Tips Before Your First Yoga Class

Women in a yoga class in downward facing dog position
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When you're brand new to yoga, you're likely to 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 during your first class. Here's what you should know before your first flow.

Video vs. Studio

Generally speaking, if you're new to yoga it's best to head to a studio for in-person instruction as you get started with your practice. Instructors can provide personalized feedback on form, and they can offer modification suggestions for different poses that simply aren't possible to get through most online or video-based platforms. Of course, studio classes are more expensive, typically costing $20 to $30 per session, but when you're just starting out, it's a worthwhile expense.

That said, if you don't have a yoga studio near you, if class times don't work with your schedule, or if going to a studio is otherwise preventing you from getting started, video-based classes are a perfectly acceptable solution. The main thing to remember is to seek out videos created by documented yoga instructors that are geared to beginners. You want the instruction to be clear, methodical, and safe, with lots of verbal cues for modifications.

Online streaming services, like YogaGlo, Grokker, and YogaDownload all provide high-quality options if you decide to use video content rather than in-person instruction.

What to Wear

While it may seem like you need to get decked out in designer yoga gear before you head to class, that couldn't be farther from the truth. For your first few classes, wear items you already have on hand, and keep things as simple as possible. Here are a few tips:

  • Shoes: Yoga is most often done barefoot. You will occasionally see people with some kind of sock or shoe, but that's often due to an injury or medical condition. If you feel completely uncomfortable taking off your shoes in front of strangers, compromise by wearing yoga socks. These special socks have non-slip grips on the bottom that "grab" the mat and prevent your feet from slipping around.
  • 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, just make sure you avoid pants that don't stretch, like jeans.
    • After a few classes, you may decide you need pants that are shorter, longer, looser, higher waisted, or not falling down every time you stretch up. That's a good time to go shopping. You can stick to big box stores like Target or Walmart, both of which have athletic apparel lines, or you can seek out specialty retailers geared specifically to the yoga market. 
  • Tops: A shirt that's a little bit fitted works best for yoga. Big baggy t-shirts, or even loose-fitting workout shirts, aren't great since they'll 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. Because classes are held in a hot room, cotton apparel and long tops or pants aren't ideal, as they trap sweat and hold your heat close to your body. It's a good idea to wear shorts and moisture-wicking apparel to facilitate the practice. See our recommendations for hot yoga wear for more detailed expert advice. 

What to Bring

Generally speaking, the only thing you need to bring with you for your first class is a positive attitude and an open mind. Of course, there are lots of fun accessories you can add to your yoga arsenal over time, but start small and keep things simple. 

  • Mat: If you're headed to your very first class, don't worry about bringing a mat if you don't have one. Most yoga venues rent mats for a dollar or two. As you keep going to class, or if you're practicing at home, you're going to want to invest in your own mat. While you may be tempted to buy a low-cost mat from your local retailer, if you're truly committed to your yoga practice, it's worthwhile to invest in a high-quality mat.
    • A supportive, well-made mat that offers good traction and long-term durability makes all the difference. While there are lots of options on the market, retailers like Manduka, Liforme, and Yellow Willow all are well-known brands with a good track record of quality and service. For a quality mat, expect to pay between $60 to $120.  
  • Water bottle: If you are going to hot yoga, make sure you bring water with you. For other types of yoga, you can wait until after class to get a drink.
  • Towel: If you tend to sweat a lot, or you're trying out hot yoga, bring a hand towel with you to class. 
  • Props: Unless you'll be practicing exclusively at home, it's not necessary to have your own props. Studios provide blocks, blankets, and straps. Your teacher will tell you which props are needed for each class, but if she doesn't, grab a block and a strap anyway, just in case you need an assist to get into a pose.

How to Prepare

The beauty of yoga is that it requires very little other than your own body. Preparation is simple, but if you're new, it's always a good idea to get to class a little early to help acclimate yourself to the environment and introduce yourself to the instructor. Here are a few other tips to keep in mind:

  • Familiarize Yourself With Beginner-Friendly Poses: All the different poses can feel overwhelming the first time you do yoga. Luckily, with the help of the Internet, it's easy to research common poses so they'll seem semi-familiar the first time you hear the instructor cue them. You don't need to practice the poses in advance, but read through their names and look at their pictures to get an idea of what you'll be asking your body to do. 
  • Avoid Heavy Meals Prior to Class: Don't 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.
  • Touch Base With the Instructor: If you're completely new to yoga, do let the instructor know before class starts. The instructor will then know to keep an eye on you throughout class and to offer additional cueing for poses as needed.
    • It's also important to let your instructor know if you have any injuries or are pregnant, and how you feel about receiving hands-on corrections. All of this information gives the instructor the opportunity to make your first class as comfortable and accessible as possible. 
  • Get Warmed Up if You're Early: While there's no need to warm up on your own before your yoga class starts (warm-ups are incorporated into every practice), if you happen to be early to class, try these warm-up poses. They'll 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. 

Practice Tips

There's no better way to learn than by doing, but a first practice can feel like a lot. You're learning new physical postures, you're hearing new terminology, and you're immersed in a new environment. The most important thing to remember is to keep breathing and stay focused on yourself rather than those around you. Everything will become easier with time, so do your best and keep these tips in mind: 

  • Alignment: Whether you are in a yoga class or using a DVD, keep a close eye on the instructor's alignment. Alignment refers to the precise way 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're first learning the poses, it's okay to glance around the room to see what everyone else is doing, but look to the teacher for your primary instruction. Also, listen for verbal cues as she describes how to do each pose. There are some adjustments you may not be able to visually differentiate, but by listening and making micro-adjustments to your body, the alignment and benefit of the pose can improve significantly. 
  • Stay Positive: Don't feel bad if the teacher corrects your postures. Hands-on instruction can be incredibly helpful for learning good form. Try not to judge yourself harshly in comparison to what others are doing on their mats. Yoga is a personal practice, and everyone's abilities and goals are different. 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 personal. No one else is inside your body, so defer to your own judgment about what you can and cannot do. Over time, you'll learn to discern the difference between something you may be afraid of or think you can't do and something that is actually painful or possibly dangerous for you.
    • There is no hurry to get into any particular pose. Listen to your 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, 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.

Class Etiquette

Common sense and common courtesy are the cornerstones of good etiquette in any situation. Add in a healthy dose of respect for the people and places around you and a smidge of kindness and that about covers it. But if you’re nervous about starting yoga, there are a few etiquette considerations that are specific to yoga classes and studios.

  • Silence Your Cell Phone: Make a habit of doing this as soon as you get to class. You'll be embarrassed if your phone rings during class, and it's a major distraction for the instructor and other students. If you forget and your cell phone rings, own up to it and turn the ringer off immediately. Never answer the phone or send texts during class.
  • Arrive on Time: Arrive at least 10 minutes before the class is scheduled to start so you have time to check in, put down your mat, and go to the bathroom if necessary. If you do arrive late, don't enter a class more than 10 minutes after it has started. Wait for the next class or another day.
  • Respect Others' Mat Space: When we asked yoga students what their biggest pet peeves were, "people stepping on my mat" was the top answer. Yes, it seems like a small issue, and sometimes it's difficult in a really crowded room, but do your best to avoid stepping on other students' mats as you make your way through the room.
    • Also, if you attend a class that's usually crowded, place your mat fairly close to the person next to you so that there's enough space for everyone. Always be willing to move your mat to make room for another student.
  • Respect the Teacher: When you enter a yoga class, you sign on to respect the teacher for the next hour or so. You may discover halfway through the class that you don't care for this teacher, playlist, or style of yoga, but you should continue with the class, follow the teacher's instructions, take your savasana, and learn from the experience. Walking out mid-class is rarely considered okay.
  • Go to the Bathroom During Resting Poses: It's fine to leave class for a few minutes to go to the bathroom. There's no need to ask the teacher's permission. The best time to go is when there's a period of rest, either in child's pose or downward dog. Just avoid dodging out during difficult poses or skipping part of savasana.
  • Don't Skip Savasana: Your final relaxation in savasana is an important part of your practice. Don't leave class early. If you must, tell the teacher prior to the class' start and take a short savasana before you go. Just don't make a habit of this.