On the surface, yoga looks pretty simple. Roll out a mat, breathe and stretch. Right? But as you dig deeper into the practice (and yes, it is a practice), you’ll start to realize that there’s way more to yoga than making fancy shapes with your body. Don’t worry. We’ve got your ticket to zen. We asked some of our favorite yoga teachers to share what they wish they’d known before their first class — it’ll make your first session way less scary.
8 Things Experts Want You to Know About Yoga
1. It’s not all about flexibility.
Despite what your Instagram feed might suggest, yoga isn’t all about being a human pretzel. In fact, focusing only on flexibility could lead to injury and even undermine your athletic performance. “Not only might some of the more outwardly glamorous poses be completely out of your reach for structural reasons — your skeleton might prevent them — your athletic pursuits are yielding sport-specific tightness in your body that help you perform well,” says Sage Rountree, yoga instructor, triathlon and running coach, and author of Everyday Yoga. “Instead of trying to get as bendy as possible, seek a healthy balance between strength and flexibility.”
2. Don’t give up after the first class.
While all yoga may look similar on the surface, they’re not all the same. From Ashtanga to Bikram to Vinyasa to Iyengar, each type of yoga has its own flavor. “You may not like every single type of yoga or every teacher and that’s OK!” says Laura Kasperzak aka @laurasykora — Instagram yoga star and teacher. “Many people are turned off after their first class and don’t know there are so many options out there.” Finding the right style of yoga for you might be the key to loving (and sticking with) the practice.
3. Work on your foundation.
Just like you wouldn’t run a marathon without a solid base (we hope!), you should focus on fundamental yoga postures at the start of your yoga journey. Think downward-facing dog, Cobra, Warrior I and II and Chair pose. This will give you a strong and safe foundation from which to build your yoga practice. “I wish I spent more hours in basics classes and less flying around my mat,” says Schuyler Grant, co-creator of the Wanderlust Festival and Director of Kula Yoga Project. And don’t be embarrassed. “Everyone was a beginner at some point in time,” says yoga instructor MacKenzie Miller. “Don’t be afraid to ask your instructor questions after class.”
“Once I found a mat where I was not slipping all over the place, my practice become so much more grounded.”
4. You will be confused.
Starting yoga can be overwhelming. You may feel awkward moving through unfamiliar shapes and with teachers literally speaking a different language (that’s Sanskrit, FYI!), it’s easy to feel lost. “Being confused at the onset of any new discipline isn’t a poor reflection on the individual — it’s a normal, natural, necessary part of the learning curve,” says renowned yoga instructor Jason Crandell. “Once you get through the initial confusion and establish solid foundations, the practice will start to fall into place much more quickly.”
5. Don’t write off gentle yoga classes.
It’s easy to assume these classes will be slow and snooze-worthy. But whether you are a new to yoga or an advance yogi, you can benefit from the quiet and relaxation that a slower-moving style offers. “Gentle classes are not boring!” says Rountree. “People who find them boring are simply not paying enough attention. The more advanced your practice, the better you’re able to tune in to the subtle movement of energy in your body in even the ‘simplest’ poses.”
6. Look for benefits beyond the mat.
“I wish I had known yoga’s power to quell anger and rash decisions. It would have seriously helped my road rage that I used to get driving in New Jersey!” says Kathryn Budig, uber popular yoga teacher and author of Aim True (out March 2016). It’s true, yoga will not only stretch your mind but also help strength your mental focus. “[Yoga has] taught me to step back and observe instead of responding with rash reactions and decisions. It’s given me perspective,” says Budig.
7. You’ll need a mat that works for you.
While technically, all you need is a mat to practice yoga, it’s worth your while to find the right mat. “I started out practicing in power vinyasa classes and I would get sweaty, which would make things incredibly slippery,” says Jake Ferree aka Trainer Jake on Instagram. “Once I found a mat where I was not slipping all over the place, my practice become so much more grounded both physically and mentally.” Ferree’s favorite mats? Lululemon and Liforme.
8. Don’t use yoga as an escape.
It’s tempting. You’re stressed and you want to find some peace so you roll out your mat to zone out. But not so fast, says Colorado-based instructor Amy Ippoliti. “Yoga is not an escape. You’re not here to escape the difficulties and intensity of the world,” says Ippoliti, “You’re here to engage, embrace and receive all that the world is offering you. And yoga will teach you to do that skillfully,” Instead, yoga will help you tune into the world around you.