Yes, Yoga Is Actually A Good Workout

Everyone seems to be a yogi these days, from your BFF to your co-worker to your aunt—heck, even dogs and goats are getting their zen on. But if you have yet to attempt Warrior II or Mountain Pose, taking your first yoga class can be a little intimidating. What if your hands sweat and you fall off the mat? What if you hate it? What if you can’t do a single. damn. pose?

Okay, rewind a second—there’s a reason so many people have hopped on a mat over the past few years. “Yoga is a non-judgmental practice,” says Claire Ewing, certified yoga instructor and studio marketing manager for CorePower Yoga. It’s is a totally accessible way to unwind and break a sweat, so there’s nothing to worry about before checking out a class.

But to help you feel a little more comfortable before you say your first “om” or “namaste,” Ewing has some yoga tips to answer all those questions floating around your head.

What type of yoga is best for beginners?

When in doubt, Ewing says opt for a vinyasa flow class, “where you have the opportunity to explore the postures and fundamental principles of yoga.” These are the types of classes most of your friends probably do, and it’s a great form of yoga for beginners. But of course, it never hurts to check out a couple different types of classes to see what feels best to you.

Oh, and skip anything heated your first go-round, advises Ewing, until you’re a little more comfortable with the movement and poses of yoga.

What types of clothes should you wear to your first class?

“Definitely go for something breathable and easy to move in,” says Ewing. “You will work up a sweat, so consider wearing something with moisture-wicking abilities.” Oh and FYI: Yoga is a no-shoes kind of workout, so don’t worry about sporting your best sneakers to class.

If you want some inspo on yoga pants, check out these great options:

Is it best to do yoga on an empty stomach?

Like with any workout, it’s totally a personal preference how much you fuel pre-yoga. But Ewing points out that yoga is a pretty intense workout, and fueling your body properly will help you get the most out of your practice. Keep it light, though, “I usually start with a protein shake or bar knowing that the classes can physically take you in dynamic directions,” says Ewing. (A.k.a. don’t down that massive avo toast right before class.) If you’re just having a small pre-workout snack, you can probably do that about 30 minutes beforehand; but wait a full one to two hours before working out after a meal.

She adds that hydrating beforehand is also key, especially if you ever do attempt a heated flow. “Drink a full glass of water about two hours before class—that way you have something to sweat out and you will feel better during class.”

But is yoga actually a good workout?

“Absolutely!” says Ewing. “A regular yoga practice increases flexibility and strength in your muscles. It has you work your full range of motion in every joint of your body and build strong and long muscles.” (In fact, vinyasa yoga even made this list of the top calorie-burning workouts.)

She adds that yoga can help increase circulation, and “the meditative benefits of a complete yoga practice result in a calmer state of mind, which reduces stress and promotes happiness.”

How long will I have to hold the poses?

This depends on the type of yoga class you take—for example, a slow flow or hatha class may require you to hold a pose for an extended period of time. But in vinyasa, “it comes down to the intention of how the posture was designed,” says Ewing. “For example, balancing poses are held longer to benefit concentration and focus, while transition postures build strength while teaching fluidity in movement.”

For the most part, though, poses are held for three to five breaths during the first round to help them sink into your memory. Then they’re held for a single breath when you repeat the pose, to help amp up the cardio component of yoga.

Okay, but what if I can’t do some of the poses?

Don’t stress! No one expects you to master every pose your first go-round (or really, ever—it’s a constant learning process). Your yoga instructor should offer options for pose modifications, especially for the more challenging ones. “Your breath is key in yoga, if you are losing sight of this, you may want to consider modifying or completely backing off,” says Ewing. And don’t be afraid to ask your instructor for assistance.

Also, try to avoid comparing yourself to the other yogis in the room—all bodies are unique, and have varied strengths and challenges. Plus, every time you step on the mat, it’s going to feel a little different, “for both your body and your mind,” says Ewing. “If there is one thing you can take away from the classroom, it is learning how to modify and create a practice that is fit for you.”

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