When you start practicing yoga, you may be tempted to run out and spend hundreds of dollars on all the "right" equipment. Pause a moment, and think about what you really need for a meaningful practice.
- Mats: Buy a good quality sticky mat. This will be the staple of your practice, and you should ensure that the mat is nonslip, is sufficiently thick for your personal comfort level, and is long enough for you to stretch out on without too much head or foot overhang in corpse pose.
- Bags: You may also want to invest in a yoga bag. These are bags specifically designed to accommodate a rolled-up sticky mat and other accoutrements to and from class. Look for one that has a comfortable shoulder strap and extra room for keys, wallet, towel, and water bottle.
Strictly speaking, even these two pieces of equipment aren't absolutely necessary to practice asanas, but most people find them helpful. Other props can also deepen your practice and help you get the most out of your time on the mat. Typical props include blocks, straps, bolsters, blankets, and meditation cushions.
- Blocks are solid foam or wood pieces that are helpful for beginners, especially, to achieve standing asanas by helping relieve the pressure that comes from placing the hand (or head) squarely on the floor. By raising that surface a few inches, you can relieve the pressure on the working muscle group and get more out of the pose. Look for solid construction in blocks, and make sure their planes are straight and even, to prevent wobbles and subsequent falls.
- Straps are typically one inch wide (some are slightly wider, others more narrow) and several feet in length. They help with reclining and stretching poses where the hands can't quite meet, or where the foot is just out of reach. Using a strap can help you get the benefit of the pose without risking a strain injury. Make sure your strap is long enough to be useful, and is one long piece, rather than a stitched or linked-together piece that might rip after repetitive use.
- Bolsters are helpful additions to reclining and sitting poses. By alleviating the pressure on the back, they help increase the practitioner's sense of relaxation and ease the physical stress on the body. Bolsters should be tested for the appropriate level of thickness and dimensions for your body type. Also check the seams to ensure they are straight and well-sewn. You may want to invest in a washable cover for the bolster to reduce the risk of allergens and accumulated dirt or stains from repeated use.
- Yoga blankets can be used in a number of ways--as a wrap in meditation, as a covering for warmth in corpse pose, as added stability for seated poses. Look for a colorful blanket in a pattern or texture that's aesthetically pleasing to you, and a material that isn't scratchy or uncomfortable. Also, make sure the blanket you select is washable, especially if you'll be using it in group classes.
- Meditation cushions are helpful in achieving a comfortable seated posture for minutes on end, which is necessary for a meaningful meditation practice. There are many varieties and types. As with bolsters, make sure the cushion you select fits your body type and is comfortable and well-made. Here, too, you may want to inquire about a removable, washable cover for the cushion.
So now you have a good idea of what different kinds of equipment are available, and you have an idea of which types would add some meaningful value to your practice. Your next step is to do a little comparison shopping. For website purchases, make sure you take into account shipping charges, which can sometimes eat up the money you'd otherwise save with a discounted purchase; for traditional brick-and-mortar stores, double-check to make sure there's a location near you.
- Gaiam.Com: This site offers not only a wide variety of yoga equipment, but also many diverse DVDs, CDs, books, clothing, and lifestyle products to live a more natural, organic life.
- HuggerMugger.Com: The shop with a funny name offers a serious collection of yoga-related music, DVDs, meditation aids, and clothing, in addition to a solid assortment of props.
- WaiLana.Com: Wai Lana is a yoga teacher who has started her own line of instructional DVDs and yoga-related products.
- YogaAccessories.Com: This site bills itself as a direct importer, thus "cutting out the midddleman" (and presumably lowering the cost to the purchaser).
- YogaProps.Net: This site is all about yoga tools and equipment.
If you prefer traditional shopping, or want to check out the equipment before you buy, try these stores:
- Big box retailers: Stores such as Walmart and Target often will carry basic yoga equipment in their sports/fitness goods sections.
- Bookstores: Some large chain bookstores offer yoga books, DVDs, and basic props in a special display.
- Sporting goods stores
- Yoga studios