One of the beautiful elements of yoga is that you don’t need more than a body and an intention to begin practicing. As with any exercise, however, there is equipment available to aid you throughout your practice. Most yoga flows are practiced on a yoga mat, especially if you are attending a class at a yoga and fitness studio. Depending on what style of yoga you like to practice, and the teacher you are practicing with, you may also have to use equipment to support you. You may have heard yoga teachers suggesting the use of blocks, straps, or bolsters while you practice.
If you visit a public yoga studio, you will most likely be able to access or rent all of the equipment that you need. If you are practicing from home, or a studio does not have specific equipment that you prefer, you may have to do some shopping. Buying yoga equipment can be very fun; the popularity of yoga has made yoga clothing and equipment a booming business market. Clothes and equipment are frequently advertised and given away on social media platforms by yogis who have hundreds of thousands of followers. These social media influencers and yogis have great advice about which products to purchase, but taking the time to do more research will help you make the best choice about what equipment to buy. A good mat or durable blocks will not only encourage you to practice, but certain materials will aid in flexibility and building muscle, moving you along this wonderful path of becoming a yogi.
One of the most fun elements of starting a yoga practice is shopping for yoga clothes. Apart from Kundalini yoga, where practitioners wear a wardrobe of white clothing and head coverings, there are no special clothes required to practice yoga.
Yoga is practiced by men and women of all ages and sizes. Traditional male yogis practice shirtless, with smaller shorts or a dhoti. The traditional style of yoga encourages women to wear shorter bottoms and a bandeau or sari to cover their top. Today, wearing shirts is encouraged in order to absorb sweat at the beginning of the practice, although men may remove their shirt throughout the practice or not wear it at all. (Some studios may ask that men keep a shirt on during practice, but most will allow men to remove their shirts if they are more comfortable without one.) There are plenty of sports bras and smaller shorts available for female yogis, but longer shirts and yoga pants are also available and encouraged if it makes the yogi more comfortable. Outside practices in colder weather may also call for longer pants.
Clothes can certainly be inhibiting to your practice, because yoga involves twisting, inverting, and moving your body into many shapes. Yoga clothes best assist your practice when they are comfortable and breathable, but not too loose that they fall slip off when you are inverted. Baggy clothing may also prevent the yoga teacher from getting a sense of the student’s body and alignment, and they may not be able to give proper corrections or adjustments.
Clothing that is too tight, however, has potential health risks. Sweating in tight clothing builds up moisture, and if left on too long, could cause bacteria and fungi to grow around the body. Potential conditions or growths from this buildup include:
“Jock itch,” a fungal infection
Intertrigo, an inflammation in skin folds
Dyshidrotic eczema, deep, fluid-filled blisters that are red and itchy
Tinea versicolor, a discoloration of the skin
Many of these conditions require antibiotics to go away. In order to prevent any of these conditions or the growth of fungi in the body is to remove and wash all clothes after the practice is over. Opt for moisture-wicking fabrics that absorb moisture and keep it off of your skin during the practice.
Rather than repelling moisture, moisture-wicking fabrics draw and absorb moisture in. This keeps the moisture off of the skin, and off of the mat. Too much sweat, even on the stickiest mat, will leave yogis slipping and sliding and unable to really get into the posture.
Clothes that are recommended for sports like running or other forms of exercise may not be recommended for a yoga practice. For example, polyester is a popular material for workout clothing, but leaves moisture on the skin to evaporate. Polyester is typically not recommended for yoga, but polyblends with moisture-wicking qualities are great for sweaty practices. Yogis should pick cotton yoga clothes over polyester, but should consider choosing polyblend clothing with moisture-wicking qualities over cotton clothing. Cotton on its own is a great choice for outerwear due to its breathability, although cotton can get uncomfortable once it’s wet. Cotton undergarments are not recommended during yoga since they do not dry easily.
A cotton and spandex blend is also not recommended; the combination makes the clothes heavier than cotton, and loses the ability to wick moisture. Yogis are left sweaty after practice, and face a higher risk of the infections mentioned earlier.
Bamboo is another moisture-wicking fabric that is popular among yogis. Clothes are light and breathable, but still wick moisture and even protect the skin from UV rays. Bamboo is a fast-growing plant, and appeals to yogis who keep their carbon footprint in mind while shopping. TENCEL is another moisture-wicking fabric that is similar to bamboo. Nylon is another moisture-wicking fabric found in popular yoga clothing brands.
Spandex is a popular choice for workout clothes; the material conforms to the shape of the body and wicks moisture. Spandex is also very comfortable for many yogis, and while the materials and carbon footprint make a difference in the practice, the most important element of yoga clothing is comfort. If a yogi is not comfortable wearing a certain material, they will not be able to stay focused during the class.
Compression clothing is recommended for many athletes in competitive sports; the tight-fitting clothes keep blood lactate levels low, increase blood flow to the muscles, and improve muscle efficiency. Wearing compression clothes aid in building muscle and recovering from strenuous athletic activity. Compression clothes are typically made of spandex or a similar material. Yogis who are prone to soreness or cramps may benefit from wearing compression clothing. Wearing compression clothing also gives yogis a heightened sense of their bodies and how they are moving. While compression clothing is useful for vinyasa and power yoga, it will not be necessary to wear for restorative or yin yoga.
When it comes to footwear, yogis also typically practice barefoot, giving the practitioner more grip and the ability to connect their body with the mat or earth. Yoga socks with grips on the soles and expose the toes are a great way to protect the feet during practice while still maintaining a grip on the mat.
Yoga Mats & Mat Bags
Purchasing a yoga mat may be your most important decision, even if you are just a beginner. Yoga mat shopping can be fun and lighthearted for many yogis; many mats come in bright colors, make a great accessory, and some have quirky sayings or designs printed on them to enjoy before or after practice. Regular practitioners know that beyond the aesthetics of the yoga mat, there is a big difference in choosing a specific yoga mat. The material which the mat is made of can affect your practice (as well as your carbon footprint, an increasing focus for many yogis).
PVC: It’s a Controversy
If you look a few years back, before yoga became a trendy form of exercise in the West, yoga mats came in a uniform PVC material. PVC (also known as vinyl) mats are still made today due to their stickiness. Sweaty yogis won’t slip and stumble on a PVC mat when they are trying to balance in an inversion or rest in a downward facing dog. However, the mats have caused controversy in recent years, and their popularity has fallen. PVC does not break down in a landfill, produces pollution that has infiltrated the oceans, and has been recognized as a carcinogen in recent decades.
Before you purchase a yoga mat, consider the material of the mat and how it’s made. Some of the most popular mats, considered the best on the market, are made with materials that are new to the yoga mat market.
Alternatives to PVC Mats
When it comes to practicality and stickiness, PVC mats are a decent choice. However, yogis who want yoga mats made with alternative materials have many options, including:
Polyurethane: Stickiness is a big concern for many yogis, especially if they practice hot yoga like Bikram or Ashtanga. Polyurethane has proved to be one of the most popular alternatives to PVC mats due to their stickiness and smooth texture. The material is also a common alternative to PVC when shopping for upholstery and other homemade goods. Polyurethane is a form of plastic that is less durable than vinyl and PVC materials, but is more environmentally friendly and a safer alternative.
Cork: Similar to cork blocks, cork yoga mats are a durable and clean option. They clean themselves! Yogis who practice hot yoga or are especially sweaty may find that cork mats are a great alternative to PVC mats – cork mats have a non-slip surface, but are more environmentally friendly and less toxic. The material is biodegradable, unlike PVC. Cork mats aren’t as smooth as a polyurethane mat, but rival their durability.
Rubber: Rubber is another sticky material – too sticky for some yogis. Rubber absorb moisture
really well and allows yogis to get a good grip throughout a long practice. Natural rubber is also recyclable, biodegradable, and non-toxic. Yogis with a latex allergy should avoid practicing on a rubber mat.
Jute: Jute is the trendiest, most eco-friendly material on the market at the moment. Jute is a vegetable that is grown in Southeast Asia, and the plant is extremely sustainable. The mat has a low carbon footprint, as jute is biodegradable and recyclable. Jute fibers are typically mixed with a eco-friendly plastic to make the mat. Depending on which brand of jute mat you purchase, you may notice that the mat is more scratchy or less smooth than traditional plastic mats. Typically, jute mats have a similar stickiness and durability to plastic mats.
Yoga mats also come in cotton, hemp, and other varieties, but choosing any of the above materials will provide you with a durable, sticky mat that can will keep you in place as you practice.
Other Factors to Consider
In addition to the material of the mat, consider the thickness. A thicker mat will provide more cushion for sensitive joints, but will be bulkier to carry. Thicker mats are better for restorative practice that involve staying in a position for minutes at a time. Many restorative practices involve lying supine or on the stomach; a thicker mat provides more comfort and support. Before choosing a yoga mat, visit your yoga studio and test a similar mat on their floor. Studios with a harder floor cause more strain on the joints, and yogis can benefit from using a thicker mat. Unfortunately, thicker mats also tend to be made from less durable materials; more rigorous practices will lead to faster wear and tear.
The height and width of yoga mats is standards across brands and countries. Taller yogis may also want to consider getting a speciality mat that is longer than the standard 68” length. Wider mats are also available for yogis who are larger in stature, or prefer more room to move around while they practice.
Mat Bags: More Than Just an Accessory
Many yogis carry their mat in a bag that leave their hands free as they bike or walk to their studio. Like mats, a mat bag can be chosen as a great accessory, but consider the material of the mat bag. Leaving a sweaty yoga mat in a bag with no room to breathe will invite all sorts of bacteria to grow on your mat and in the bag. A mat bag made of a breathable fabric like cotton or linen will air the mat out while it’s in transport. Look for a mat bag that is machine-washable, so both the mat and mat bag can be regularly cleaned.
Some yoga studios provide showers after class, but even if you shower at home, it may be useful to bring a towel to class. There are many reasons why yogis keep a towel beside or on their mat during practice. Towels may be placed under the mat to provide extra cushion. They may be placed on top of the mat during a sweaty flow to prevent slipping. A smaller towel may be used to prevent slipping on a specific part of the mat, or to wipe away sweat during the practice.
Microfiber towels are best for laying over a slippery mat; microfiber has a decent grip and won’t slip as yogis are sweating. Some towels are made in a waffle pattern to increase grip. Microfiber towels also dry easily, and are usually lightweight for traveling.These towels are thinner than towels that are used in the bathroom or kitchen. (For extra sweaty yogis, an additional bathroom towel may be useful for a post-practice shower or just to freshen up after class. This towel should be left in your car or set aside so it’s not used during the practice.)
Bamboo towels are also very lightweight and popular. Bamboo has antimicrobial properties, making it a popular choice for yoga towels as well as yoga clothing.
Look for a towel that has a rubber backing; the microfiber will grip will to the hands, and the rubber will grip well to the mat. If the towel does not grip to the mat, it will bunch up during a vinyasa flow and pose a risk of slipping or losing balance during the flow. Many yoga towels on the market require some water or sweat before they become really sticky, which is a downside for yogis who do not practice in a hot studio. (Spray bottles with water can be used to dampen the towel and make it sticky.) Having a rubber backing takes away the need to spray the mate before practice.
The following are a list of yoga props that may be used during yoga. Certain types of yoga, including Iyengar yoga, rely heavily on props throughout the practice. Different props can aid the yogi by giving them extra reach, height or support. Props can open up the chest or allow certain joints to relax. Props are not always necessary, so you do not have to purchase every item mentioned below before you begin practicing.
Before purchasing props, visit a studio or watch a few classes online. Observe what the teacher suggests before class and how they use (or don’t use) props in their classes. If you see a prop commonly used during a class or a pose that you enjoy practicing, it may be helpful to purchase that prop for home practice.
Yoga blocks can give you support and lift in a variety of poses. Blocks may be handy to have under your hands when you are in a folding position and can’t quite reach your mat. A restorative class may suggest putting blocks underneath your spine to open up your chest or hips in supine poses. Once you start using blocks, you’ll find yourself wanting to have one by your side during every class.
Yoga blocks come in similar sizes: around 9-10” long, 6” wide, and 4” thick. They are typically are made out of three different materials: cork, foam, and bamboo. Many yogis leave the decision down to their budget or personal practice, but the different materials used can have different effects on your practice and when they are best used.
Cork is an antimicrobial material, killing bacteria naturally as it makes contact with the block. Practically, this is a great material to have if you’re constantly touching the block, sweating, or letting others borrow your equipment. Cork blocks are typically heavier, but are more durable and less likely to slip or move when pressure is applied.
Foam is a lighter and comfier material. This is a great block to use for restorative practices. However, they are not always reliable during a power flow or supporting a yogi with inversions or arm balances. If the block is standing upright, it may slip or fall (bringing the yogi along with it). Foam blocks are typically the cheapest blocks on the market, but may need to replaced before a cork or bamboo block; they are more susceptible to scratches and stains.
Bamboo or wooden blocks are the heaviest, typically weighing around 2.5 pounds. While their weight makes them sturdy, they are harder to travel with. They lack the antimicrobial and gripping qualities of cork, and may eventually wear down and become scratchy.
Unless you are traveling, cork is the most popular and best type of block to buy and use throughout your practice. Foam blocks are the next best choice, and are preferable if they are used for travel.
An alternative to the yoga block is the yoga brick, which has a large hole cut out in the middle for yogis to grip the block. Bricks can be used in poses where the block is usually standing on its side. Gripping the side of the block alleviates pressure on the wrists during arm balances. However, bricks are not helpful if the block needs to be laid down and the whole palm is splayed on the mat. Buy a yoga block before purchasing a yoga brick.
Buying a Yoga Block? Buy Two.
One yoga block can certainly benefit your home practice, but it’s best to buy two at a time. Two blocks can provide support for different areas of the back during restorative poses, or give each arm equal assistance in a pose like Pyramid or Flying Pigeon. You have two arms, so it’s best to buy two blocks.
Wedges are used in a similar fashion to blocks, but are shaped like a wedge. The height given by the wedge’s incline has great benefits on the wrists.
Poses like Downward Facing Dog or Plank Pose require the yogi to lay their hands flat on the mat and hold themselves up with their arms. The wrists take a lot of pressure, and wrist pain is common until the wrists are strengthened or the yogi’s practice advances. When weight is distributed throughout the body properly during these poses, the wrists will not feel as much pressure, but this skill takes time. Newer yogis use a lot of arm strength during Downward Facing Dog and similar poses. Downward Facing Dog is a crucial resting pose and is used quite frequently during flow classes, so yogis with wrist pain or past injuries may have a harder time with the flow. A yoga wedge is placed underneath the wrists for height; this height takes pressure off of the wrists and mitigates wrist pain.
Yoga wedges may also be used to help yogis with calf flexibility in seated poses or Garland Pose (Wide Squat). The wedge may also be placed under the heels during Downward Facing Dog to aid with calf flexibility.
Yoga wedges, due to their bulky sizes, aren’t as common in smaller studios or vinyasa classes. Each pose may be visited for only a few breaths, so adjusting the wedge and moving it out of the way would take the seamless flow out of the practice. If you practice Iyengar yoga or a style of yoga that requires you to stay in a pose for a longer period of time, you may want to look at yoga wedges.
Foam wedges are not available in a wide variety of materials and sizes. Care for yoga wedges is similar to foam blocks and props; you will have to spot clean the wedge in order to prevent bacteria spreading and growing after a sweaty practice.
Straps are one of the most commonly used yoga props. Their length allows the yogi to reach different parts of the body with ease and gradually increase flexibility. Straps may be looped around the feet during a forward fold or held between the hands during shoulder stretches. Without the strap, yogis may be encouraged to round their back in order to make contact with another part of their body. Straps allow the yogi to deepen their stretches while maintaining proper posture and alignment. More advanced yogis may use straps to keep their arms and legs from splaying out during inversions or arm balances.
Straps are commonly made of cotton and nylon, and come in a variety of lengths. Longer straps are recommended for taller yogis or yogis who are still trying to build flexibility, and are a great place to start. Once the yogi progresses, the longer straps may be a hassle or unnecessary. The biggest difference in yoga straps are the clasps that connect the strap. Metal D-ring clasps are easier to adjust and are smoother to adjust and undo. If the strap is being used during a restorative class, a plastic buckle may be favorable. The plastic clasps can be undone with one hand, and stay in place better than a metal clasp.
Yoga wheels are the trendiest yoga prop on the market. More advanced yogis use them to practice inversions and balancing poses, but they can also be used in restorative flows to open up the chest and aid in backbends. Yoga wheels are new to the market, and they take some practice before incorporating them into flows and challenging poses.
Yoga wheels are made in different sizes for yogis of different heights. Most are made out of foam or wood. Yoga wheels are still new, but look out for wheels that can hold your weight (some can hold up to 250 lbs, while others can hold up to 500 lbs) and are easy to clean. Some products have an antimicrobial surface, but others do not. Before purchasing a wheel, read reviews from customers about the cleanliness of the wheels and how it holds up for different positions against yogis of all sizes. Video tutorials or instruction from a teacher can help practitioners use the wheel safely and correctly.
Bolsters are typically used during restorative practices. Yogis may lie on the bolster, or use the bolster to prop up their tailbone, knees, or feet.
Restorative postures are held for minutes at a time, as opposed to faster-moving vinyasa postures. Restorative classes are rarely taught in hot studios, but it is useful to look for bolsters that are made of a breathable fabric covering. The fabric should be washed, so the fillings or core should be removable. The core is typically made with foam. Look for a bolster that feels firm and sturdy. Restorative poses give you the opportunity to release your muscles and let your props hold your weight and do the work for you. Make sure your bolsters and similar props can hold your weight without slipping.
Silk Eye Bags
Savasana (corpse pose) is the most important pose in the yoga practice. After the flow or set of poses are completed, the yogi lies on their back in a comfortable position and rests, allowing the benefits of the flow to sink into their body and mind. Savasana can last for three minutes after a quick flow class, or up to 20 minutes after performing the Ashtanga Primary Series.
Some yogis like to place a silk eye bag over their eyes during savasana. These bags are typically weighted with rice, flaxseed, or a similar material to apply pressure to the eye and brow area. Herbs and spices may be added for relaxing effects; lavender is commonly found in eye bags for its calming properties. The eyebags are used to block out light in the studio or home to promote relaxation and rest during the savasana. Silk allows the eye bag to rest comfortably and smoothly on the face while allowing the area to breathe.
Weighted eye bags are typically more relaxing; the pressure unravels tension in the brow and upper facial muscles. When choosing an eye bag, make sure the fillings can be emptied. Washing the eye bag is just as important as washing a mat, your clothes, or anything else that makes contact with your skin during a yoga practice. If you practice at home, it may be useful to place the eye bag in your refrigerator before your practice begins. A cold mask or compress on the eyes reduces swelling in the face and puffiness around the eyes. These benefits may not have a direct effect on your yoga practice, but they certainly don’t hurt!
Blankets may also be used on top of the body during savasana or other supine poses. Blankets may be used if the yogi is practicing in a colder room, but the weight of the blanket has additional health benefits as well. Weighted blankets are commonly used in different schools of therapy; the weight sends a message to the brain to release chemicals like serotonin and dopamine. Both of these chemicals promote positive feelings and calms anxiety throughout the body.
Even if you do not have ADHD, anxiety, or similar disorders, a weighted blanket will still promote the release of positive chemicals. A weighted blanket is a good investment; in addition to using it for yoga, weighted blankets can also be used to promote deep and comfortable sleep. The yoga practice will certainly end on a good note if a weighted blanket is used during savasana.
Weighted blankets are made of fleece, flannel, cotton, and a few other fabrics. Any of these materials are suitable for yoga; your choice in weighted blanket will come down to how much weight you prefer and how big you would like the blanket to be. Healthcare professionals recommend that the weight of the blanket is 10% of the yogi’s weight.
Purchase a duvet cover in addition to the weighted blanket to reduce the amount of washes the blanket will need.
Meditation Cushions and Tools
After savasana, yoga teachers may lead students through a seated meditation. Meditation is usually done by sitting in a cross legged position with a straight back. After a few minutes, practitioners may start to feel pain in the back or shoulders. This pain is common; yogis can use a meditation cushion in order to alleviate this pain and sit still for a longer period of time.
Choosing a Meditation Cushion
There are a lot of cushions and benches available for meditation, but all have a similar effect on the body. Sitting on top of a cushion places the hips above the knees. The slight lift of the pelvis and forward motion of the hips promotes better alignment in the spine. Placing the hips above the knees will also take pressure off of the discs that sit in between the vertebrae.
Cushions, also called zafus, come in a variety of shapes. A flat pillow or blanket will work for yogis who just need a little bit of support. Wedge-shaped cushions can provide more support throughout the hips and legs. A round wheel shape is usually higher than other shapes of meditation cushions, and may require a pillow underneath for a comfortable meditation.
Shape is important when picking a meditation cushion, but also consider the height of the cushion. The yogi’s hips should sit around three inches off of the floor in order to promote the best spinal alignment.
Cushions are filled with a variety of materials, suiting yogis with different levels of experience who meditate for different lengths of time. A wool meditation cushion provides more comfort, but is not as sturdy or firm for longer practices. More traditional yogis tend to prefer the firmer Kapok fiber. The Kapok is a tree found in the rain forest; the fibers from the tree’s seedpod is traditionally used in meditation cushions. In between these two fibers is buckwheat. Buckwheat hulls are a sustainable material that allow cushions to move and shift to the yogi’s body shape.
Alternatives to Meditation Cushions
Cushions are great for sitting cross-legged or in a variation of the lotus position. Yogis may also meditate by kneeling. In this case, a zafu may be turned on its side, but a meditation stool may be more useful. Stools are typically made from wood and have an inclined seat where the yogi sits. The legs are folded and placed under the stool’s seat. Consider buying a meditation stool that has a cushion on the top; sitting on a wooden bench for a prolonged period of time can be comfortable for the legs, but very uncomfortable for the bum.
Yogis who are looking to improve their posture may benefit from practicing a seated meditation in a chair that has a back. The presence of the back of the chair is a reminder to sit upright.
In addition to meditation cushions, yogis should also consider the use of blankets. Blankets can be placed under the seat for additional lift, but can also be placed on the lap to lift the arms. When the arms are kept in a more horizontal (rather than vertical) position, they are less likely to pull the yogi forward. This forward motion rounds the back and gives the back more work in order to sit up straight.
Before You Buy
There are many different props and equipment available to aid you through your yoga practice. Yoga has become a multi-billion dollar industry; brands and companies are constantly coming out with new ideas and innovations for selling yoga equipment. Before purchasing any clothes or props, do research on the specific brand and read reviews of the individual product. Evaluate your practice and test out the products on your body. The most important piece of equipment in yoga is your body; props and clothes should make your body feel comfortable throughout your practice.
Jacky has a degree in Sports Science and is a Certified Sports and Conditioning Coach. He has also worked with clients around the world as a personal trainer.
He has been fortunate enough to work with a wide range of people from very different ends of the fitness spectrum. Through promoting positive health changes with diet and exercise, he has helped patients recover from aging-related and other otherwise debilitating diseases.
He spends most of his time these days writing fitness-related content of some form or another. He still likes to work with people on a one-to-one basis – he just doesn’t get up at 5am to see clients anymore.