Ready to try your first public yoga class? If you are at all intimidated by the thought of moving your practice out of your living room and into the yoga studio, here’s a guide for how to proceed and what to expect when you make it to the shala (studio) for the very first time.
1. Find Your Studio
Maybe you’ve walked by a studio that looks appealing, or you have a recommendation from a friend of where to go. Luckily, yoga studios are plentiful, so you should be able to find a studio that is a good fit relatively easily.
Don’t know what you want? Some differentiating factors worth considering are:
- Whether or not a studio is heated (some can be heated up to 100-plus degrees)
- If a studio seems to emphasize power yoga (the physical aspects) or a more spiritual approach
- If the studio has classes that are arranged by level (including something appropriate for beginners)
- Whether or not the class schedule works with your schedule
2. Buy a Mat
Most studios have yoga mats that you can borrow or rent (for a few dollars) if you’re in a pinch; however, your mat will be making direct contact with your entire body (including your face!), so it’s recommended that you buy and bring your own. Plus, it sends a message to your system and the Universe that this is a habit you are willing to invest in.
You can buy yoga mats for under $20 at stores like Target or TJ Maxx, but once you’ve really committed to the practice, you might want a sturdier one, like those from lululemon or Manduka. These can be priced up to $100, but will last much longer.
3. Pick a Class
Once you’ve decided where to go, choose which class is most appropriate. If you can’t tell from the website, call the studio and ask them which classes are best for beginners. This is a very important step because you want to attend a class that will move at an appropriate pace and keep you safe. Classes that are labeled for beginners are obviously the best, but you can also look for words like “Introduction,” “Basics,” “Gentle,” and “All-Levels” to be sure you’re headed in the right direction.
4. What to Wear
For yoga, appropriate attire includes loose, comfortable, active wear that won’t restrict your movement. You want your clothing to be loose enough for you to move in, but not so baggy that it gets in your way or that your teacher can’t see your form. A tank top and leggings/yoga pants for women, and a t-shirt and elastic-waisted shorts for men should be perfect. You may also want to bring a long-sleeved layer, as it’s common to get cold at the end of a practice. Finally, it is customary to have bare feet during class. This is both so you don’t slip, and so that you can more firmly connect to the Earth beneath you.
5. Arrive 10 to 15 Minutes Early
No matter what style of yoga you choose to pursue, yoga is ultimately about slowing down and calming the nervous system. Therefore, start yourself off on the right foot (no pun intended) by avoiding rushing and stressing yourself out by being late. Most studios open the room about 15 minutes before the start time, so why not take advantage of a few extra minutes to learn the lay of the land, pay for your class (many studios have a New Student Special, so be sure to tell them it’s your first time), and to get yourself settled.
6. What to Bring into the Room
Bring your yoga mat, water, and a small towel (if you plan on sweating) into the space. That is it. An important piece of etiquette is that you should not bring your phone into the studio space, as your practice is a time to unplug and disconnect from technology.
You’ll also leave your shoes outside of the yoga room, so just see what everyone else is doing and go with the flow. As you enter the room, find a spot where you can see the teacher well. Also, it is proper etiquette not to step on anyone else’s mat while you are in transit.
7. Unroll Your Mat and Get Some Props
Your mat should be unrolled so that the edges curl down toward the floor. Line the mat up with those of your neighbors so that you help to create organized rows (unless you are advised to arrange in a different orientation).
“Props” are the tools you can use to help accommodate for anatomical differences in your poses (i.e., arm length, flexibility, etc.), and include blocks (foam or cork), blankets, straps or belts, and bolsters (pillows). If you attend a class that provides props, simply ask the teacher which props you should get today, or see what everyone else has and get the same ones. If the teacher knows you are new to the practice, he/she should give you some guidance on how to use them, but the basic rule is that they should be used to bring more stability and easefulness to your poses.
8. Communicating During Class
If you need to communicate with the teacher, do so before (not during) class. It’s common practice to tell your teacher before you begin if you have any injuries or are pregnant so he/she can provide you with proper modifications and guidance.
It’s also a good idea to let them know you’re a beginner! But once class starts, the proper etiquette is to remain quiet and attentive. If you’re in a situation where you feel confused or in danger, simply raise your hand or wave the teacher over so he/she can come to you.
9. Yoga Traditions You Can Expect During Class
The following are some common yoga traditions that you may encounter in your first public yoga class.
- Chanting Om: Many yoga classes begin and end the class by chanting the sound “Om.” This Sanskrit word is said to be the sound of creation, and helps to unite energy and bring sacredness to the practice.
- Child’s Pose: This pose is the most common and accepted “resting pose” in the physical practice, and is a good one for you to be familiar with for when you need to take a break. From your hands and knees, simply sit back on your heels and put your forehead on the floor with your arms outstretched or wrapped back around your legs. Feel comfortable taking this pose anytime.
- Savasana: Pronounced sha-VAH-sah-nah, this is always the final resting pose in any yoga class. It translates to “corpse pose,” and while that might sound morbid, it simply represents the natural ending of the practice, and reminds us that everything in life happens in cycles. The pose is quite simple; you’ll just lie on your back for a few minutes while the benefits of the practice absorb into your system.
- Namasté: The tradition at the end of any yoga class is for the teacher and students to say the word “Namasté” to each other. This word has many beautiful translations, but essentially means “I bow to the Divine in you.”
10. Make It a Routine
Sometimes the hardest part is making it to the studio in the first place! Once you’ve crossed the threshold, remember that the practice only truly becomes effective once you’ve made it a routine. You wouldn’t go to the gym only once and expect results, would you?
At first, you can aim to go yoga class twice a week and see how you feel. You will likely notice an increase in strength, flexibility, calmness, and better sleep as a result. And don’t forget to relish the feeling of accomplishment for doing something new and good for yourself. You deserve it!