Sweat yourself out in hot yoga, get breathless in Ashtanga, or be all about the form in Iyengar. Your choice of props, clothing, and the basics changes slightly with the yoga style. Evaluate the demands of a class and select the most helpful gear to help you reach your goals. Yoga gear includes clothes that allow your body to breathe and move, water containers to stay hydrated, and being safer and more spectacular with simple aids to enhance your form.
You're about to embark on a lifestyle change, or at least a hopeful, healthy experiment. Being a yoga newbie can seem a bit overwhelming, but resist the temptation to gear up as armor against uncertainty. You don't need a lot to launch your yoga career.
You do need something to wear. Yoga clothes should be easy to move in, wick sweat if possible, and allow your teacher to observe -- and correct -- your form. Think stretchy leggings or relaxed yoga pants, form-fitting or cotton tops, sports bras for women, and athletic supporters for men, if that makes you more comfortable. Don't get hung up on the fashion. It's not the point.
You'll also want some gear to help make your yoga classes safer, easier, and more comfortable.
- Consider a good sticky mat. It defines your work area in a class, provides a bit of cushioning, and gives you a better grip to prevent slipping.
- Invest in a strap or a bag to carry your rolled mat to class. Yoga bags have a sleeve for your rolled mat and large wipe-down compartments for damp gear. Alternatively, there are plain fabric sleeves to hold a mat, with a shoulder strap for convenient, hands-free carrying.
- Bring a sports water bottle with a flip-up straw for ease of access and no spills to help you remain hydrated.
- Pack a towel. You can get super-duper high-tech, high-performance towels, or just filch one from the linen closet -- sweat is sweat. Towels can help you wipe sweat from your mats or yourself throughout class.
Get Sweaty - Hot Yoga
Hot, humid, and intense, yoga at 105 degrees Fahrenheit is a challenge however you define it. Make it easier on yourself by showing up for your hot yoga class prepared. Some of this is standard gear, but on steroids. Hot yoga is demanding in every possible way. Head-to-toe, you'll need gear designed for the hot environment.
Because you will sweat in hot yoga, you'll need clothes designed to wick or absorb moisture, including:
- An absorbent headband to absorb sweat from your forehead so it doesn't run into your eyes
- A breathable stretchy top with mesh or cut-outs to expose skin surface to air
- Stretch fabric shorts (10% lycra is good) with a broad waist or hip band to prevent slipping (skip the leggings unless you're a martyr)
Hot yoga may also require additional gear for safety and comfort, including:
- A seriously nonskid sticky mat and a no-slide yoga towel that hooks around your mat to stay in place
- A few extra towels for mopping your feverish brow between poses
- A really big water bottle - at least 24 ounces, but 64 ounces is better. Stainless steel is allowed in all classes, but some forbid anything glass. Go wide-mouth or sip-top for quick gulps
Prop Yourself Up - Iyengar
Iyengar yoga celebrates the prop to facilitate the form. Yours may not be the bendiest revolved triangle on the block, but you can use a yoga prop to wring the most out of that pose.
- If your arms are too short, get a yoga strap. It hooks over your instep for seated forward bends and around your rolled up mat for the commute. Folded to shorten it, a strap gives your arms and shoulders a good stretch when grasped behind your back in cowface pose.
- If your back is too stiff or your hamstrings are tight, get a yoga block or two. They come in hard foam, cork, and satin-smooth hardwood or bamboo. Use blocks for lots of alignments and adjustments and for standing poses when your fingertips won't make it to the floor.
- A folded blanket brings you a bit closer to nirvana. Tuck one under your butt in half-lotus to raise your hips higher than your knees. Use one under your shoulders to protect your neck in plow pose. Pull an open blanket over you to stay toasty during corpse pose.
Jazz a stale practice or try a new approach with an ingenious device to make the uncomfortable or the impossible easier.
- Aerial hammocks and slings will have you airborne as an angel to lift your practice to new heights. Take a few aerial yoga classes to learn form and safety protocols and then install your own cirque du yoga silk hammock or canvas sling for shoulder stands and boat poses in flight.
- Sandbags come in two types for relaxation and resistance. A small pillow sandbag over the eyes blocks light in corpse pose and eases away those crows feet tension puts there. A larger, heavier sandbag on each inner thigh in butterfly pose weighs your thighs down to increase the open stretch effortlessly. A sandbag placed on your spine in child's pose helps to release tight back muscles and just feels divine.
- Toe socks are tea cozies for your feet. The custom socks with individual toe sleeves keep you warm, let your toes stretch and grip for balance in poses, and provide a nonskid sole for better contact with your sweaty mat or the floor.
- Every bodhisattva aims for perfect balance. Work on yours with a big inflatable yoga ball to add a level of instability to poses and engage many more muscles as you breath and focus on your form. Pop your feet on top of the ball for a tougher plank. Pour yourself over the ball like molten liquid for a supported camel variation. You can adapt an entire sequence to the wobbly ball.
- Acupressure yoga mats turn savasana into a massage. Acupressure mats are made from plastic, cotton, and foam, with thousands of tiny pressure-point "nails" that dig into tense muscles very lightly to create deep relaxation, release stuck energy, relieve aches and pains, and trigger a nice flood of endorphins. Happiness.
Do It Daily
Don't let the presence or absence of particular gear define your practice. The ancient yogis meditated and contorted themselves into pretzel shapes with nothing more than a patch of hard-packed earth under a bodhi tree. What you really need for a successful yoga habit is intention. Choose your mat with care, wear clothes that let you breathe, find the props that make tough poses and long, challenging classes possible for you. But mainly show up. Just do it. Remember that all those great supplies you grab on your way out the door to yoga class are just variations, like your yoga style. Sometimes less really is more. Keep it simple to stay sane.