Tips Before You Decide to Start Yoga

Women in a yoga class in downward facing dog position
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When you're brand new to yoga, you probably have a lot of questions about what you're getting into, including what to wear, what to bring to class, and how to prepare yourself. Knowing what's expected and what works ahead of time will help you to feel more comfortable. Below are four topics I wish someone had briefed me about way back before I started yoga, including what to wear, what to bring with you, how to prepare for class, and some basic practice tips.

Hopefully being armed with this information will make the difference for someone who's not quite sure they are ready to do yoga. 

What to Wear

  • Shoes: Yoga is most often done barefoot. You will occasionally see people with some kind of sock or shoe, but it's usually due to an injury or medical condition. This is usually welcome news for people who are tired of carrying around an extra pair of shoes for the gym.
  • Pants: There are many different styles of yoga pants, but you don't have to run out and buy a special pair before your very first class. Any comfortable exercise pants or shorts will do. After a few classes, you may feel like you wish the pants you have were shorter/longer/looser/higher waisted/not falling down every time you stretch up. That's a good time to go shopping. Always avoid practicing in pants that don't stretch, like jeans.
  • Tops: A shirt that is a little bit fitted works best. A big baggy t-shirt is not great since it will probably slide down every time you bend over. And you're going to be doing a lot of bending over. Sleeveless tops are popular since they allow freedom of movement in the arms and shoulders. Wear whatever kind of bra you prefer for exercising.
  • Hot Yoga: If you're going to do hot yoga or Bikram, there are some special considerations. See our recommendations for hot yoga wear for more detailed expert advice.

What to Bring

  • Mat: If you a re headed to your very first class, don't worry about bringing a mat if you don't have one. The great majority of yoga venues have mats for rent for just a dollar or two. As you keep going to class or if you are practicing at home, you are going to want to invest in your own mat. There are lots of different considerations as to which mat is right for you. Take a look at our comparison chart to help you decide.
  • Water bottle: If you are going to hot yoga, most everyone brings a water bottle with them. With other types of yoga, you can probably wait until after class to get a drink.
  • Towel: If you are a big sweater or are trying out hot yoga, a hand towel is a good thing to bring with you. 
  • Props: Though I love props, in most cases it's not necessary to have your own at first. Studios will provide blocks, blankets, and straps. Often your teacher will tell you which props will be needed for class. If she doesn't, I like to grab a block and a blanket anyway.

How to Prepare

  • Food: It's best not to eat a heavy meal right before you do yoga. When you start moving, everything gets churned up and you may start to feel sick if your stomach is too full. You can have a light snack an hour or two before class and be fine.
  • Warming up: If you are early to class, try these warm-up poses. They will help prepare you for class and make you look like you know what you're doing. You can also just lie on your back or sit cross legged on your mat. This makes you look serene.

Practice Tips

  • Alignment: Whether you are in a yoga class or using a DVD, keep a close eye on the instructor's alignment. That's the precise way that the body lines up in each posture. Good alignment is very important to maximize each pose's benefits and minimize the chance of injury.
  • Look and Listen: When you are first learning the poses, it's ok to glance around the room to see what everyone else is doing, but look to the teacher for your primary instruction. Also, listen for her verbal cues as she describes how to do the poses.
  • Stay Positive: Don't feel bad if you teacher corrects your postures. Hands-on instruction is the best way to learn good form. Try not to judge yourself harshly in comparison to what others are doing on their mats. Everyone is at a different place on the path. Stay light-hearted and keep your sense of humor. Laugh if you fall out of a pose, smile when things get difficult. Enjoy yourself.
  • Trust Your Judgement: Remember that your practice is an individual process. No one else is inside your body, so defer to your own judgment about what you can and cannot do. Over time, you will learn to discern the difference between something you may be afraid of or think you can't do and something that is actually painful and possibly dangerous for you. There is no hurry to get into any particular pose. Listen to your own body and respect what it tells you about how to practice.
  • Ask Questions: Perhaps the most important tip is to always ask questions when you don't understand something. If it's about yoga culture or etiquette, more experienced students are almost always happy to share their expertise. Questions about specific physical postures are best directed toward your teacher, either during or after class.