What You Need to Know for Your First Yoga Class

You are going to your first yoga class, congratulations!!! You can practice yoga your entire life, it is a wonderful compliment to all of your fitness and wellness goals. Before I dive into the details of what you need to know, I want to tell you a quick story.

In my early thirties, I had been practicing yoga for about a year, and I thought I knew what I was doing. I confidently went to a new class, and I ended up with my mat next to woman in her seventies. I could not keep up with her, not even close. That’s when my love of yoga blossomed, in my own ‘defeat’. Her name was Jane, and she became an inspiration and my friend.

Yoga is humbling and empowering all at the same time. I hope it brings you closer to your true self, best of luck out there!

What to Wear

For women, I suggest a tight fitting top, tank or t-shirt, and high rise yoga pants. For men, I suggest a tight fitting t-shirt and shorts that will allow you to move freely. It may be out of your comfort zone to wear snug clothing, but a loose shirt will reveal your midsection or fall over your face during some movements. If you absolutely have to wear a loose fitting shirt, layer it over a tight fitting one. You will be glad you did.

Skip the lotion, perfume, and cologne. Lotions will reduce your grip on the mat, and strong smells are discouraged in class.

What to Bring

Bring a hand towel and a water bottle to every class. If the class is at a yoga studio, they will most likely have a yoga mat that you can borrow before you invest in your own. If the class is outside or at a recreation center, community center, or church, you may have to bring your own mat. A good mat will run you about a $100+, but a beginner mat should be under $20. Don’t bring a thick workout mat, it won’t provide any grip and it will be too soft for balancing.

Gaiam Essentials Premium Yoga Mat

Arrival and Before Class

Since this is your first class, plan to arrive about 20 minutes early. I know that sounds like a lot, but the first time you have to accomplish quite a few things.

  1. You need to figure out where to park and where to enter the studio. If you know this already, you can shave about 5 minutes off your time.
  2. You need to figure out where to leave your shoes and phone. No shoes in the studio past the lobby. No phone on your mat.
  3. You will have to sign liability waivers and get entered into their system.
  4. You should introduce yourself to the yoga teacher and tell that person that you are new. This is when you will ask to borrow a mat if needed. You should also ask for two blocks if the teacher does not automatically offer them to you. Blocks are great for bringing the floor closer to you, especially when you are a beginner.
  5. Most importantly, you will want a space in the back of the room. Those fill up first, so you will want to accomplish all previous tasks with time left to snag a good spot in the back.

What To Expect During Class

A yoga class is like a ceremony, there is a beginning, a middle, and an end. There is a lot of variation in what to expect based on region, studio, and instructor. I have taken yoga classes all over the country, and I can give you some general expectations.

Beginning of Class

Class usually starts focused on the breath, with a body scan, with an intention, or chanting a mantra. You will be guided in breath work, no explanation needed there. A body scan is simply bringing your awareness to how your body feels, noticing any aches or pains, and gratitude for what is working well for you.

An intention is like a small prayer or affirmation that you declare silently to yourself before you begin your practice. My general yoga class intention is to have a safe, empowering, and joyful practice. I may also use my intention as an opportunity to resolve an open issue, so my intention may be that a solution to my problem become obvious. Lastly on intention, it is an opportunity to dedicate your practice to someone. If my friend isn’t feeling well, I may dedicate my practice to her health.

Chanting a mantra, this is by far the most intimidating, and it is also the most rare, so don’t be alarmed. If you find yourself in a class that uses mantras, chances are they all know it and will be reciting it automatically. Just enjoy the moment, no need to participate until or unless you are comfortable with it.

Middle of Class – The ‘Yoga’ Part

Since you are new to yoga, let me set your mind at ease. You get full credit for a yoga class if you lie on your mat and breathe. I know you are capable of that, so the rest is extra credit. It will probably be awkward, not going to lie. It may feel uncomfortable, that is to be expected and embraced. It should not hurt, pain is your body’s signal for you to stop or ease up.

Follow the instructor’s cues, and don’t be afraid to look around for examples. Everybody was new once and did the same thing. Try to pick two people to keep an eye on for guidance. Don’t pick the best people in the room, that will just confuse and intimidate you. Pick two people who are moving confidently but who may not be the leaders in form or fitness. Pro tip, everything the instructor asks you to do is a suggestion, remember that. Don’t do something that doesn’t serve you.

If you get lost in what is going on or need a break from the class, take a childs pose to regroup. This is the universal restorative pose in yoga class, and it is acceptable at all times. See the photo below, knees can be together or apart, arms can be extended or along your sides, head can rest on the mat, on a block or on your arms.

Childs Pose

No talking during class unless the instructor asks you a question.

End of Class

All yoga classes end with a savasana. Savasana is a restorative and meditative time when you lie on your back with your eyes closed. Savasana can range from about 2 to 7 minutes. Soft, soothing music is usually playing. The instructor may come around with a warm or cool washcloth, an eye pillow, an essential oil, a mini physical adjustment, or a mini pressure point massage. They should give you a signal before savasana starts if you want to opt out of the offering. For example, you may be instructed to put your hand on your belly or give them a thumbs down if you want to refrain. Savasana pro tip, roll up the hand towel you brought to use as an eye pillow to block light and allow yourself to relax more deeply.

Once savasana is over, you will most likely be instructed to return to a seated position with your palms at heart center and your eyes closed. Your teacher will say a few words and then end by leaning forward and saying Namaste. You lean forward and reply out loud with Namaste as well. At that point, class is officially dismissed.

Namaste means the light in me humbly bows to the light within you. The gesture represents the belief that there is a Divine spark within each of us that is located in the heart center and is an acknowledgment of the soul in one by the soul in another. Nama means bow, as means I, and te means you. Therefore, namaste literally means “bow me you” or “I bow to you.”

I hope this puts your mind at ease. I also hope you find your Jane along the way. Please don’t take yourself too seriously, that is no fun. I have been practicing for over 17 years, and when I fall out of a pose, I giggle a little, quietly of course.

If you have any additional questions, please comment below. I’m happy to help.


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2 thoughts on “What You Need to Know for Your First Yoga Class

  1. This is so helpful and thorough, Julie! I love Debbie, my yoga instructor, because she is super aware that everyone is operating at a different practice level and uses the phrase “if you’re moving on from here” to guide us and give us latitude to decide what is best for us at every twist and turn.

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