The Leery Beginner's Guide To Yoga

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I’ve never been more terrified about farting accidentally than I was before my first yoga class. It didn’t matter that I had been doing yoga in the comfort of my apartment for five (mostly) flatulence free months. The thing that I was most worried about when I walked into the modest yoga studio in my Brooklyn neighborhood was letting one rip.

Turns out I’m not the only one! When I talked with Lindsay Carson, a yoga instructor at my local Equinox, she brought it up before I could even ask. “Every guy tells me they can’t do yoga because they’ll fart in class,” she said, laughing. “Who decided this? You won’t! Even if you do, be a man and just move on. Yoga is about being comfortable in your own body.” Taking instruction to “be comfortable in your own body” may sound a little out there, but it turns out that’s what yoga is all about. And it’s totally worth it.

Why You Should Try Yoga

It’s not just meditating. It’s also not just for hip moms who push around expensive strollers. Yoga is a full-body workout that is embraced by everyone from NFL cornerbacks to schlubby dads. If you’re super stressed, it should help calm you down. If you’re always nursing aches and pains, it will target your deficiencies. “Physically you’ll get a full-body workout. I can’t tell you how many times I discovered muscles I didn’t even know I had,” Carson says. “Mentally getting into your body, learning to calmly breathe through anything—no matter how uncomfortable—can provide clarity and stress relief on and off the mat. Personally, pre-yoga I was prone to panic attacks that would leave me hyperventilating. Now I have enough breath control that I can actively slow myself down and remain calm despite my surroundings.”


Ask yourself this: when was the last time you could touch your toes? How badly does your lower back hurt from sitting at your soul-crushing desk job all day? Yoga can help remedy that. The focus on strength, breathing, and balance also helps in other physical pursuits, whether it’s beer league softball or your first Tough Mudder. Really, it serves as maintenance your body needs—it helps increase flexibility and strengthen your core. Nearly every athletic feat I’ve attempted in my adult life—from marathons to, yes, beer league media softball—has been derailed by muscle imbalances and world-class inflexibility. In six months time, yoga has changed that.

Preparing For A Class

If you wouldn’t typically eat an infant-sized burrito 30 minutes before a run or soccer game, don’t eat an infant-sized burrito 30 minutes before yoga. No need to change your pre-exercise routine. Eat a small, light snack well before your class; a banana, yogurt, dried fruit, or nuts work just fine. Do what you would normally do before any other class!


The same goes for clothes. Wear whatever you normally would to exercise. (Note: Do *not* wear baggy shorts with boxers. Wear boxer briefs. You’re an adult. No one needs to see up your shorts during a shoulder stand.) Seriously, though, don’t be fooled by the bougie elite’s marketing of yoga. You don’t need to go on a shopping spree for yoga-specific gear because, despite what advertisers and your studios will tell you, it doesn’t exist. Whatever workout gear you own will suffice as long as you’re comfortable and able to move freely.

You won’t even need your own mat at first. Most studios already have them available to classes. Be nice and make sure to wipe your mat down when you’re finished, or some unsuspecting person in the next class will be forced to lay their face in a pool of your dried butt sweat. If you find that you enjoy yoga (you probably will!), you can purchase your own mat.


What Class Is Right For You?

Ease into it. Carson recommends starting with a basics class (some studios call it slow flow or fundamentals). “They’ll give you the building blocks to keep you from getting overwhelmed in a vinyasa class,” she says. Once you’ve learned those fundamentals—it won’t take more than one or two classes—vinyasa, which involves flowing seamlessly between poses, is probably your best bet. “An active vinyasa class tends to appeal more to athletes,” says Carson. You can try hatha—a more gentle and meditative yoga where the poses are held longer—but if you want to work up a sweat (and listen to music) go for vinyasa. As for hot yoga? It’s great for stiff dudes, but hold off until you’ve built some strength and tolerance.


Personally, I tend to hate the classes that are heavy on chanting and breathing exercises; I like yoga because it works on my core and loosens my brittle hamstrings and fragile groin. Since yoga is such a personal thing, I’d recommend finding what you like and sticking with it. I found a lovely yoga instructor in Brooklyn who plays Erykah Badu and mellow Hendrix jams—because of fucking course there’s a yoga instructor in Brooklyn who plays Erykah Badu and mellow Hendrix jams—and is legitimately interested in making me better. Which is far superior to the Now That’s What I Call Zen Yoga 10! soundtrack and an unhelpful instructor who barks out poses in Sanskrit.

Don’t Be Intimidated, No One Knows What They’re Doing

This isn’t a soft-focus Lululemon ad, filled exclusively with lithe bodies in sensible spandex capris. There are varying shapes, sizes, and skill levels in every class—which is what makes it so great. You won’t be the only dude either! And you will look like a beginner. But that’s OK—so will the tall lanky reporter in spandex next to you.


When I started going to yoga, I was worried I’d look like a clown. “No one knows what they’re doing,” my friend assured me. And he’s right! Those fitness obsessives who post insane yoga headstands on Instagram? They gaze around the class confused, too. Luckily, yoga instructors are a warming lot; they’re properly trained to understand how each pose affects your body. They will typically ask before class if you’re nursing any injuries and try to feel out your general vibe. Do not be afraid to speak up and say, I don’t know what the hell I’m doing. That’s what they’re here for. They’re more than happy to help.

Don’t Push It

The worst thing you can do is stretch too far and turn an injury-prevention exercise into an injury. “If the pose is confusing, look around for modifications,” Carson says. “The instructor is there to help you, so if you’re lost—ask for help.” If it hurts, stop. This isn’t rivalry weekend. You’re here to better yourself, not tear your hamstring doing Warrior I. The key is to do the moves correctly and develop strength and flexibility to ease further into them as you go. If something feels wrong, it’s a good sign you should stop and ask for help.


Best Of All, It’s Actually Affordable

The beauty of yoga classes is they’re non-committal in nature. It’s just an hour! You’re not signing up for a marathon six months down the road. And it isn’t a hefty year-long gym membership. Pick a studio that offers drop-in—Brooklyn Yoga Collective, where I go, offers classes on a sliding scale: pay what you want from $7-15—and drop-in to your heart’s desire. If you don’t like it, you’re not on the hook for dues.


Bill Bradley is a writer and reporter living in Brooklyn. His work has appeared in GQ, Men’s Fitness, Runner’s World, Vanity Fair, and many others. Follow him on Twitter @billbradley3.


Image by Tara Jacoby.

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