10 Tips for Your First (or any) Yoga Class

Joshua Willis
9 min readApr 7, 2018

New to yoga? Old to yoga? Who cares?!

  1. Just go.

The number one secret to practicing yoga is… wait for it… practicing yoga. Ok, ok, I know this sounds like I’m being a smart ass, and I am a little, but it’s true! Nothing happens if you do nothing. Yoga practice is a perfect example of the saying, “90% of life is just showing up,” and in my opinion, this is also the hardest part of practicing yoga: just making the decision to just do it.

It’s not the postures, or the breathing, or the anxiety of making a fool out of yourself. The hardest part is working it into your day. It’s hard to find that motivation to make up your mind to “just go.” And I know and I hear and I say all the time: “but I have a deadline,” or, “I’m tired,” or, “I ate too much,” or, “I’m going to look like an asshole.” No, you’re not (more on this in point 2). And fine, maybe today’s not the day. But put on your big boy pants, look up a class, and just go.

2. No one cares about how you look in a posture.*


Well, except your teacher. Even he or she doesn’t care too much. Most teachers simply want you to experience class, not to master every pose every second (also known as the impossible), and help you along the way and make sure you don’t hurt yourself. They really just want you there because they think yoga is the best thing in the world.

Yoga class is meant to be an experience and an exploration of yourself and how you respond to instructions, postures, breathing, and your own thoughts. It’s a practice. It’s about the postures as much as having dinner with your family is about the food. Yes, it’s there and you need it and it will nourish your body, but it’s how you spend time with your loved ones that will nourish your heart, mind, and spirit. Meaning, how you experience yourself in a posture is more important than how it looks. Plus, you’re supposed to be terrible in the beginning, and if you are, you’ll see some awesome improvement over 5 classes. Beginners or those who haven’t been in a while see more change than those who practice every day. Top secret: Sometimes I’ll even skip a few days of practice so I can feel a thorough change in my body and mind, and be overwhelmed a little by it and how much my practice has slipped away. I know, I know, I’ve got issues.

*This thought (worrying you’ll look silly in class) is evidence that you have some anxiety, which is fine, most of us do nowadays, and is all the more reason to go to yoga. I’ve dealt with anxiety my whole life and yoga works the best!

3. Don’t eat a heavy meal within 2 hours before class.

Definitely don’t do this 2 hours before class.

This one is pretty straightforward. Everyone is different, and the more you practice, the more you’ll find out what eating and drinking habits work for you, but this is a good, basic rule. If there’s too much in the belly, you’ll either feel too preoccupied with your stomach and miss out on everything else.

Tea is nice before class. Bananas too.

4. Go back.

“I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.” — Bruce Lee

Repetition is the key to learning any skill and it is the key to mastery.

No one is good at anything the first time they do it, and most people don’t like things they’re not good at, thus most people don’t excel at anything, most people give up, most people don’t change. Don’t be most people. Be you.

Every discipline is an acquired taste that is the most bitter at first and sweetens over time. Indeed, a grape tastes better than its seed.

That said, every class is different and offers different challenges and benefits and some may simply not jive with your needs. So…

Give a teacher/class/style 5 chances before you decide if it’s right for you. Ask yourself: “Do I like this?” If yes, “why?” If no, “why?”

Do you dislike it because you don’t want to challenge yourself or change? Or is it because it was objectively not the right class for you? Find honesty and you’ll find your yoga class.. then go back! Again and again.

5. Wear something you like that allows for range of motion.

Sweatpants it is!

Clothing is important, but not that important. Sports bras and leggings are common options for women. Baggy tank tops or t-shirts can get in the way if you do any upside downy poses. Shorts should have enough “give” or elasticity to allow for wide leg stances. Also, men, please make sure your junk is not hanging out of your shorts. Ain’t nobody wanna see that. In general, wear something you like that’s functional and comfortable. I sold onzie at my studio, it’s a great balance between style, price, durability, and comfort, but you can find workable clothes at Target. Also, if you’re going to a “hot” studio, less is more; wear as little as you feel comfortable wearing. When in doubt, check the studio website or call the studio you’re planning to attend.

6. Only use props if needed or as instructed.

Props are great, but only if you need them. In general, try to attempt a pose first without a prop, unless your teacher specifically says to use one. This may only take a moment, but it lets you know where you’re at with your body and you may surprise yourself! Then, if you do need a prop, use it! They can truly help you get the most from a pose.

Another good guideline for knowing when a prop is appropriate is: use a prop if it allows you to hold a posture steadily, breathing normally, without unnecessary struggle or force. Props should enhance the pose and its effects, not simply be an “easy way out.”

7. Listen and follow instructions.

“Listen” by Scott Bergey

This may seem obvious, but also may be the most valuable piece of information on this list. Yoga truly taught me how to listen.. and I’m a musician!

As a jazz musician, I was always more adept at the creative, improvisational side of music, and had to work hard to get the fundamentals and stay “in between the lines.” Yoga truly trained me to give myself to the class, surrender my ego, move with the instructions, not before or after, and not to make up my own thing or substitute a posture just because I “thought I knew better.” This was also good for teaching me self-discipline and respect.

No matter what class you take, remember, it’s a class! And a “class” is designed to teach you something. Your teacher will be teaching a specific sequence with specific instructions and specific benefits associated with said sequence/instructions. Each posture will give you certain physical benefits, and working to complete the posture/stay with the class to the best of your ability, teaches certain mental benefits like self-discipline. Indeed, without boundaries, nothing is possible.

So stay with the class, do your best to follow the instructions. If a certain pose is out of reach (today), get as close as you can to resembling the pose, or ask your teacher for help.

8. Pain is information. Discomfort is normal.

Yogis do not play with red.

Most of the time, our bodies’ natural protective mechanisms and our intuition keep us safe in class. Additionally, most beginning classes are designed with new students in mind, so injury is unlikely. However, the information below will help prevent injury while ensuring you also get the most from every pose.

Pain is important. It is your body’s way of giving you information, telling you to pay attention. It is not something to run away from nor to run towards, but rather something to consider to help you learn more about yourself and your actions as well as what it is your body needs.

In a yoga class there are two main types of pain:

  1. Achey, obtuse pain that comes with trying something new. Yellow or Orange on the pain scale.
  2. Sharp, acute, nerve-like pain that comes with over doing something or missing a key point of the class, red on the pain scale!

The first is normal and comes with stretching in a new way or working through a stiff area. This pain is better understood as discomfort, which is a normal part of yoga. Yoga will teach you how to transform discomfort into progress and healing instead of the more common alternative of simply avoiding discomfort or “things we don’t like.” Breathing more deeply, diminishing the depth of a posture, and going more slowly typically allows us to embrace this discomfort as stretching or strength and as a valuable part of our class experience.

The second type of pain is much less common but can cause injury. Do not mess with sharp, “loud,” nerve-like pains. We don’t play in the “red” pain areas above. If you encounter a “red” or “loud” pain in class, back out of the pose, start again slowly, or ask your teacher for assistance/tell them what’s going on. Again, this is rare but is never worth ignoring or pushing past.

9. Be curious.

Yoga is all about self-discovery. New students are quick to say “I’m not flexible,” or “I’m out of shape,” or “I have an injury,” or “I could never do that,” and let that be the defining part of their experience, or worse, the beginning and the end! Being curious takes some of the pressure off and allows you to remove expectations and simply.. see how it goes!

Everyone is some degree of flexible, otherwise we’d all be walking around like the tin man. Everyone is some degree of “in shape” or “out of shape.” You have a shape. You shape your shape. Everyone has an injury or surgery or illness or weakness of some kind. We’re all human. The question is not: are you or aren’t you any of these things? It’s not: do you or don’t you have an injury? The question is how much can you learn about your thing? And, what do you need to do to restore balance to your body? How flexible are you? How out of shape are you? Furthermore, what shape are you even talking about? What shape do you want? Can you learn more about your injury and guide it instead of letting it guide you? Your yoga class can give you valuable insider information that you may not find anywhere else.

The cool thing about yoga poses is that they are simultaneously diagnostic and therapeutic. Holding a position simultaneously tells you how strong or flexible certain muscles are while also building strength and flexibility in those muscles. Be curious to find out where you are and what you need. It can be scary at first to realize just “how out of shape” you are, but isn’t knowing better than not knowing? Plus, being curious will help you learn not only where you are, but how to get from A to B. Be curious.

10. Reward yourself.

I like tacos.

This shit is hard. Especially at first. You don’t know if you’ll like the studio or the teachers, or if they’re weird, or if people fart, and if that’s cool, or if you’re going to make a fool of yourself, or if it’s worth your money or time or anything. You simply don’t know at first (another good reason to adopt #9 — be curious — as your outlook!).

So, if this is you and you’re trying yoga or a class or a studio for the first time, make a deal with yourself from the beginning. Take yourself out for dinner or a drink, or whatever as a reward for being brave enough to go to that class.

You’ve earned it. You made a choice to take care of yourself. You’re trying something new, even if you didn’t want to. Reward yourself accordingly.

And remember #4…

Joshua Willis, M.ED. is a writer, former yoga studio owner, and Founder of Yodesk, yoga for you at your desk.