up Dog
- Scoop the chest forward, straighten the arms, and roll onto the tops of the feet.
- Reach the crown of the head up, press the chest forward, and lift the hips and legs off of the floor. Bend the elbows slightly if it feels like you are straining the low back.
7. Exhale into Down Dog
- Tuck the toes under, bend the elbows, and lift the hips up and back.
- Press firmly into the hands and arms to press the hips back. Relax the back of the neck. Press the heels into the floor. The legs are straight or can be slightly bent to flatten the back.
8. Inhale and step right forward into Crescent Lunge
- Step the right foot forward between the two hands. Adjust the leg so that the knee is directly over the ankle and the toes and knee are pointing forward.
- Keep the back leg straight as you sink the hips down. The crown lifts up, and the chest and gaze are forward.
9. Exhale into Forward Fold
- Press the palms flat to the floor. If necessary bend the knees slightly. If you have the flexibility, bring the fingertips in line with the toes.
- Reach the nose in towards the knees.
10. Inhale and come back to Mountain Pose
- Lift out of the waist and sweep the arms up reaching towards the sky.
- End by lowering hands down to your sides in mountain pose or continue on to another sun salutation.
10 Yoga Poses To Do Every Day
If you want to practice more yoga at home, here are 10 yoga poses to do every day. Practicing these poses on your own will help you stay flexible and strong in between full-length yoga classes. This routine is also a great way to start or end your day!
1. Standing Side Bend
2. Downward Dog
3. Upward Dog/Cobra
4. Crescent Lunge
8. Happy Baby
9. Yogi Squat
10. Windshield Wiper
Wherever you are on your yoga journey, we hope you develop a yoga practice that feels good for you—keeping you coming back to your mat for more of the mind-body benefits this ancient practice can provide.