According to the Yoga Alliance, 28% of Americans (in 2016) have practiced yoga at some point in their lives. That means many more are at least familiar with this form of exercise, because they know someone who practices. So why wait? It’s time to take away any mystique from those who have yet to try it!
Yoga is a brilliant cross-training triple-threat that builds strength, flexibility, and core in a low-impact, variable intensity workout—which means anyone can do it. Of course, to receive all yoga has to offer, you must also take into account the mental side of the practice. Check out these impressive benefits of yoga when you engage in a well-rounded, regular practice:
- Increased flexibility
- Improved muscle tone & strength
- Enhanced posture & body awareness
- Stronger core muscles
- Better breath control
- Improved ability to relax when needed
- Lower blood pressure & slower heart rate
- Lower cholesterol & triglycerides
Now, how should you begin? Here are the basics, from what to wear and bring, to how to choose the right experience and instructor.
What To Wear
Shoes: Most yoga is performed barefoot, so feel free to leave your shoes at home (or outside the studio door). However, if you have a foot injury that prevents you from being barefoot or you’re simply freaked out by the thought of having your tootsies exposed, there are options. Check out Nike’s yoga shoe collection. Or, you can invest in a pair of Yoga Socks that help you grip, balance, and train your feet. ToeSox and Gaim’s Yoga Socks are both great options.
Pants/Shorts: There’s no need to run out and spend $100 on a pair of special yoga pants when you’re getting started. Simply choose comfortable pants or shorts that stretch. Many yoga goers prefer the tighter pants to help check alignment and to keep everything covered when legs are in the air, but you can choose looser-fitting pants or tights (long or short) as well. On that note, if you choose looser shorts, please wear a compression garment underneath so you’re not exposed!
Tops: A fitted top is best to ensure it stays in place while in a variety of poses. You will want to choose a moisture-wicking fabric, especially if you’ll be participating in a heated yoga room. A wrap or long sleeve shirt might may be helpful to throw on during Savasana (final resting pose), as some participants tend to get chilled during this portion of class.
Other: If you have longer hair, you will most likely want to keep it off your neck for comfort. Whatever hairstyle you choose, be sure it will be comfortable when you are lying down. If you are a sweater, a headband could be a great addition to your up-do.
What To Bring
There are a few key items you’ll want to make sure you bring to your first yoga class.
Mat: A yoga mat is essential. Most studios will have mats available if you don’t have your own (be prepared to rent the mat at private studios for $1-$2). But, if you’re going to be going to yoga regularly, investing in a quality yoga mat is a smart move. The mat you choose should be non-slip and provide a bit of cushion. Use this Yoga Mat Comparison Chart to help you make your choice.
Towel: You’ll need a towel to wipe away sweat throughout your practice. There are many microfiber towels available to fit the size of your mat (which is necessary in hot yoga classes).
Water Bottle: Be sure to stay hydrated during your yoga practice by keeping a water bottle handy. Choose a spill-proof bottle (you will knock it over at some point) and keep it near the front of your yoga mat.
Where To Go
With so many options available, it may seem overwhelming to even get started. Here are two easy steps.
Step 1: Choose the Best TYPE of Yoga for You
Here’s a quick primer on the most common types of classes you’ll find:
- Hatha: Technically, all yoga classes are hatha yoga. But this term is used most often today to describe a “basic” yoga class that is usually slower-paced and focused on the fundamentals. Hatha classes are a great place to begin to learn poses and breathing.
- Vinyasa: Vinyasa style classes flow from one pose to the next, are a bit faster-paced, and synchronize breath to movement.
- Ashtanga/Power Yoga: Ashtanga is considered a fast-paced, intense style of yoga as it is, typically, a set series of poses that are performed one after the other in the same order. Ashtanga focuses on daily practice and is the inspiration for a popular form of yoga called Power Yoga. Some consider Ashtanga/Power Yoga to be the most physically demanding and many yoga lovers favor this as an alternative for full body strengthening without weights.
- Iyengar: Alignment is the focus of an Iyengar class. Poses are held for a longer period of time and props (blankets, blocks, straps) are used to help with alignment.
- Bikram/Hot Yoga: This type of yoga is performed in a heated room (usually 95-105 degrees) to help loosen the muscles for enhanced flexibility. Bikram has a set series of 26 poses, but hot yoga does not. Be prepared to sweat!
- Restorative: Restorative is a gentle yoga class that uses props to support passive stretching. This is a great class on a recovery day or if you are most interested in the relaxation side of a yoga practice.
Of course, there are many more types, hybrids, and specialty yoga classes available. You’ll want to start out with a beginner class (even if you are active already) to learn poses, language, and the ins and outs of practicing yoga. Use this fun Yoga Personality Quiz to find the best style of yoga for you.
Step 2: Choose the best INSTRUCTOR
You’ll want to find a qualified yoga instructor to help guide you. Not all yoga instructors are created equal. Use the Yoga Alliance Registry to search for the most qualified instructors in your area. Beyond their qualifications, you’ll need to find a style or personality that works for you. Ask friends and family for references and try a few instructors before finding the one that is perfect for you!
What To Do
Yoga has its own etiquette. To ensure a pleasant yoga experience, remember…
- Get to class early: Give yourself 5-10 minutes to use the restroom, get your mat set up, and just sit for a few minutes. Having time to settle in, breathe, and focus on the class you’re about to do—this will help you get the most from your yoga experience.
- Communicate with your instructor: If you have injuries, special considerations, or even if you’re just a bit nervous about the class, chat with the instructor prior to getting started. A good yoga instructor will be able to personalize the class and help you feel comfortable with modifications, adjustments or extra help.
- Quietness: Yoga is a relaxing workout and most people come to de-stress and block out the outside world; keep your conversations outside the studio door and/or whisper if you need to talk to someone beside you. And if you must bring your cell phone into the classroom, be sure it’s silenced with no possibility of going off during your practice.
- Respect others: beyond being quiet, respecting others encompasses appropriate mat spacing, being mindful of where you place your “extras” (props, water bottle, towel), and your odor. Of course, odor can refer to body odor (be sure to wear deodorant), but you should also be aware of the lotions or perfumes that you wear to yoga class.
- Stay for Savasana: The final few minutes of yoga class are probably the most crucial; if you can, please stay for this important final resting pose. If you must leave class early, make sure to do so prior to the rest of the class settling in for Savasana, and let the instructor know prior to class that you will be doing so. You should make every attempt to stay to the very end!
Yoga is a wonderful addition to any workout regime. If you find the right class, a good instructor, and invest some time into learning the basics, you’ll quickly experience the physical and mental benefits of yoga.
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