If the thought of your first yoga class leaves you anxious and unsure of yourself, relax … yoga is intended to remove stress, not add to it! Reassure yourself that every single person in that class, including the instructor, were beginning yoga students at some point in their lives, so you aren’t going to ask any questions that haven’t been asked a million times before. It is also true that yoga students absolutely love yoga and are anxious to share helpful tips and pointers with anyone who will listen, so don’t be afraid to ask questions.

But before you attend your first yoga class, it doesn’t hurt to brush up on a few tips. The following suggestions will help you choose a class that is best for beginners, and hold you head confidently when you unroll your yoga mat for the first time.

1. Invest in your own mat. Sure, they offer them at the gym, but do you really you’re your forehead pressed where somebody else’s sweaty feet were just standing?

2. Wear the right shirt. There is nothing more distracting than trying to hold your down-dog while your T-shirt is billowing around your face. While you don’t have to invest in a separate wardrobe for yoga, you might want to spring for one or two exercise tops made of Lycra that cling enough to stay put when you’re upside down.

3. Bring water. Yoga is designed to heat up the body, and it works. Even if you’re class is not a Bikram or Hot Yoga class, you’ll find yourself panting and sweating before it’s over. If you don’t, you aren’t working hard enough.

4. Bring a small towel. A small hand towel from home makes a great face mop, and does double duty as an exercise strap when stretching.

5. Honor thy neighbor. If you don’t plan to stay for the meditation that follows most yoga classes, leave before it starts. That means picking up your shoes, mat and other belongings and quietly slipping out after the last active pose.

6. Ignore thy neighbor. If the gal on the mat next to you is wrapping her ankles around her forehead, just breathe out to “release all judgment and expectation” of your own practice. After all, she probably can’t bench press her body weight like you can, but we won’t judge her for that, will we? Just breathe.

7. Ask for modifications. There may be some yoga poses that just don’t feel right for you. For example, if you have a weak lower back, the classic Up Dog pose can be very uncomfortable. Your teacher shold be able to suggest a lower option for just about every yoga pose, such as the Baby Cobra pose to replace the Up Dog pose in our example. If your instructor doesn’t offer modifications, find a different yoga class.

Which Yoga Style is Best For Beginners?

Yoga is a bit like religion: each practitioner is tempted to branch off and develop his or her own denomination of yoga. The result is dozens (probably hundreds) of styles of yoga that all do essentially the same things, but each with a different twist.

So one of the most difficult decisions for beginning yoga students is simply choosing the right class. Let’s look at three of the most popular styles of yoga to help you decide which kind of yoga is best for you.

Hatha Yoga
Hatha yoga is a classic, Westernized, form of yoga. It emphasizes basic stretching but with an emphasis on coordinating your breath to the movements. There is no chanting, and only a short meditation, if any, at the end of the class. Because of its basic form, which allows for plenty of modification of the poses, Hatha yoga is a very accessible style of yoga for beginners.

Several of the newer varieties of yoga have branched off from Hatha, including Bikram yoga, which utilizes 26 of the original Hatha poses. But because Bikram yoga is usually done in a super hot room at 105 degrees, most beginners would prefer to learn the poses in a traditional Hatha class before adding the additional component of heat.

Vinyasa Yoga
Vinyasa yoga is really any form of yoga that emphasizes the continuous flow of movement without stopping in between moves. But there are yoga classes that specifically bill themselves as Vinyasa-style classes. These yoga classes are great for beginners, as the instructors tend to give a great deal of verbal cues and offer modifications for the more advanced poses. Most novice yoga students would be very comfortable starting out in a Vinyasa yoga class.

Kundalini Yoga
Kundalini yoga is also a good choice for beginning, as it emphasizes intense breathing exercises to release energy in the body. The poses themselves are classic yoga positions, designed to increase flexibility.

Ashtanga yoga
Ashtanga is a very popular form of yoga in the Western Hemisphere. It is one of the more athletic forms of yoga and is sometimes called Power Yoga. The poses are fairly intense and are designed for strength, stamina and flexibility. Beginners should probably try Hatha, Vinyasa, or Kundalini yoga before graduating to Ashtanga. But if the only yoga class at your local gym happens to be Ashtanga, then go for it, but ask the instructor to offer lower options for the more challenging poses.