There is a lot to learn when it comes to trying any new sport, but yoga not only has its own actual language– it also has its own unique equipment.
Most yoga studios have loaner equipment you can use when you take a class, but you’ll want some basic equipment if you want to try some asanas at home. Here is some of the gear you’ll need, and what to look for when selecting them:
Yoga Mat: While there are lots of pretty colors to choose from, there are also different textures and thicknesses to consider.
A yoga mat isn’t just a cushioned surface to make certain postures more comfortable to do– its texture will help to keep your hands and feet from slipping during certain asanas. You’ll often hear it referred to as a “sticky mat.” While it’s not flypaper-sticky, it does prevent you from slipping, and potentially straining or tearing muscles, so using a mat designed for yoga is important. Make sure the mat you choose has a puckered, and not a smooth, texture. A fitness mat is not a yoga mat, and won’t prevent your hands from slipping.
You have several thicknesses to choose from, generally 1/16, 1/8, 1/4, and 1/2 inches. You’ll want to consider where you’ll most often practice yoga. Most studios will have a hard floor, either wood, tile, or cement, so the thicker mat will be more comfortable. If you’ll be traveling often, the thinner mat might be good, as they roll up tightly and can fit in a suitcase. Even if you plan to do your yoga on a carpeted surface, I would get the 1/8 inch at the very least. The 1/16 is very pliable, which is great from a traveling standpoint, but it doesn’t lay as nicely on carpet, especially if your hands or feet are near a corner of the mat. If you can swing it, I would actually recommend getting a mat with 1/4 inch thickness. It’s thick enough to cushion your body on any surface, but still easily portable.
You might also consider using a yoga towel, in addition to the mat. I love doing yoga outside, but on a hot and humid day, that extra moisture can cause hands and feet to slip. The same is true for hot yoga classes. Setting a yoga towel on top of a yoga mat helps to soak up the humidity and perspiration. You’re going to try using one of your bath towels instead of a yoga towel– I did the same thing, once. You really do need a yoga towel for that.
Yoga Block: Especially if you’re just starting out with yoga, I would consider a yoga block an essential piece of equipment.
There are going to be a lot of postures that have you reaching and twisting in ways you’re not familiar with. A yoga block can help bridge the gap between your fingers and the floor, and give you more stability so you can hold the poses longer, getting greater benefit. If you’re wobbling and fighting to keep your balance, you’re not breathing properly, and not getting the most out of the asanas. You can hold the block the long way, sideways, or lay it flat as you progress in the postures.
Mat Bag: This is not essential for your practice, but having a way to store and carry your mat does make a lot of sense. While you might end up doing yoga at home most of the time, you’ll still want to keep your mat clean. The mat will likely come with a canvas strap, which is okay for transporting it to and from classes, but won’t keep it clean as it rolls around the trunk of your car. I actually have a great gym bag that has a special pouch to slide a yoga mat through, allowing me to carry my block and other gym supplies with me. If you get a traditional tube-shaped bag, try to get one with a good-sized pocket to place your keys and other small effects in when you practice outside of the house.
Yoga Blanket: I would love to understand why yoga, a practice that originated in India, has so wholly embraced the traditional Mexican blanket as part of its practice. Granted, you can use any blanket, but I love my Mexican blanket. Having a blanket handy helps you in the same way the yoga block helps– it bridges the gap to help in challenging asanas. You shouldn’t ever hurt when doing yoga. So, if you’re sitting in a posture that puts strain on your back or hips, you can tuck the blanket under your rear to give you better posture, or to alleviate the strain. There’s also the Shavasana, or relaxation portion of each yoga session, generally at the end, when you’re laying flat on your back for several minutes. Placing the blanket over you helps you to relax and keep warm.
Yoga Pants: I’m just gonna say, yoga pants are not just for yoga anymore. Have you ever heard Tim Hawkins sing the praises of this glorious piece of apparel? Check it out– you’ll burn calories from giggling! You don’t really need yoga pants, just loose-fitting athletic pants and a fitted top. Loose-fitting shirts will end up in your face when doing downward-facing dog and other forward bends.
As with any athletic endeavor, you can go hog wild with buying gear. There are other doo-dads you can add at a later date if you get serious in your practice, or into a certain type of yoga, but this should help you get started!