Please talk to me about yoga!
February 20, 2013 6:10 PM   Subscribe

I'm considering taking a beginning yoga class. What should I expect?

I'm considering signing up for a basic, beginning yoga class. I'm not very athletic, but I'm in OK shape for a middle aged female, and I like the idea of becoming more flexible and toned--without a lot of impact on my knees, and without competition entering into the equation. Are my expectations realistic? What can I expect in terms of instruction? What should I wear? How sore should I expect to feel afterwards? What have you loved or hated about yoga? Please share!
posted by bookmammal to Health & Fitness (37 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
I did a beginners' yoga class last year. I found it more difficult than I expected, even though I was pretty fit to start with. Downward dog and other supposedly "relaxing" poses were exhausting to hold. I did get more flexible and stronger even just over the 6 weeks of the course. I also found it good for my mental health.

There are lots of varieties of yoga, and some are more about flexibility, some more about endurance and strength, and some more about mental and spiritual progress. Some instructors are more "twinkly sparkly" and others more sport & fitness types.

A good instructor should keep an eye on your form and suggest corrections, and should help you modify your poses if you are struggling or injured. A small class will work best for that degree of attention.

One unexpected side effect of my yoga class was scabies. About half the class got it. I think from shared yoga mats and not enough disinfecting. Bring your own mat.
posted by lollusc at 6:21 PM on February 20, 2013

It will depend a bit depending on the setting (gym vs yoga studio, etc) but either way, introduce yourself to the teacher when you arrive. If it's not obvious who she or he is, just ask. People are usually really nice at beginner classes. Just wear something comfortable but not to baggy. You want to be able to move but stepping on your pant leg is not fun.

The teacher should give lots of variations for the different poses. Take things easy, don't push yourself. You might be a little sore, but if you go slowly it shouldn't be anything a warm bath won't help. I agree that you shouldn't go into your first class expecting it to be relaxing. It will be new things for your body to figure out but the teacher should notice if you're struggling to much and help you out. A begginer class should be using props like blocks and straps, which make it easier to reach stuff for us inflexible ones and all studios I've been in have them. If your worried about gross mats everywhere should have cleaner and make sure to use it before and after class.

And remember to breath! It seems cheesy, but seriously it's important.
posted by missriss89 at 6:28 PM on February 20, 2013 [3 favorites]

I did a beginner's yoga class via the local high school continuing education program. It was really, really gentle and I am not fit at all. On the other hand, the intro class at the chain yoga studio I used to go to was pretty intense. I never progressed past the intro class there. So it's hard to say what to expect from your class. But I agree with lollusc that you should expect instruction on the proper way to do the different poses and also correction from the instructor when needed.

I agree with bringing your own mat. Try to wear a shirt that's not too baggy, because when you do a pose like downward dog, your shirt is going to ride up and hang in your face. You could tuck your shirt into your shorts or pants if needed.
posted by cabingirl at 6:31 PM on February 20, 2013

Re: what to wear- something fitted is better, as it helps the instructor get a look at your form, but if you're not comfortable in something fitted, looser pants and a tshirt is fine. Keep in mind that at times your torso may be upside down--you don't want your shirt falling up.
posted by mollymayhem at 6:32 PM on February 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

Your experience will depend almost 100% on the instructor. They determine the feel of the class, if it is strenuous, how accepting people are of different levels. I was lucky enough to start yoga with an awesome teacher who stressed observing your own limits, modifying poses that were too much for you, and being accepting in general. That is what you want, and it's worth talking to prospective teachers in person to see if they follow this approach. If they do, yoga will be fun and relaxing, and you will feel awesome afterward! I know other classes are much more business-like, or expect a high level of achievement right away. That's not what I want, and doesn't sound like what you'd enjoy either.
posted by catatethebird at 6:32 PM on February 20, 2013 [2 favorites]

Avoid "hot" and Bikram yoga. Google "gentle" yoga to stay away from the more vigorous disciplines. Yoga will make you more flexible. As you gain confidence, you can try a more challenging form of yoga that will tone you up. Yoga classes usually last 90 minutes. Good yoga instructors walk around the room and make subtle adjustments to your body to improve your postures, or give oral direction to help you improve. They also tell you what the postures are doing to your body (how they're effecting your organs, which muscle groups are targeted, etc.) All yoga postures are adaptable. You go to your "edge," so to speak -- that point where you feel if you went further would create pain. Never try to compete with or look as good as the next person in class -- this is what causes injuries. Be gentle on yourself at first. Yoga is a discipline you will quickly improve at if you stick with it regularly. Wear leggings and a tank top. Usually people practice bare foot. You may or may not feel sore afterward. If there are areas of your body that rarely get used that are emphasized in your yoga class (inversion postures), then your back will definitely feel sore the next day. I love yoga. I am a certified Bikram instructor who doesn't teach because I have other priorities. My only problem with yoga is that I have a hard time integrating aerobic and weight training into my life, along with yoga. Yoga is terrific, but for me at least, it's not the only thing I want to do, though there was a time when it was the only disciplined exercise I did.
posted by zagyzebra at 6:33 PM on February 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

Lots of good advice already. If you end up not enjoying it, I'd definitely try again with a different instructor. I've had lots, and some (most) have been great, but others have been a terrible fit.

It's totally okay to go into child pose or drink some water (bring a bottle) if you're tired/thirsty (I still do after years of practice).

Going in with lower flexibility/strength is actually a good thing. It means you'll improve faster, and are probably less prone to injury from over stretching.

Roll up your mat to have some padding on your knees, if they're sore in any poses.

Talk to the instructor. Your worries are the worries of everyone else, for the most part, so he or she will let you know what you need to know.

I like it for the body awareness I get as a result (keeps me from overindulging when I eat, drink less coffee, sleep more, etc.), and it eliminates the tension headaches I used to get.

Have fun!
posted by backwards guitar at 6:47 PM on February 20, 2013

I'm a big fan of Iyengar yoga, which uses props to assist you in doing poses. Blocks, straps, ropes, bolsters and other items are used so that you can get the benefit of the pose based on your individual strength and flexibility.

I HATE the sun salutations series of poses that start many yoga classes and I can't bear the heat of Bikram, although I like the poses very much. Experiment with different types of yoga and look for beginning or gentle yoga classes to start.
posted by shoesietart at 6:49 PM on February 20, 2013 [5 favorites]

One of the great things about yoga is that you can get a lot of benefit from it even with a very gentle approach. Soreness of any kind is entirely optional, and is usually an indication that you have pushed yourself farther than you needed to. When I first started yoga classes, I was amazed at how much improvement I saw in strength, balance and flexibility from doing exercises that seemed so simple.
posted by Corvid at 6:53 PM on February 20, 2013

Drink lots of water. Don't push yourself too hard.

And there is indeed lots of variation between beginner yoga classes. The yoga studio I go to is very calm and soothing during the classes, whereas my friend went to a yoga class recently at her gym and she said it felt like yoga boot camp.

I have never felt particularly sore after (tired, yes, but not really sore). Perhaps if you are going to a more workout-based one rather than meditation-based, your soreness might increase, but Corvid's point seems valid re:soreness.

The studio I go to has a relatively new series called "Yoga for Every Body" that I quite like, in addition to their beginner yoga class (which I discovered was not so beginner after all, at least not enough for my newbie self). Try different stuff. Find a teacher/style/poses you like. Enjoy. :)
posted by pitrified at 6:59 PM on February 20, 2013

Seconding Iyengar yoga. It is focused on precision, where the goal is not to simply make the correct 'shapes,' but to do them in the most precise, correct, and bodily-respectful ways. The difference is night and day compared to other yoga classes I take, because we are not encouraged to simply 'wrench' our bodies into the right position, but rather to be highly conscious of many aspects of the body in order to achieve the best position, and to modify positions to make sure that injury doesn't occur and to respect individual bodies (at least that is my observation). Personally, I love hot yoga (Moksha) so much that I go almost every day, but I take at least one Iyengar class per week to actually learn, and to get the most out of the rest of my yoga classes. I am so much stronger after that one weekly class, it's ridiculous. Anyway, I'm no expert, but Iyengar certainly feels like a whole other story, with highly trained teachers and a rigorous approach.
posted by thegreatfleecircus at 7:16 PM on February 20, 2013 [2 favorites]

Fwiw, I do not like using props like straps and blocks and none of the beginner classes I've attended have used them. I've been to about 5 or 6 different classes across the USA and Mexico.

I never expected to love yoga (I'm more a sporty person) but I love it and hope you will too.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 7:36 PM on February 20, 2013

In spite of the collapse of Anusara yoga's leadership, I find Anusara-trained teachers to be perceptive in a way that benefits beginners: you need a teacher who is able to perceive faults in technique and correct them before you get hurt. It is important that you trust your teacher, regardless of which discipline you choose, because you and your body might not yet know what will get you in trouble and yes you can very easily get in trouble with yoga, because you're trying to activate parts of your body that have never ever piped up with complaints before.

It is not easy to begin yoga practice as a middle-aged person. You have habits formed by decades of neglect or not knowing what's better. In my view a very very good teacher is what a beginner needs - much more so than someone who has been doing yoga for a while - because you have no idea when to just back off and when to try a little harder. It's the teacher's job to help you figure that out. Find a good one, gain confidence in your perceptions and your body, listen to your body and resist the urge to push. Yoga is about benefiting from appreciating your unique body and not about being a pretzel.
posted by jet_silver at 8:04 PM on February 20, 2013 [4 favorites]

Thirding Iyengar! Also Purna is a related style. Many posters have mentioned the importance of the teacher: there is no uniform training or certification in the US that covers all yoga instructors, but an Iyengar or Purna-certified teacher has had lots of training and oversight from more advanced teachers. Don't be afraid to ask about training, anybody who doesn't want to answer is a bad choice.

A good teacher adjusts, a bad teacher pushes. Actual bad teachers are very rare.

I really feel better when I'm doing yoga consistently, and I'm no athlete. I do find I need to do it at least twice a week to really feel the effect, but once you've got the basics down you can do it at home.
posted by HaveYouTriedRebooting at 8:08 PM on February 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

With regard to zagyzebra said about how the instructors "tell you what the postures are doing to your body (how they're effecting your organs, which muscle groups are targeted, etc.)", you should take what they say with a grain of salt. In the classes I took, there was a variety of different instructors and while some of them clearly did know about biology and so on, some provided more "interesting" information, like how certain poses "wring out your liver" or "gently massage your lungs with your spine", or telling us to "let the breath flow all the way down into your legs." It might help to think of anatomical or biological information given in a yoga class as helpful visualisations rather than objective truth.

And since my earlier comment didn't address your question about soreness: I never felt sore the next day after a class. Sometimes a specific muscle felt tender for a few hours after the class, but it never translated into the pain you get sometimes from running or a weights workout.
posted by lollusc at 8:36 PM on February 20, 2013

you'll like it! one thing I really like about yoga is that there really is no competitive feeling. everyone is there, working within their own comfort levels, and I've never felt judged for being good or terrible or flexible or choosing not to do a pose or something.

I usually wear a stretchy tank top that I feel comfortable in, a sports bra, and then the typical yoga pants, or if I am doing hot I wear running shorts. i feel like some of the really tight shorts and pants they sell for yoga are.. not ideal for yoga. picture downward dog position, and picture people reallllly close to your backside. I like something a little less skintight.

I had terrible balance going into a yoga beginning course and wobbled and bobbled and occasionally laughed and fell down and I never felt like anyone was judging me or anything.

bring water and a small towel. I really like the yoga socks/gloves with the grippies on the bottom if you have sweaty feet or hands! headbands are great if you have bangs.

if you ever feel overwhelmed, just child pose. I've never had a teacher come talk to me or anything while in child pose, it's sort of a respect zone around it, like you were just feeling uncomfortable and stopped. if you feel confused and if you're in any kind of pain.. stop and look confused. the teacher will usually come pose you and help you understand what it's supposed to feel like. sometimes I find yoga to be a very silent activity, but in a beginners class I would probably encourage you to ask questions in a polite way, it's probably information a lot of other people are looking for too, and everyone is there to learn.

soreness: I started in hot yoga, where you can push yourself a little harder in regards to flexibility than your body naturally would allow. I'm young and quite flexible naturally so I wasn't too worried about it, but more people hurt themselves in hot yoga. I felt pretty sore often the next day, or even later the same day. from regular temperature yoga, I never felt sore. sometimes tender.
posted by euphoria066 at 8:47 PM on February 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

I started doing yoga about two years ago after a lower back injury to regain strength and flexibility in my back. I am not athletic and do not especially enjoy pushing myself physically. But I looooove yoga. And have noticeably gained flexibility and strength in my back. (I can touch my toes! WOO!) What I love about yoga is how relaxed I feel afterwards, how confident I feel in my body while I'm doing it. Even with positions I hate (COBRA), I can feel how beneficial it is to my body.

As people above have said, your instructor will probably demonstrate the poses, describe them and correct your form. Also, if something hurts, ease back out of the position. Yoga is not the place to push through the pain or anything like that. I am occasionally mildly sore for a little while after a class but nothing lasting or debilitating.

You should wear stretchy, comfortable clothes, but nothing too billowy or baggy. I am constantly having to hitch my shirt back down after changes in position but have made peace with that. I prefer to do yoga barefoot (not always possible in the winter) because I'm always afraid I will slip in my socks.

Your expectations are totally reasonable and I hope you have fun!
posted by Aquifer at 8:51 PM on February 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

The first time I took a yoga class, I too had no idea what to expect. Forgive me if this is too simplified, but not knowing these things gave me some anxiety previous to my first class.

You'll open the door and walk into the studio, provided the studio has some sort of vestibule or waiting room separate from the area where the classes take place. If you see people gathered outside the main door, chances are there is no such vestibule and you'll be expected to wait outside until the current class is over. (There will likely be a sign on the door saying Class In Progress or something like that to clue you in.) Don't interrupt the current class.

Once you're inside, people will beeline for the place where you can take off your shoes and stash your stuff. You should follow and do the same. Almost all studios have a no-shoes policy, and people practice barefoot most of the time (some people wear socks but I have no idea how they don't slip).

People will then grab some props and arrange their mats. Some places have the mats arranged so that you face the center of the room, looking at each other. Other places will have the mats arranged so that everyone faces the front of the room. Grab whatever props you see other people grabbing. You might use none of them, but it's better to have them handy.

Some people will spread their mat out and lay down immediately on their back. Other people will sit and do gentle free-form stretches. Others will chat. Be sure to set up your mat far enough away from others that everyone can spread their arms without touching if possible.

If the instructor is already in the room, feel free to introduce yourself at that time, before the class itself starts. Share anything you think is relevant--I always make a point of saying if it's been a little while since I took a class. Saying it's your first class ever is totally appropriate!

If the instructor isn't already in the room, s/he will eventually come in and guide the class from there. What pace things go at, the amount of correction the instructor provides, and how much woo you encounter will vary widely, based on the style of yoga.

I've never been to a class that didn't end with savasana, usually maintained for two to five minutes. When savasana is over, everyone sits up, the instructor says a few words of thanks, and everyone says namaste.

The studio clears out pretty quickly because there's frequently another class waiting, so most people don't dawdle when putting away props and rolling up mats. If there is a vestibule or other waiting area outside the studio proper, people will sometimes be slow to put their shoes on, etc., and will chat while they get ready to go. Then they leave!

I have taken different styles of yoga on and off for about a year now, and just took my first Iyengar class last week. It was great; the instructor knew a great deal about anatomy[1] and gave a lot of individual attention to each student. Lots of emphasis was placed on precise alignment; because of this, poses were held for longer than I'm accustomed to (which I really liked--I felt like I was getting a good stretch rather than leaping from pose to pose without time to think about what each one felt like and what it was doing to my body). If you want a more high-energy, move-from-pose-to-pose-without-stopping kind of class, Iyengar probably isn't for you, and you should look for classes billed as "flow."

Despite it being billed as a "gentle" class, I was sore the next day in unexpected places. Not so sore that I couldn't move or had to limit my activity, but "sore" in the sense that I could tell I'd been doing something with those muscles previously.

[1] As a nurse, I do, too, and I have rolled my eyes vigorously at other instructors who talked a lot about anatomically impossible interactions between different body parts.
posted by jesourie at 9:24 PM on February 20, 2013 [8 favorites]

I like the idea of becoming more flexible and toned

Flexibility is a nebulous concept, and a bit misunderstood, but go for it! It sound like fun and we all need exercise*.

It's not a risk-free activity, but as long as you and your teacher understand what is unsafe you'll be fine.

*My cat, who is currently using me as a heated mattress, disagrees.
posted by sebastienbailard at 11:23 PM on February 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

There has been some really good advice here already.

I normally wear leggings and something fitted on top that I can tuck in, and usually a t-shirt over the top of that. Experiment with different clothing options until you find one that works in terms of comfort, movement and temperature! I started off wearing baggy tracksuit bottoms but found that they would scrunch up or get in the way. In my particular class it's good to have layers because we range from lying down in shavasana (chilly) to sun salutations (hot!), the asanas (medium) and final relaxation (cold again).

Make sure you tell the teacher if you have any injuries or pain. Nothing in yoga is supposed to hurt you, so don't continue with a pose if your lower back is hurting, for example. Try not to judge yourself in relation to what you feel you ought to be doing, or to other people in the class. I can't touch my toes, but I've stopped caring about that now!

Don't be afraid to try out a few different beginner classes. I think most teachers will understand that different styles suit different people. I went to a class in a sports centre with bright lights and mirrors everywhere, followed by a massive class with a teacher who was really into stuff I can't get on board with ("energies" and "shakras"...), until I found the type of class that suits me best (small, no mirrors(!) and with some Buddhist meditation/breathing).

If your teacher does a good warm up at the start and you don't over extend anything, I wouldn't expect to feel sore afterwards.
posted by lizabeth at 2:22 AM on February 21, 2013

Good yoga instructors walk around the room and make subtle adjustments to your body to improve your postures, or give oral direction to help you improve. They also tell you what the postures are doing to your body (how they're effecting your organs, which muscle groups are targeted, etc.)

Totally agree with this. I have taken yoga mostly at the YMCA and gyms - the teachers would just demonstrate the poses and you're supposed to copy them. But if you're in a yoga pose it's pretty hard to see the teacher, and they can't see you. I also have a hard time just copying movements and I'm slow.

Recently I went to a yoga class where the instructor went around the room and helped everyone and that made a huge difference.

There's likely to be a lot of different places to take yoga classes in your area. They probably have web pages with bios of the teachers, schedules, descriptions of classes and other info that you can read and compare. Once you have a few that seem good to you, visit them in person. Most of them will offer a free class or reduced price on your first class. You can also just go there and see if it looks like the kind of place you would feel comfortable before you decide to take a class there. If you watch people going in or out of classes you might get some ideas of what you'd like to wear.

Like a poster above said, I hate sun salutations. That's a series of postures that it seems like most classes do a lot, and they go from posture to posture much to fast for me. (I think a lot of inexperienced instructors use that as filler when they don't know what else to do.)

I like the yoga where you take a while to get into one position and make sure that it's correct, and stay in the position for a while. Finally I found a teacher that taught that style but I had to try some different classes to find out what style of yoga was right for me and where I could find someone who taught it.
posted by Melsky at 2:58 AM on February 21, 2013

One thing I haven't seen mentioned which took me by surprise when I first started yoga:

At all the different yoga classes I have been to sometimes the instructor will mention that [X] position should not be done if you are menstruating and that if you are you should do [Y] other position.

I actually have no idea why exactly certain positions are deemed to be unsuitable if you have your period, but at my first class I was taken aback by this public declaration of your menstrual status - 'Oh no, now if I don't do that position, people will KNOW!!'

It's really no big deal though. People will be so busy doing their own thing they won't even notice if you do or do not do a certain position, and if they do notice they won't bat an eyelid anyway.
posted by schmoo at 3:11 AM on February 21, 2013

I have just recently restarted my yoga practice, and the number one thing that I have found helpful is to tell myself that nobody else is looking at me but the instructor - and it's true! You will enjoy the class much more if you allow yourself to focus solely on you, and not worry about how you look to other people. Seems basic, but since yoga poses are often quite unflattering, I have found this one little mantra very useful.
posted by dirtmonster at 4:21 AM on February 21, 2013

I just started doing yoga in the fall of last year - I'm trying to go once a week, although more would be better. The gym in my office building has classes.

Teachers make all the difference - there are several teachers here, and they all seem to focus on different things, and some of them are very woo-woo, and some of them are not so much.

When I started, I was crazy sore the next day - you might be in better shape than I was.

I did a lot of modified positions when I started (and still, sometimes!) and was never called out on it - the teachers are super nice about it.

I do it during lunch, and I really love having an hour of my day with no phone, no email, and nothing to worry about except for being present.
posted by needlegrrl at 5:15 AM on February 21, 2013

Reinforcing what has been said: it's totally OK to modify poses, and take breaks. I've spent the better part of classes in child's pose or lying on my back, since that was what my body needed that particular day. No big whoop.

I sweat like a beast, so a small towel is a must for me. I put it at the front of my mat.

For sweat reasons, I also like to wear a long-sleeve fitted top, and light-weight track pants. Helps absorb the sweat so I'm not swimming in a sea of it on the mat.

And here's a silly one: you'll spend a lot of time looking at your toes. I'm not a pedicure kinda gal, but I make an effort to have those feetsies looking somewhat presentable because otherwise I get really distracted by my grody toes.
posted by nacho fries at 8:19 AM on February 21, 2013

(And be sure to have your cellphone ringer off!)
posted by nacho fries at 8:21 AM on February 21, 2013

I agree with shopping around for a teacher or multiple teachers that you like. Most will usually start out their classes by asking if anyone is new, and then they know to keep an eye out for how you're doing in the class. Occasionally some instructors will do hands on adjustments in class, if you are uncomfortable with someone touching you, just say so. A lot of instructors will demo very few poses and basically talk you through the class so you can end up relying on watching the other people in class if you're super new. They will also call out variations in the poses, usually starting with the simplest, and then going up in difficulty. Also, definitely get your own mat, and no one else cares what you look like, except for maybe the instructor.

I find that my back knee will tweak specifically in warrior 1/2 unless I deliberately set my back foot at a 45 degree angle, which basically prevents knee strain for me.
posted by tangaroo at 8:25 AM on February 21, 2013

Are different, um, varieties better or worse for someone interested in strengthening their lower back?

(I am going to share this thread with my wife, who has had some sacroiliac joint pain lately, so I hope you don't mind the semi-hijack of this awesome thread.)
posted by wenestvedt at 8:42 AM on February 21, 2013

wenestvedt, at the risk of sounding like an obsessed Iyangar fan, I find that my lower back feels very strong and supported after a good Iyengar yoga class. I'm not straining anything, I am moving slowly, I have props to ensure proper alignment, and many guidelines which really help me personally. Those classes are pretty much the first thing that helped me understand what it even means to stand up straight and have good walking posture! It was a pure mystery until I started getting a sense of what was really involved in that part of the body, and what mental approaches could help me interact with my lower back, and consequently all the other parts of the body which are required to support and strengthen that area. Okay, enough's just been revolutionary for me.
posted by thegreatfleecircus at 8:55 AM on February 21, 2013

I don't think that yoga has helped me lose weight. I think it has helped me maintain and firm up the weight that I have. I think the benefits for me have been more psychological. It has helped me take life one breath at a time and appreciate that whatever I can do or offer right now is good enough. There's also a benefit in starting a class thinking, I am way too tired to do anything, and finishing the class realizing that I'm stronger than I think.

In terms of instruction, it will really vary teacher to teacher. You can usually talk to a teacher before class about things like whether they do hands-on adjustments. Most of my classes lately have not involved adjustments. When they do, it's usually stuff like pulling my hips up and back a little farther in downward facing dog or supporting me during warrior III. I've also had lovely teachers who encourage giggling and having fun but I've also had teachers who weren't happy when I got the giggles.

Wear clothes that are comfortable. I sweat a lot in some classes but not in others. It's hard to predict. Usually I wear yoga pants from Target, a Gap tank top and a sports bra. You may also want to bring a bottle of water and a small washcloth or towel.

It's hard for me to predict how sore you will be after your first class. On the one hand, you will be using your body in a different way than what you're used to; on the other, you shouldn't be pushing yourself so hard that you need to take it easy for the rest of the week. My yoga teachers have always stressed knowing your edge and when to step back from it. One of the really nice things about yoga is that there are a zillion modifications you can do to make a pose more comfortable and that's something that I have found exciting as I have taken more classes. A lovely teacher once suggested that you can't do yoga wrong unless you're not breathing and listening to your body.

I love that I have been able to see myself improve the longer I have taken yoga. I also love that there is always more to learn.

A suggestion: watch a few videos of beginner yoga classes on YouTube. It will give you an idea of what kinds of poses you will be doing.

Also, as a sort-of-athlete, I took yoga for years without focusing on the breathing. I think doing that changed my perception of yoga.

Three things you can expect to happen in a yoga class (though not necessarily your first one): 1) passing gas, 2) stumbling, falling or losing your balance, and 3) falling asleep during shavasana.
posted by kat518 at 10:54 AM on February 21, 2013

One thing that you might love or hate: in some classes, the instructors play music. I avoid those classes myself, but that's a highly personal preference.

Oh, it's also pretty common when you are chillin' out in shavasana pose to have the teacher quietly come up and adjust you. Since your eyes are closed, sometimes it can be a bit a of surprise.

And OK, I'll be the one to say it: queefs happen. I was taking a class led by a salty old Frenchman, and when a gal let one rip, he deadpanned (thick French accent): "Zat wasn't meeeee...." I laughed.
posted by nacho fries at 11:14 AM on February 21, 2013

I just got back from my second "gentle" Iyengar class and I feel so freaking good that I'm compelled to add more to this thread.

Mostly I just want to emphasize the idea that different classes operate in different ways, even within the same style, so be sure to try a few before deciding on the One True Class for you. There was nothing wrong with the class I was attending previously, but I never really looked forward to it, either. I felt good afterwards, but all the same, it was a struggle to get myself to go, and I could never quite put my finger on why. With this new class, it's something I actively can't wait to do. I can immediately feel the benefits. There's a lot right about it.

Try lots of different classes until you find the one that has a lot right about it.
posted by jesourie at 11:53 AM on February 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

I love yoga and just started practicing again. Here's a few things I wish I'd known when I first started:

1) Don't eat before class. Four hours is usually my cut off.

2) If you usually wear lotion, skip your hands and feet or you'll slide right off the mat.

3) Make sure your leggings are actually opaque - under stress and from all angles!

4) Wash your feet before class. This actually works and won't make your feet slippery.

I also bring a bottle of water, a hand towel and a long sleeve coverup for shavasana. Listen to your body, remember to breathe and have fun!
posted by Space Kitty at 12:38 PM on February 21, 2013

Oh, and new mats tend to be slippery, so wash yours before its first use. (Borrowed mats are universally pretty awful. Don't use them if you can help it.)
posted by Space Kitty at 12:40 PM on February 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

Here's another possibility to be aware of: for reasons I don't understand, yoga poses sometimes trigger unexpected emotions. It's not unheard of for people to suddenly start weeping for no apparent reason. It can be very cathartic, and if it should ever happen to you or to someone else in your class, it's nothing to freak out about.
posted by Corvid at 1:53 PM on February 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

Thanks so much to everyone!
I'm going to do it--I found a beginner's class near home that starts next month and I'm signing up!
posted by bookmammal at 4:01 PM on February 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

Thought I would update in case anyone finds this thread later on . . . thanks in part to all the great comments and advice here, I've started taking a beginners yoga class and I am really enjoying it! I look forward to going and my body and mind feel great when I leave. The comments above were spot on--no one pays any attention to how anyone else looks or performs--everyone is too busy either paying attention to themselves, watching the instructor, or remembering to breathe! Yoga is so NOT a competition and I really enjoy that aspect. The instructor of my class is also very patient and accomodating of everyone's different ability levels and she encourages and coaches us to modify poses as needed. So--if anyone is on the fence about trying yoga, I highly recommend that you give it a try! I am so glad that I did. Thanks to everyone above who took the time to provide encouragement!
posted by bookmammal at 8:25 AM on March 16, 2013 [3 favorites]

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