08/08/2012 07:47 EDT | Updated 10/07/2012 05:12 EDT

A Beginner's Guide to Yoga


Trying out any new activity can be intimidating, especially one where advanced students are twisting their bodies into pretzel-like poses. Don't let fear of the unknown keep you from discovering yoga, and radically improving your health. Use these six tips to help demystify your first yoga experience and get yourself to class!


1. No shoes required. Expect to practice yoga barefoot. Not only is yoga done without shoes, but if you're attending class at a studio, it is generally asked that participants leave their shoes in a designated area, usually near the entrance. This not only helps keep things hygienic and clean, but is also a sign of respect. Performance-wise, bare feet grip to your yoga mat more easily than shoes, helping you to balance and move more skillfully from pose to pose.

2. You'll need a mat. One of the great things about practicing yoga is that you don't need an expensive arsenal of equipment. In general, yoga is done on a sticky mat, which can cost you as little as $15, although like most products on the market, there are more expensive versions available. If you care to have your mat made from organic recycled materials, or of a professional grade from a well-known manufacturer, expect to pay anywhere from $30 to $100+. But if you are just starting out, or if cost is your deciding factor, a $15 mat will do you just fine. Also, most yoga studios will either lend or rent yoga mats for a dollar or two.

3. Dress for success. To practice yoga you'll need some comfortable, stretchy, reasonably form fitting clothing, which will stay in place while allowing you the freedom to move. You are going to be bending a fair bit, and an oversized T-shirt billowing in your face as you attempt to touch your toes can be an unwelcome distraction. The yoga clothing industry is big business, but you don't need a wardrobe full of flashy outfits to practice. Having said that, there are several good reasons to invest in quality yoga gear. If you find yourself practicing frequently, you might want clothes that hold up better in the wash, are more functionally designed, or are made of more breathable fabric. But if you are just starting out, or want to keep it simple, a combination of somewhat fitted, athletic shorts or pants, and a similarly constructed top is all you'll need.

4. Say what? Expect to hear terms and descriptions you might not understand. It is very common for yoga to be taught in English with the poses called out in Sanskrit. Don't be put off if you can only make out half of what your yoga teacher is saying; the more you practice, the more comfortable you'll get with the new terminology. Class usually ends with the word "namaste" which is a salutation, acknowledging that we are all one with each other, and the universe as a whole.

5. Move like Jagger. Celebs endorsing yoga is nothing new; even Mick Jagger swears it keeps him youthful at 68. When you come to your fist yoga class, expect to move your body in different and potentially unfamiliar ways. For example, most of us bend forward many times during the day, but we rarely bend from side to side. This motion of bending laterally is a big part of a typical yoga practice and will help to stretch the side body as well as the muscles between the ribs. Inversions, where the body is literally inverted or upside down, refresh and cleanse the blood, and can be at times both calming and invigorating.

6. Patience is a virtue. Stepping on to your mat for the first time, be patient with yourself, as your learn to move and breath with deep awareness. Have fun and enjoy the challenges, but at the same time respect your body's limits. With a consistent practice you'll notice subtle improvements in your flexibility, which translate into dramatic improvements to your health and wellbeing.


Yoga for Beginners