One of the questions I receive multiple times a week is what do I need to start practicing yoga? Below are some props I recommend buying if practicing mainly at home, or have at your mat if you go to a class. (Studios and teachers will usually provide the most common props, so you don’t need to bring your own unless you’re a germaphobe and don’t want to use what another sweaty person may have touched before you).
I am a firm believer in that you don’t need fancy equipment or clothes to practice yoga. From the ages of 12 to 20, I used the floor, then when I lived with three guys and a dog and needed a barrier between my face and the floor, I bought a $20 mat from Target. I used that mat for three years, until I was doing more advanced classes and needed something sturdier. This is my opinion and recommendation based on my experience, I’m not reimbursed or sponsored by these companies, and it also doesn’t mean you should buy the same brand that I use or that specific brand will work for you.
Each student has a specific reason for why she loves her mat, and why she doesn’t like this brand or that brand’s mat. I love my Manduka Pro yoga mat. Others will only practice on a Lululemon mat, or a Jade Yoga mat or another brand’s mat. There are numerous types, sizes, and weights of yoga mats, usually you can find a longer length for you long-legged people. If you’re looking to upgrade or buy a different mat, ask the students around you what they like or don’t like, or ask to practice on their mat for a class. (If you’re in one of my classes, you can always ask to test out my mat, as usually I’m walking around the room anyway).
There are numerous blocks out there, usually foam or cork (heavier but sturdier). I have two Gaiam foam blocks (I think I bought mine from Amazon, but you can find them everywhere from Wal-Mart to Barnes & Noble). Blocks help when you can’t reach the ground or you need more support (rotate it to use all three sizes/levels) without causing strain to your back, neck, legs, hips. I use mine almost every time I practice.
“I can’t do yoga because I can’t even touch my toes!” You don’t need to touch your toes to practice yoga, you just need a yoga strap (find them online or right next to the yoga blocks in a store). They come in various lengths (if you have long legs, buy a longer one). I also use my strap almost every time I practice. I wrap it around my arms in pincha mayurasana to keep my elbows from splaying to the sides, I wrap it around my feet, hold onto the straps and lift my leg in front or behind me, or when I’m sitting with my legs extended, I’ll wrap it around both feet, hold onto the strap and lean forward, so I’m not straining my back, shoulders, legs, or neck just to touch my toes.
Blankets & Bolsters
After completing my 200 hour teaching certification in Omaha, I can admit that I’m a yoga prop snob. By the last week of classes, I would grab two blocks, a strap, a big bolster, and if I could, two blankets. For years I didn’t think I needed blankets and bolsters, but I. LOVE. THEM. We will use at least the blankets in almost every class that I teach from now on. Do you need to go buy a $20 Yoga-specific blanket to practice at home? No, just use towels or a throw that you have lying around. Blankets are your go-to for anything and everything in yoga. I especially like one rolled underneath my neck, or if you have knee problems, place a folded blanket under your hip in Pigeon pose, or in the crevice of your knees in Child’s pose, or when practicing Camel pose (see below), place under your knees for more cushioning,
Every once in a while, I’ll teach a Restorative Yoga class and that is when you will truly use all the available props, which is why most Restorative classes are limited to only a handful of students.
No matter what fancy mat you buy, if you are a sweaty person, you will find that your hands and feet will slip on the mat, or if you’re in a Power class with 50 other people, or if you’re practicing on your deck in 90 degree weather. I have a Yogitoes Yoga Towel that I lay on top of my mat for those specific instances. It’s a towel on top to help absorb moisture, but with grippers on the bottom so it doesn’t slide all over your mat. This definitely isn’t a necessity if you are just starting to practice, as they can be expensive ($60-$80), but it does help, especially in the summer or a Hot Yoga class.
Remember that every student is different. At the beginning of class, look at the teacher’s mat to see what props he/she has so you know what you will also need, but if you have a knee injury, maybe you’ll learn that you like an extra blanket, or especially if you have a history of a shoulder injury, you’ll probably want a strap every time you practice. The more you practice, the more you’ll learn what props you like and how they can enhance your practice. Props are definitely not just for beginners. And for those practicing at home, remember you don’t have to drop $200 to start practicing, (I used an apparel belt for months before I bought an actual yoga strap), use what you have until you know yoga is right for you and then invest in better pieces when you are able.