Most yoga equipment is mainly used as props to provide extra support.
Part of the allure of yoga is that is can be done almost anywhere at home, at the gym or on the beach without a lot of expensive yoga equipment. Yoga promotes flexibility and builds strength that can lessen a wide assortment of physical and mental ailments. According to Women's Health Magazine, yoga can provide relief from back pain, poor posture, stress and PMS. For a beginner, yoga poses can be more than a little daunting.
There are 14 forms of yoga and not all require any yoga equipment beyond a mat. However, Iyengar yoga uses props -- benches, chairs, balls, blocks, wedges, blankets and cushions -- to achieve optimal alignment, strength and endurance. According to the Iyengar Yoga Association of Greater New York, yoga master B.K.S. Iyengar introduced props so practitioners would benefit from poses held for longer periods of time regardless of their ability. When the body is supported, it is easier to achieve optimal alignment. At the same time, the mind can relax and receive the benefits of yoga and the yoga practitioner develops confidence and self-awareness.
Props can be used in other forms of yoga to provide extra support in a resting pose or to move into a posture that requires more flexibility than the yogi can manage. Props that are used for stretching include straps, ropes, belts and sandbags.
Yoga mats and grips increase comfort and safety during yoga poses. There are approximately 100 different yoga poses that range from beginner to advanced. Many of the poses require sitting or leaning on the floor for extended periods. Using a cushioned mat makes holding the pose more comfortable as well as provides a softer landing. Yoga mats typically measure 5 feet long by 2 feet wide, with a variety of thicknesses. They are made of high-density foam and come in a wide assortment of colors. The mat rolls up and may be sold with a carrying bag or strap. When frequently engaging in yoga, it may be wise to invest in a durable mat that will hold up and not quickly need replacing. It is normal to begin sweating during yoga, which causes the palms and soles of the feet to become slick. In addition to increasing comfort, yoga mats are made out of a sticky material so it is not easy to slip during a pose.
Grips are another item that helps to prevent falls. Grips are worn on the hands to prevent slipping during poses that are supported with the hands.
Iyengar yoga commonly uses benches, chairs, blankets, bolsters, balls, blocks, wedges and other props to achieve perfect positioning in poses. The official website of B.K.S. Iyengar Yoga shows how support props are used in the various poses. Benches and chairs are used to support the body during forward bending, back bending and inversion poses. Bolsters are simply cotton cushions in a rectangular or cylindrical shape that provide support to the spine or other body parts. Large, inflated yoga balls provide support during back bends and other challenging poses. They come in different colors of vinyl and have a texture on the outside to prevent slipping.
According to Ultimate Yoga, yoga blocks are usually three or four inches tall and made of foam, cork or wood. Yoga blocks are stackable and provide support for body parts that are elevated during certain yoga poses. Yoga wedges are also made of high-density foam, or they can be made of wood cut in a triangular shape. Wedges are longer than a block -- some measure 20 or 24 inches long. They support the body during a difficult pose or can be placed under the palms of hands that are pressed against the floor.
A yoga strap can aid with body alignment or enhance a stretch of the shoulders. It measures 6 to 10 feet long and 1 to 1 1/2 inches wide. It is made out of cotton webbing with a D-ring or buckle on one end.
Yoga ropes that are mounted on the wall can be grasped to extend the stretch in a forward bend or stretch shoulder muscles. Wall ropes can also be used to support the body during a back bend or forward bend. When the body is elevated with wall ropes during an inversion pose, it helps to strengthen and tone muscles.
Oblong yoga sandbags are sold empty and have a handle on one end. After filling it with sand, it can be held to intensify a stretch or placed on each thigh in a seated pose.
Beginners should wear clothing that is comfortable and allows a full range of motion without bunching up -- generally loose clothing is the most comfortable. Yoga is always practiced barefoot, so special socks and shoes are not necessary (if wearing tights, they should be the footless type). Many yoga practitioners prefer clothing that is made from cotton or organic cotton that is natural and breathable. Organic cotton is simply grown without chemical fertilizers or pesticides. Yoga clothing is normally comprised of pants or capri-length pants, and a top or tank.
When signing up for a yoga class, inquire about what yoga equipment is provided. Even if the class provides a mat, some participants choose to bring their own mat for sanitary reasons. Most people also bring a towel and water bottle to yoga class.
Beginners may need to start out using props; however, it is not always necessary to invest in every type of yoga equipment. In addition to it being impractical to haul a large number of props to class, they may not be necessary long term. According to Yoga Journal, the goal of props should be to lessen the dependence on them over time. Those who are practicing yoga at home may find that books, folded towels, neckties, walls and other common household items can be as effective as official yoga equipment.