If you just started practicing yoga and you love it, congratulations! It is exciting to get to know your body, learn how to honor both your strengths and limitations, and find a steadiness physically and emotionally through yoga. However, with shelves of all sorts of accoutrements for the practice yoga may seem a little daunting. You might wonder what all this gear is for.
Here’s a little guide to a couple of the props that are used frequently in yoga classes, and also what ones you may want to have on hand if you are starting out a home yoga practice.
This post will cover the two most important – a yoga mat and block. We will publish Yoga Props part 2 in the next few days, which will cover other props such as blankets, straps and bolsters.
The most important prop, a yoga mat is something you will want to have for yourself, even though most studios will lend you a mat. Though at my studio I am quite fastidious about having students clean their mats with my naturally disinfecting mat spray when they are done using them, I have been to other studios or gyms where the mats get cleaned, shall we say, once in a blue moon? Granted, I am a bit body-fluid-phobic, but some postures have my face resting on my mat – and my face is probably resting where somebody else’s sweaty feet were in the previous class. So, I have my own mat and take it with me wherever I practice.
Yoga mats have a wide range of options and prices, starting from cheapies under $10 and higher end mats up to over $100. If you are a beginner and trying out a yoga practice, you probably want to get a mat that is decent quality to support rather than hinder your practice, but not expensive.
We at ActivewearUSA recommend the Jade yoga mats. The Harmony is inexpensive, it doesn’t slip and it is lightweight. It is our most popular yoga mat as it is the perfect balance of traction and cushion.
If you are shopping for a yoga mat yourself, make sure you get one that says “yoga mat” on the label and not “exercise mat.” Exercise mats tend to be thick, i.e. plenty of padding for doing crunches, but too thick for yoga. The extra thick exercise mats can cause you to be unstable or even to turn your ankle in some standing postures. They also tend to stretch, so standing postures will gradually get wider and wider… Imagine starting in a lunge and ending up in the splits as the mat stretches!
Also, if you are shopping for yourself, I would suggest getting a mat that is 3/16 inch or 1/4 inch thick, not the super thin ones you can find at department stores. Slightly thicker mats are more comfortable for seated/reclining postures.
Super cheap mats that are around the $10 price range tend to be pretty slippery. As someone new to yoga, you definitely don’t want to have to worry about your hands or feet slipping around in standing postures or downward facing dog.
Sometimes a new yoga mat smells when you first purchase it; you’ve heard of “new car smell,” how about “new mat smell?” Hang it up somewhere away from the sun and other heat sources, and let it air out for a few days if the smell bothers you.
Yoga blocks are, in my opinion, the most essential prop for your practice after a mat. Yoga blocks are commonly used for a few basic purposes.
1. To elevate the hips in seated postures.
Elevating the hips when sitting on the floor can help with a number of issues. Since we spend so much time sitting in chairs, our hips, legs and backs generally do not have the flexibility required to sit comfortably on the floor. If you try sitting on the floor yourself, you may find your back rounds, your knees are high off the floor and you may find you have to hold yourself somehow with your arms. When you elevate the hips a bit, it will allow your spine to lengthen and find its neutral curves, and also the hips to start to soften, allowing the knees to come closer to in line with the hips.
Elevating the hips can also take pressure off the knees in certain postures, if deep flexion of the knees is not something your body is ready to practice.
If i.e. Hero’s Pose (virasana) is too strenuous on the knees, you can elevate the hips with a block so the knees are comfortable.
2. To make the floor an easier reach.
The full variation of various standing yoga postures with a hand or two on the floor, such as side angle pose or triangle pose, may not be accessible to many practitioners. Placing a block under the hand allows you to find your full expression of the posture with safe alignment.
Triangle (trikonasana) with torso falling forward toward the inside of the leg in an effort to reach the floor.
Using blocks under the hands in standing forward bends helps to protect the low back if you have a tight low back or hamstrings.
3. To support or prop up the body in a certain position.
Many times blocks are used to keep the body supported in a certain position, usually a position where your body is intended to relax and soften into the props.
There are many additional uses for blocks, but hopefully the uses above will convince you of the utility of a yoga block! For yoga block recommendations, I recommend either a cork block like this one or a firm foam block like this one. If you are shopping for one yourself, make sure you get one that is 4 inches thick, as the thicker ones are more stable and supportive. If you opt for a foam block, make sure it isn’t too “squishy.” To test for squish, place the block on its tall end and sit on it. The block shouldn’t squish down with your weight, but should keep its shape and feel firm and stable.
Read our second part of a beginner’s guide for yoga props.
Originally published at: http://yogahuman.blogspot.com/2015/02/beginners-guide-to-yoga-props-part-1.html