A Beginner’s Guide to Yoga

Obviously I am a big fan of yoga, but I didn’t start that way.  In fact, before November 2009, I had never been to a yoga class in my entire life.  A little background…

When I moved to Charlotte I had no friends.  After meeting Kath and Amanda at a 5k race, I decided on a whim to join them for hot yoga a few days later, because I knew I needed to be brave and try new things with new people in my new town.  In my first class, I felt like a total fool, but I also left feeling like I wanted to go back for more.  I ended up going back more and more and more, and here I am 8 months later, a totally devout, yet sometimes still off-balance yogi. 

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Since the beginning, I’ve also had fun recruiting friends to try yoga.  Seriously, if I can do it, anyone can.  Which brings me to the purpose of this post.  Yoga should be fun, and not intimidating, so here is everything you need to know before you dive into the wonderful world of yoga practice. 

Types of Yoga

Ashtanga, bikram, vinyasa, flow, hot, power – there are SO many different types of yoga.  I’m not going to get into the specifics of each type here, only because I do not have the expertise to do so, and because every studio has their own interpretation of each style.  But for a beginner, I would recommend trying a vinyasa or power mixed class for your first one.  Also, many studios offer beginner classes that are great for learning the poses and correct postures. 

What to Wear

Yoga gear is fun and super comfortable.  I wear yoga pants approximately 7 days a week.  :)  Typically, regardless of the type of class you go to, you’ll want to wear some sort of yoga pants, sports bra, and tank top.  (Unless you are male, in which case you can leave the sports bra at home.)  Here are a few options for good yoga gear:

Budget Buy:  I get most of my pants, sports bras, and tops from Old Navy and Target.  I don’t want to spend a ton of $$ on clothes that are going to be dripping in sweat, so for me these are good options.  Gap Body is also a good option for yoga bras, but they are a little more expensive. 

Splurge:  Lululemon owns the market for high end yoga gear.  It is insanely expensive, but also incredibly durable and comfortable.  Worth it for a few key pieces, but probably not realistic to outfit your entire wardrobe.

What to Take With You

There are a few essential things you’re going to want with you for your first class.  The first being…

1.  A Yoga Mat – if you don’t have one, most studios will rent one to you for just a few dollars, in case you aren’t sure you’re ready to commit to buying one just yet.  As always, you have a few options…

Budget Buy:  Cheap yoga mats are terrible.  Yes, you can buy one for $10 at Walmart, but I promise you will regret it when you are slipping and sliding all over the place.  My current mat is made by Aurorae, and is a great mid-range mat option for about $35.  I highly recommend this mat if you’re looking at getting started in yoga, but not totally ready to invest in the premium gear quite yet.

Splurge:  If you are ready to call yourself a yogi, only one mat will do.  The Manduka mat is expensive – almost $100 – but it is absolutely top of the line, and comes with a lifetime warranty.  These mats are built to last.  Now that I have committed to my yoga practice, the Manduka Pro is at the top of this year’s Christmas list!

2.  A Yoga Towel – even if you’re not doing a hot class, you’re probably going to want some sort of towel between you and your mat.  And if you are doing a hot class, you absolutely need a towel – otherwise your mat will turn into a slip and slide.

Budget Buy:  For your first class, I’d recommend just taking a clean bath towel that you already own.  It’s going to be a little bit more slippery than a yoga towel, but again, you want to make sure you like the practice before you invest in too much gear. 

Splurge:  Once you realize that you LOVE yoga, you’re going to want to get a non-slip yoga-mat sized towel.  While there are several brands and styles available, the best and most popular is Yogitoes.  They range in price from $40 to $65, and they come in all sorts of fun colors and patterns.  I have red and yellow!

3.  A Hand Towel – again, you can just use one you bring from home.  Even in the non-heated classes, I tend to get really sweaty.  You’ll want some sort of sport or hand towel to wipe your face off of a few times during class.

4.  WATER – hydration is key during yoga, especially if it is a hot class.  I would recommend taking at least a 20 ounce water bottle, and don’t be afraid to leave the room to refill if you run out.

What to Expect During Your First Yoga Class

You will feel foolish.  There is no way around this.  But I can assure you that yoga is the most laid back, non-judgmental sport of its kind.  I know it’s hard to believe, but I assure you NO one is watching you.  And the entire purpose of yoga is to push yourself to your limits each time, so even the best yogis fall and stumble all the time, myself included. 

You won’t know the poses.  That’s okay – just watch the other people around you.  I know I just said no one is watching, but that doesn’t include the first-timers.  :)   The great thing about yoga is that the poses are universal, like a language, so once you learn them they will be the same at any studio.  After two or three classes, you will know the basics and already feel like a seasoned veteran. 

Your teacher will touch you.  Now this isn’t always the case, but I’d say it happens 80% of the time.  Instructors are there to assist you if you need help adjusting your pose, or to help push you to the deepest point of your stretch.  It doesn’t mean you’re doing something wrong, it just means that they want to help you take it further.  Be prepared for a lot of hands on contact.

You will want to go back for more.  The first class is scary, I’ll admit it.  But after my first 60 minutes of hot vinyasa that left me shaking and drenched in sweat, I knew I had found something I needed to explore more.  Since then I’ve tried different types, temperatures, and teachers.  There is so much variety in yoga, and I really believe there is a class that suits just about everyone.

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Hopefully that’s enough to help any beginner yogi get started!  If you haven’t tried yoga yet, or have felt too intimidated, I seriously encourage you to give it a shot.  You never know what you’ll find in yourself when you get to the mat each day.

Namaste.  :)