I’ve mentioned this before, you don’t need anything to start doing yoga, you don’t need any specific equipment or gadgets, all you need is some floor space. Ideally you will want to do it on a carpet, which is how I started before I bought my first yoga mat, but you can also do it on grass or if all you have is a hard floor surface then use a towel or blanket. That’s why I love yoga, it is so accessible to absolutely everyone and you don’t need anything to practice it but a little bit of space.
Now having said that, there are some items that will make practicing yoga more enjoyable, comfortable and assist you in performing the poses. If you are going to buy yourself any piece of yoga equipment at all then the most important will be a yoga mat, all the others I would say are nice to haves. If you are looking to get yourself more than just the mat, I would then recommend a yoga bag, yoga blocks, yoga strap and maybe a yoga mat towel. There are even more options like blankets, bolsters and wheels for those who want to explore all the other gadgets on the market.
Let’s go through these items.
Yes, you can use the mats that are provided in the gyms and studios, they are a great starting point if you are just trying it out, but if you know that you are going to continue practicing yoga or you just germ conscious then you’ll definitely want your own mat. A mat is a great way to define your space on the floor. It offers a softer and a cleaner surface for those floor poses, and a non-slip surface so you have better grip giving you more stability.
I find it very odd that these days you need to buy the mat and the bag separately. Back when I bought my first mat pretty much every mat came in a bag but that is no longer the case for most decent mats. You might still be able to find mats sold with a bag but few are. You may also find that some mats come with a strap. If you do get a mat with a carrying strap, you may even be able to use that carrying strap as a yoga strap depending on the material and durability of it, so keep that in mind. I have a strap that double’s up as both my yoga mat carrier and yoga strap so it can have a dual role. Bag or strap it’s all a matter of preference and what you need. Personally, I prefer a bag, I find it easier to just roll up the mat and slide it into the bag then to have to fit the straps on to each side of the mat. Also, the bag protects the mat from getting dirty and damaged. If you do get a bag also think about whether you would want it just to carry your mat or if you want it to have extra space and pockets for things like your towel, water bottle, keys etc. I was gifted with an awesome yoga bag that has three compartments each with a zipper which is great for storing smaller items in addition to the mat.
Blocks are great if you are not very flexible. They assist you in being able to perform poses that you otherwise would not be able to get into. They allow you to do the pose without compromising on alignment and the integrity of the pose. Yoga blocks are especially helpful when you struggle to reach your hands to the floor. They offer support if want to really relax into a pose and they also ensure you don’t hurt yourself in challenging poses. For those who are very flexible blocks may be used to go deeper into a pose bearing in mind you never want to over stretch the body.
Yoga straps or sometimes also referred to as yoga belts can help you get into a pose in areas where the body is tight. If you need to grab hold of your feet then a strap can help you do that. If you need to bind your hands which don’t reach each other a yoga belt can help. If you are tight in the shoulders your strap can help ensure you don’t over strain your muscles and force them when they are not ready. I have found yoga straps to be useful when performing poses that require binding and when wanting to progress deeper into a leg stretch.
If you sweat a lot and enjoy Hot Yoga then I would suggest having a towel. You can definitely use any towel you have at home. The difference with the yoga mat towel is that you can get one that is the same length and width as your mat and they also contain little anti-slip dots on the one side that provide better grip than just a smooth towel. It protects your mat from excessive moister and is a bit more hygienic. Depending on what mat you have it may be easier to wash the towel than have to wash your mat if you sweat profusely during every yoga session.
Blankets can be used to help prop you up in certain postures or offer support and comfort in certain areas of the body when holding poses for longer periods of time such as in Yin Yoga. They can also be used at the end of class during savasana or when doing Yoga Nidra to keep you warm. You can use any blanket that you already have at home, personally I have only used blankets in yoga studios during savasana and in Yoga Nidra classes.
Bolsters are used mostly in restorative and Yin Yoga classes. They offer support and allow you to comfortably settle into an asana for long periods of time. They can also increase stretching, offer release and assist in maintaining good form within a pose.
This is one of the more recent props that has materialized and one that I honestly have not yet tried out. They are used to help improve flexibility, to lengthen the body, increase stretches, especially in back bends and offer support during balance poses. The yoga wheel can also assist in improving core strength by practicing balancing poses with it.