Of all the various fitness classes that gyms offer, yoga is probably the one that people are most familiar with. A 2016 survey found that 36.7 million American adults currently practice yoga, a 50 percent increase since 2012.
If you’re interested in trying yoga, you might have a lot of questions. You know you’ll be on a yoga mat, but do you have to bring your own? You know yoga pants are a thing, but what if you don’t actually own any? And most of all, you’ve seen some of those crazy poses—what if you can’t even touch your toes?
Here are tips so you know exactly what to expect at your first yoga class, according to Alexandra Bernal, a fitness instructor in New York City.
1. Wear clothes that are easy to move in.
Yoga-specific clothing has inspired a whole new category of attire (hello, athleisure), but these spandex items are optional. Just remember: You’re going to be doing a lot of bending, twisting, and reaching, and you want clothes that can allow all that movement.
“You should wear comfortable clothing that you can easily move in,” says Bernal. “Workout clothes such as leggings or sweatpants that let you move freely are ideal.”
As for tops, form-fitting tank tops or shirts may work better than your loose gym tees. “Sometimes when we lean forward or our head goes down, your top may rise up and you may feel like stopping and fixing yourself,” says Bernal, “which can disrupt your own practice.”
And finally, yes, yogis really do practice barefoot. Being barefoot allows for better movement and balance. Some poses even require going up on the toes or grabbing the toes. Socks might be acceptable in some studios if you’re uncomfortable being barefoot, but be advised that socks can cause you to slip around in certain poses.
2. You don’t have to be flexible to go to a yoga class.
While increasing flexibility is one of the health benefits of yoga, you don’t need to be flexible to start practicing yoga (just like you don’t need to be in shape to join a gym). “Yoga is not about flexibility. It is about moving your body and keeping your mind focused on the breath, the practice, and the room,” says Bernal.
Never worry about how your poses compare to your neighbor’s. If you ever find yourself unable to do a pose or hold it, you are allowed and encouraged to “break” the pose and go back to an easier pose, such as child’s pose. Remember, the poses should challenge you, but they should never be painful.
“There are modifications for every pose and all levels are always welcome. You can use yoga blocks and listen to the instructor as we give options for you to modify,” says Bernal. The instructor will help you find poses that allow you to maintain good posture of the spine, which is more important than being limber.
Consider speaking to your yoga instructor before class to “mention any injuries or concerns you may have, or simply let them know it’s your first time so they can assist if needed,” says Bernal.
3. Be mindful of studio etiquette.
“Yoga is about focusing on your breath, your body, and your mind,” says Bernal. “Therefore, yoga studios want to provide a peaceful environment for practice.”
An unspoken rule in most yoga studios is to avoid noisily arriving late or leaving early. Most yoga classes begin and end with meditative stretches or poses (such as corpse pose), and one yogi packing up and letting the door crash shut behind them disrupts everyone’s well-earned zen. Arrive early, and respect the volume levels: Quiet or silence is usually the norm right before class. (During class, of course, avoid talking at all.)
That’s not the only way to be a team player: “Yoga is about community as much as it is about focusing on yourself, so if the class gets crowded, we are always eager to move our own mats and make room for more people,” says Bernal.
Lastly, it’s okay if you don’t have your own mat. Most studios or gyms offer mats (sometimes for a small rental fee). Always, always, always clean your mat at the end of class with the available spray bottle and rags, and then roll it back up and put it away where you found it.
Still nervous about visiting your nearby yoga studio? Try these yoga sequences to help you learn a few key poses in the privacy of your own home.