Gear up like a serious yogi: What you should have in your kit to be well-prepared for your practice
Having the right equipment for yoga is key. Appropriate and high-quality gear can keep you safe. It can also help you progress more quickly to more advanced poses.
This goes for all yogis at any point on their path. Newbies and gurus alike need to approach their yoga pursuits outfitted with the tools to facilitate the best outcomes and experiences.
BASICS: Must-Have BYO Gear
Many studios provide a variety of yoga equipment. However, I recommend getting your very own of the following items. I have three main reasons for suggesting this.
Not all studios don't offer these things. Or you might want to practice at home or in the park, where you'll need your own anyway
Some studios charge beaucoup bucks to rent equipment. It's cheaper, especially over the long-run, to buy your own.
Cleanliness may be a concern. With your own gear, you can clean them whenever you want with the cleanser of your choice. If your stuff smells like BO or has hairs on it, you'll rest assured that they're yours. (I can't tell you how many mats I've used that have pet hair on them - yuck!)
This said, I do get lazy or rushed sometimes and use the mats, towels, etc. at the studios I go to. That's life. We're all busy. :-) So don't stress this too much. (How unyogic anyway!)
Bag - You need a bag to tote all your stuff! Get one that's big enough to carry the items listed below, plus maybe a sweatshirt or light jacket. I have this C9 bag and love it; it was $4.99 at TJMaxx or Ross. And I used to have a nice Gaiam bag sort of like this and it was really well-constructed and had nice storage capabilities. So, this need not be a budget buster.
Mat - There are so many options here. I'll eventually do another post dedicated to picking the right mat for you and your needs. That said, get a sturdy, all-purpose 1/8"-thick mat. It won't be too bulky and is appropriate for most kinds of yoga. You can add another mat, blanket or towel to your mat any time you want a little extra cushion. I have this sticky mat from Jade Yoga; it's pretty good and super transportable. Usually I lay it on top of a studio mat so I have more knee cush. And I use this Gaiam mat occasionally; it's darn grippy! But you can get a basic mat for around $15-$20 at big-box discount stores. Even my local WinCo Foods had mats for about $8. Sure, you'll probably have to replace these a bit more often than premium mats, but if you can find a cheap-o one that works for you — why not?
Towel(s) - Towels are awesome! They're so versatile during yoga practice. I use mine to dry my sweaty hands/face and keep my face from touching the mat. They also work well as a strap or kneepad, in place of a block or as a light-blocking eye cover during savasana. Carry an inexpensive hand towel in your bag and I promise you'll find uses for it. Also, you can look into getting a hot yoga towel. They're nice for covering studio mats or as a stand-alone travel mat. And, being designed for hot yoga, they can add grip to an otherwise slippery mat.
Strap - Even long-time yogis use straps. Straps can help you advance in certain poses (like the arms part of Cow-Face pose), compensate for physiologic challenges (like Standing Extended Toe Pose if you have short arms like me!), or just deepen a pose so you get more out of it (like supine extended leg stretching poses). Score! I have a great strap similar to this one; the loops make it easier to get a solid grasp of the strap without killing your hands. However, you may prefer a strap with a buckle so you can for a closed belt (which can be useful for deepening some poses, like Supine or Seated Bound Angle). If possible, opt for a strap that's made of cotton (softer than nylon) and at least an inch wide (more comfy/supportive). A strap will run you maybe $7-$13.
Mat Cleaner - Most studios provide this. BUT, you may want your own so you can control the ingredients. Many cleaners have components that aren't good for latex mats. Or they stink. Or they aren't super for the planet. So, you can buy or make your own that's perfectly suited to your sitch. I recommend also having a rag (or using your towel?) handy to wipe down your mat. Again, most studios have something you can use, but sometimes what they provide is sub-optimal (e.g., vinegar-based wet wipes — you aren't going to use your own cleaner on a cloth like that!). FYI: It's totally legit to just use water on your mat, too, for everyday cleaning. Just give your mat a deep-clean every now and then.
Hair Ties - If you have hair that's prone to get in your face, whip around and throw your balance or trap a layer of heat against your body — do yourself a favor and tie it back. I always keep a small variety of headbands with no-slip silicone (similar to these) and ponytail holders in my bag. It's nice to have extras in case ya need to help a fellow yogi out in the hair restraint department.
Tissues/Handkerchief - You never know when you're gonna need a tissue. So, like a good scout, always have a pocket pack on hand. Ye ol' snot rag has saved me many times in class. Some poses and pranayama exercises open the sinuses or cause me to sneeze (hello inversions!). Also, sometimes yoga can be deeply emotional and you may want something to dab away your tears. (For a long time after my dad's passing, I couldn't get through a savasana without silently bawling in the dark on my mat.)
Water - Stay hydrated! You'll function better and feel better. To avoid slipper (read: dangerous) spills, get a sturdy water bottle. I have a trio of these Contigo bottles that I got a Costco — a real steal! — that are super. They hold a lot; the mouthpiece is covered; it locks closed. Mine have taken major beatings and are still in perfect shape.
Snack - Have you ever been running around and all of a sudden get hungry? Or worse, kind of lightheaded or jittery? This is no way to go into a yoga class. It's unsafe and you're not going to get in your best practice if you're acutely needing food. My solution: Throw a few individual sugar candies (e.g., Lifesavers) and a packet of Bada Beans into my bag. These shelf-stable items keep for a long time and are convenient to schlep around/eat on the go.
BONUS: Optional Items
These are things fall into two groups: maybe-nice-to-have but not necessary and/or usually available at studios without charge. It's really a matter of personal preference whether or not to include the following in your yoga kit.
Clothing Layers - Options can be beneficial if your body changes temperature throughout the arc of your practice. Perhaps you want to wear a long-sleeve shirt during the warm-up and savasana. It's easier to don this layer if you've brought it with you.... Others like to put socks on for the last part of a class. It's yogi's call.
Blocks - Blocks are fantastic props that will be used by yogis of every level. They're like straps that way. So I highly encourage leveraging these tools from time to time (or all the time if needed!). At any rate, every studio — and gym, for that matter — that I've been to in recent years has blocks. And usually they have a few different sizes/densities to choose from. It's unlikely you'll need to bring these to any class. I wouldn't get your own blocks unless you want them for home use, they come with the yoga starter kit you're eyeing or you have allergy issues that necessitate you getting your own. Save your money and space for other things.
Blanket - Again, quite useful and multi-functional, and lots of people love their yoga blanketage. But let's get real: You're not going to haul a big-ass blanket around with you. Most studios have blankets for your use. (If they don't, use extra clothing for warmth and improvise other items for added cushioning.) And at home, any blanket, afghan or throw will do.
Bolster/Pillow - I feel like a broken record, but here goes: Most studios have bolsters for your use. (If they don't, improvise.) And at home, any bed or throw pillow can make a fine substitute.
Anti-Slip Booties/Gloves - I've never used these, so can't comment too much. But plenty of folks rock these in the classes I've been to. So they must do the trick for some. If you find yourself slip-slidin' away during yoga, and you aren't interested in trying a sticky mat or towel, consider giving these a shot.
Knee/wristpad - Small pads can be an effective alternative to using a blanket or folded-over mat for extra cushion. Depending upon which product you use, some pads can even position your hands at a more comfortable angle (great for those with certain wrist issues!). I had a classmate that swore by these things. I went a different route and got a $1 kneeling mat — the kind you'd use when gardening — from my local dollar store. It works perfectly well and fits in my bag without adding weight or bulk.
Aromatherapy - This is a tricky one. You don't want a fragrance that kills the mood or triggers an allergy attack to surrounding yogis. But, it can be nice to have high-quality essential oils to support your mood. For example, I sometimes spray my towel with a light mist of lavender; this freshens my towel so I'm not breathing in a stale smell. I keep it very contained. Others enjoy dabbing a bit of oil in their palms and inhaling the aroma — like peppermint for energizing.
Eye Pillow - The cool weight and darkness this provides can totally level up meditation or savasana. This is particularly effective if you're transitioning from the day's chaos or a high-intensity asana sequence and are having trouble winding down. My favorite one is made of beautiful water-colored silk and filled with lavender and buckwheat.
Music/Speaker - If you're going solo, having your own playlist might suit you. This is also important if you're guiding others through a yoga practice. And an inexpensive BT speaker or wireless sound amplifier can improve the audio experience. I find meditation recordings invaluable, too. You'll probably have this stuff on your phone anyway. I just added it here to bring it into the circle of consciousness.
Ok, that's my round-up of the definitely-haves and maybe-gets. But, what are your favorite yoga supplies or equipment? What do you have to have with you for your yoga practice to feel right? Share your tips and advice on yoga gear essentials in the Comments section below. Thanks!
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