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How to Show Up for Yoga Class – And Look Like You Belong There!

big yoga class

Years of doing yoga at home might make you supremely confident in your abilities, but it really doesn’t do a whole lot to prepare you for a hot yoga class in a studio… as I learned the hard way!

There are a lot of differences between your cozy, moderately warm living room and a hot studio crammed with so many people that one wrong move could turn yoga into one giant game of Twister.

This freaks some people out so much that they avoid going to yoga entirely. Others, like me, are blissfully ignorant and walk right in like it’s nothing new.

No matter which camp you fall into, this guide will reveal how to show up at your very first yoga class and look like you belong there!

Remember, you have to carry your yoga mat to class.

You have to carry your yoga mat further than from the closet to the living room. Mats aren’t heavy, but it gets awkward when you’re trying to open and close doors with a rolled up mat under your arm, a towel over your shoulder, a water bottle in one hand, and a snack in the other.

Why not stick everything in your gym bag? Well, did you notice that most gym bags aren’t long enough to hold a yoga mat?

This was a hassle for me, especially in the city when I would be walking to class or parking far enough down the street that I might as well have just walked to the studio. I highly recommend getting a yoga mat bag (or at least some sort of strap) or you’ll be stressing out trying to carry everything.

You can get fancy, beautiful bags (like those from Effie handmade for $44,) or something plain and simple for less than $20. A yoga mat strap is only about $5. Or save even more by making your own mat bag for about $2. Your choice!

 

People are going to see your yoga mat. Up close.

Once you get inside the studio, you’ll be taking your mat out of the bag. And as you know, as long as the mat will lie flat on the floor, it will work just fine. That doesn’t change.

The mat doesn’t have to be anything fancy. It does, however, have to be fresh and clean. See, the yoga mat is going to be used not just in public, but in close quarters with 2-8 other people. While your dog or cat might not care about the condition of your mat, these other humans might.

It’s common courtesy to keep it clean. No one wants exposed to the mold, mildew, or pet dander that might be coating your mat.

 

Take a towel. Or two.

It’s going to be hot, and you’re going to sweat. At the hot yoga studios, they typically heat the room to 90 degrees, which means it’s probably at least 95 when class gets moving. You’ll be standing in a puddle.

You definitely need a towel. They actually make towels that match yoga mats specifically for this purpose! It will cost about $25-35 for a mat towel, but a large bath towel or beach towel will work.

Try not to go in with a distractingly bright, colorful beach towel! If you use a regular bath towel, go with a neutral solid color.

Take a hand towel, too. The full-length yoga mat towel helps you to stay upright, and the smaller towel is used for wiping sweat off your face.

Whatever you do though, don’t go in there without a towel! Which is exactly what I did for my first class at Amazing Yoga in Pittsburgh! I didn’t remember ever sweating that much, even at heated yoga classes, so it didn’t even occur to me to take my towel into the studio with me.

How bad was it? My mat got so slick that I couldn’t even hold myself steady in the most basic poses. Not even down dog! My hands and feet would just slide out until I was seated or lying down! I might as well have been on a slip ‘n slide!

 

Wear contact lenses or remove your glasses.

For most sports, contact lenses are a better choice than glasses. I always wear contacts when racing, but if I’m just doing yoga at home, I’ll wear my glasses.

Turns out that doesn’t work so well during hot yoga. A sweaty face coupled with inversions mean your glasses might slide right off your face and onto the floor! Yep, if your glasses slide off, it typically happens when your hands and arms are twisted behind your back like a pretzel, or supporting your body weight (in down dog for instance,) making it rather difficult to catch them before impact!

Other people have had it worse, though. How? Falling flat on your face when attempting Crow pose is humiliating and uncomfortable. Falling flat on your face, snapping your glasses, and cutting your cheeks is worse.

So wear contacts or remove your glasses at the start of class.

 

Wear minimal, lightweight clothing.

The best clothing for yoga practice is minimal and lightweight. Notice I didn’t say fancy. Most fancy moisture-wicking fabrics won’t do a bit of good in a hot, humid yoga studio. Even my beloved Omni-Freeze Zero apparel was useless without a breeze to aid evaporation.

You also want great freedom of movement. Typical workout clothes can be too restrictive, especially when soaking wet. Running shorts work, basketball shorts don’t. Sleeveless shirts and tank tops work well. Cotton t-shirts… not so much.

You don’t have to go buy anything expensive. Certainly not an expensive shirt. If you ask me, the $30-60 yoga tops aren’t that much better than general workout gear. Especially considering that some guys take their shirts off.

Then what’s the deal with yoga pants? How are they so popular? Shorts are lighter, so you’d think they would be ideal, but pants are actually a better choice because they provide a little extra grip for certain poses (like tree pose.)

Anna Kohanski Mason, Co-Founder of BurnThis, chooses leggings: “A couple of the standing poses involve wrapping one leg around the other. If you are sweating up a storm then your thighs might be too slippery to nail each pose. Leggings helped me throw a little friction into the mix.”

So if you spend lots of money for one yoga item, make it yoga pants, like these ones from YogaSmoga.

Socks? None.

“Clean feet are also a good idea since you’ll be barefoot, and of course, bring a hair tie!,” says Kyra Williams, who is perhaps better known as The Get in Shape Girl.

Want to preserve some modesty? Wear something that won’t be see-through when saturated with sweat.

 

Take a water bottle.

When you’re sweating this much, you have to stay hydrated, so take a water bottle. A real water bottle, not store-bought bottled water. I suggest a good reusable bottle that’s easy to drink from quickly.

I like my CamelBak Podium Ice since it won’t spill if knocked over, yet it’s super fast when you need to get a drink. And it keeps water cold even in a 95 degree room!

A Sigg or Klean Kanteen may fit in better, but it takes longer to unscrew the lid and get a drink from those, interrupting your flow.

 

But don’t drink too much.

You want to stay hydrated, but you don’t want a full bladder. Generally you will sip from your bottle as necessary, but do the bulk of your re-hydration after class.

On a similar note, be sure to use bathroom beforehand! A full stomach or bladder is going to be uncomfortable!

“Do NOT drink tons of water before going. Staying hydrated is important but touching your toes or doing a twist with the feeling that you have to use the bathroom is anything but relaxing.”

Sam L.
Santa Monica, CA
@samlonigro

Don’t eat too much, either. “Many vinyasa classes include a lot of twists which stimulate the digestive system as it is, so having an empty or empty-ish stomach will help prevent this awkward feeling!,” adds Kyra.

 

Arrive early. Your instructor, classmates, and friends will appreciate it.

You want to be checked in, dressed, in the classroom, mat spread out, and sitting relaxed for at least a few minutes before the class starts. This gives your body some time to acclimate to the temperature and your mind some time to forget your worries and focus on the moment.

Try to arrive at the studio 10-15 minutes before class is scheduled to start. This will give you time to get ready while allowing any previous class session to clear out.

That means, be at the door, ready to walk in, 10-15 minutes before class. The last thing you want to do is be late. If you’re a few minutes late, you’ll walk in and interrupt class, and it will take you a while to get focused and catch up with everyone else. More than a few minutes late and you’ll be locked out. Both suck, and yes, both happened to me!

There was one class where I walked in late, piled my stuff in the back corner, and finally got into a rhythm by the time class was over. One time I got to the studio with what I thought was plenty of time to spare, but by the time I found a parking spot, I was so far away that I couldn’t run back to the studio in time! Then there were the times I sat in traffic for so long that I had to turn around and drive home before even getting to the studio!

“Always go early. A friend was meeting me, but she didn’t show up until a few minutes into class and stood at the door whispering my name. The instructor stopped class and asked, ‘Can I help you?’ I tried to pretend I didn’t know her, but as soon as she saw me, she scrambled over the sea of mats to set up next to me. That instructor still gives me dirty looks.”

Sam Bastianini
Pittsburgh, PA
@sambastianini

 

Mentally prepare yourself for the heat.

I don’t like training in the heat. In the summer, I like to finish my training by 8am. I’ll take the cold any day.

But the heat is nothing new for me. I’ve raced numerous times in the afternoon sun on hot, humid days (about 95 degrees and 95% humidity.) So I figured hot yoga would be the same.

I was wrong!

There’s something different about working out indoors, in a confined room, with the heat cranked up. It’s a type of stuffiness just not found outdoors.

With your towels, lightweight clothing, and water, you’ll be prepared physically. But you also want to be prepared mentally. Don’t let the heat take you by surprise!

It might make you second guess yourself, as was the case with Amanda, who shared this experience with me:

“The heat took me by surprise for sure – I have never worked out in over 100 degree heat before – and for 90 minutes!! I was thinking in my head during the class, ‘what have I gotten myself into?? There’s no way I can do this!!'”

Amanda Oneal
St. Pete, FL
@itsmemandylee

 

Learn the names and poses (or you will flail awkwardly.)

My first day at the studio, I was lucky enough to know most of the basic poses, but I didn’t know many of the names. And in some cases, I knew one name for the pose, only to discover that there were two names for that pose! I had to wait and see what everyone else did before I would know what to do.

I could do eagle, dancer, half moon, crane, etc., but if you said eagle or dancer or half moon, or something like flip dog, I wouldn’t know what to do!

Even worse, what is Garudasana? That’s eagle pose. Yep, two names, both interchangeable.

What about Bakasana? That’s crow pose. Or “crane,” which is also used! Three names for one pose!!

I feel bad for people who don’t even know the basic poses. I had a hard enough time following along when I knew about 75% of the poses we did.

You’ll flail around, awkwardly and uncomfortably, if you don’t know how to get into the poses. There is hope though, because there are so many resources out there! Yoga Journal has pictures of every pose plus tips on how to get into them.

 

Realize that you don’t need to “look like you belong there.”

Finally, relax.

These tips are just to help you get your own body and mind ready and avoid mishaps that will make it less enjoyable for you. Looking like you belong there? Doesn’t matter!

Does this sound like you?

“I had wanted to try yoga for years but the fear of a public class was enough to dissuade me for 10+ years. I’m a bit on the shy side and it just overwhelmed me to think I’d stumble through class with all eyes on me. To my surprise it was NOT the most terrifying experience on earth, in fact it was quite the opposite. No one judged, no one competed, and really no one watched – well maybe they did, but they sure didn’t gawk. Everyone is caught up in their own practice even though it truly is a communal endeavor. My best advice to those looking to try yoga? Don’t psyche yourself out. People are in class to practice and are generally very supportive of each other. Don’t compare yourself to anyone else. Everyone learns at their own pace. Just because the person next to you is busting out a complicated pose doesn’t mean you’re a failure if you can’t do it.”

Adrianne Buchta
San Diego, CA
@dos_dedos

There’s really nothing to worry about. “Everyone’s first time is nerve-racking,” says Catherine Gignac (one of my favorite teachers at Amazing Yoga.) “Give yourself props for trying something new and don’t worry if you don’t know all the poses right away.”

Go ahead and give it a shot. If you don’t try, you’ll never know…

“I had been doing yoga on my own for several years. At first I was afraid to step into a classroom. I was worried that I would look silly or lost. When I finally did attend my first yoga class I loved it. My biggest regret is not going sooner. Nothing can prepare you for the feeling of support and unity you feel doing yoga in a group. It was a truly amazing experience that I should have enjoyed years earlier, but my fear and pride had prevented me from attending.”

Padma Kisa
Georgetown, TX
@yogakyttn

 

More stories from people just like you who started slow but now love yoga class!

Most people I talked to had a rough experience at their first yoga class. The reasons were different across the board, but you know what everyone had in common? They now love yoga!

Check out these stories if you’re in need of a little inspiration:

“My first class was so awkward, I was trying to follow the instructor and ended up facing the wrong direction, staring at the rest of the class. Not zen! I think the first 5 classes or so are always like that, you’re learning new movements, new terminology. I always tell my friends who are newly starting yoga that they need to stick with it for 5-6 classes before they decide if they like it. Once you’ve got the rhythm of the classes down, you’ll love it. It’s a great stress reliever and does a pretty nice job toning as well!”

Lindsay Narain
New York, NY
@WearVaughan

 

“When I attended my first yoga class, I was TERRIBLE. I had no upper body strength and couldn’t do a single push-up. Of course, I didn’t know any of the poses either, so I was awkwardly flailing around trying to follow the class. I felt embarrassed and also amazed that everyone else seemed to follow along so easily. In short, it was a humbling and frustrating experience, but as I walked out of that first class, I realized, “Wow, I feel really good. I want to do this again.” And from then on, I was hooked. Each class, I felt myself growing stronger and more flexible.

Four years later, I’m the yogini in the front row practicing arm balances. Sometimes I’ll notice newcomers in class, who seem timid or embarrassed. None of them is ever as bad as I was that first day! I never say anything, but I want to tell them: Don’t feel embarrassed. No one is looking at you. We were all beginners at one point. No matter how weak or stiff you feel now, yoga will change you, slowly but surely. Poses that look impossible today might be easy in a year or two.

Kim Terca
San Francisco
@kimterca

 

“When I went to my first yoga class, I rented a mat and was told to place it within the tape lines. I was so confused, and of course, when I got into the actual room I was overwhelmed by the heat and humidity. As class went on I smelled a few funky smells, I got dripped on by another man’s sweat, I thought I was going to faint once when I stood up too quickly and I nearly had a panic attack because the humidity and closeness to the people next to me was just too much. A lot has changed since then. I was aware of all the benefits and was determined to do it. Now I can master intermediate level poses. I always place my mat at the front of the room and embrace the humidity and even a little bit of neighbor’s sweat!

Kyra Williams
Boston, MA
@getnshapegirl

 

Maybe it’s not for you. That’s OK.

Maybe yoga class isn’t for you. Maybe you want to go, but it doesn’t fit your schedule or your budget. I understand. At 60-90 minutes long and $10-20 for each class, plus travel and parking expenses, it’s a substantial investment. Especially if your time and money is focused on cycling, running, or triathlon.

If that’s the case, check out some of the free online classes. One of my favorites is the YouTube channel Yoga with Adriene. She has so many videos there’s got to be something that you’ll like. Here’s one of them:

That class is called “Full Body Awareness” and what athlete couldn’t benefit from that?

Looking for a DVD in case you don’t have internet access? One of my all-time favorites is the Element Hatha & Flow Yoga For Beginners DVD featuring Tamal Dodge.

 

Hopefully you learned something and are now inspired to give yoga a shot!

Any questions? Post them in the comments!

 

Photo credit: The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas

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2 Comments
  1. If I had had the same exerperience as you, I probably would not have gone back a second time!!

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Hi, I'm Coach Levi. I'm a USA Cycling Certified Level 3 Coach as well as Level 1 Certified with Precision Nutrition. Want to feel better, ride faster, and look great? Let's work together!

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