While yoga is my personal exercise of choice, many others find it intimidating. Requests for friends to join me are always met with "I'm not really a yoga person" or "I'm not flexible enough." But the truth is, yoga classes aren't just a sea of perfectly toned, spandex-clad bodies; yoga can be for everyone. We asked two experts for their advice on enhancing your experience. Whether you have no clue what downward dog is or have already perfected the headstand, follow these five tips and let your inner yogi shine.
1. Fuel Up Before and Re-Fuel After
Rushing to the studio right after work? Eating may completely slip your mind, but it's important to grab a light snack beforehand. Mandy Ingber, author of Yogalosophy and the trainer behind Jennifer Aniston's toned physique, recommends options like half of a banana or 10 almonds. If you're really on-the-go, throw an Elemental Raw seed bar in your bag. Don't ruin all of your hard work afterward by eating junk! Ingber suggests that "a protein smoothie, a salad chock full of veggies, or wild-caught salmon" make an ideal post-workout meal.
2. Be Prepared
No need to spend a month's worth of rent on fancy workout gear. Try opting for something formfitting and simple. Hiding underneath a baggy tee might make you may feel less self-conscious, but loose clothing will ultimately distract you and make certain poses more difficult. "It can be hard to get into inversions or arm balances if your clothes are getting in the way," says Sarah Levey, co-founder of New York based yoga studio Y7. Also be sure to arrive at least 15 minutes early to get settled in. According to Ingber, "The last thing you want is to spend the entire class getting rid of the stress you created by getting there!" Lastly, make sure you have three essentials: a non-slip mat, a small towel, and a bottle of water to stay hydrated.
3. Tune Everyone Else Out
"No yogi, beginner or advanced, should feel that they are being judged or watched by others. Every person's body is in a different place—you just have to do what you can and not worry about where others are in their practice. This is about you, not anyone else," says Levey. While it can be tempting to compare yourself to your classmates, stay focused on yourself. Recognize your own abilities and limitations and remember that you should never, ever feel like you're straining. "Don’t worry if you are inflexible. The only difference between a bendy person and someone who is less so, is that the flexible person has to go farther to get the same stretch," says Ingber.
4. Stop Being Your Own Worst Critic
New yogis shouldn't feel defeated if certain poses or movements are too advanced. Ingber urges newcomers to "take breaks as needed. Child’s pose is A-okay!" If you are more comfortable practicing in the back row, that's fine too! Levey offers a similar sentiment: "Have fun with it and don't be so hard on yourself—there is no point in getting frustrated if you keep falling out of warrior III or can't hold your high lunge—nothing will ever be perfect—that's why it's called a yoga practice!"
5. Keep That Post-Class Calm
Feeling all relaxed afterward? Great! Levey advises to "remember your breath. Throughout the practice and especially in Savasana, you are encouraged to focus on your breath. Bringing attention to the inhale and exhale rhythm can help retain that feeling of peace." Ingber suggests creating a ritual of tea or a hot shower afterward. Feeling a little sore? Try Yuni's Muscle Recovery Gel ($15; yunibeauty.com). Specifically made with yogis in mind, the non-sticky, roll-on formula contains invigorating peppermint essential oils that produce a relaxing cooling effect.