Yoga Kit Essentials
I have to confess, I’m a bit of a geek when it comes to kit. I used to write trainer reviews for an unnamed competitor magazine, and still remember my total fascination when I first saw an exploded image of an Asics trainer.
Of course, yoga needn’t be a kit-heavy activity. One of my best yoga memories was on a family holiday in Barbados – early-morning yoga sessions on a deserted beach – just me, the sun, the waves and the sand. And I loved it.
Yet coming home after a long day at the office, the mere sight of my yoga mat, bolster, straps and eye pillow nestling in the corner of my living room fills me with a sense of serenity before I even get on the mat.
Part of my teacher training course with triyoga involves practising teaching on willing subjects, and now my fledgling teaching sessions with Health & Fitness designer Nicki have moved from Regent’s Park to the boardroom for winter, I thought I’d investigate the kit that can help keep you strong, flexible and uber relaxed.
The one piece of kit every aspiring yogi needs is a mat. Costing anything from £10 to £100, it has such a big influence on the integrity of your poses it’s worth finding the right one. Here’s what to consider.
Thickness: A standard mat is about 4-5mm. Thicker versions may prevent your knees hurting, but it’s harder to feel a connection to the floor and your tree pose may feel more wobbly weeping willow than solid oak – plus, they’re bulky to transport. Travel mats can be as thin as 2mm – ideal to fit in your suitcase, but probably only suitable as a second mat.
Material: Most mats are made from PVC and can last up to 10 years. They’re spongy and sticky (vital for reducing slip factor in downward dog), especially when combined with a bumpy texture. However, earth-friendly materials such as cotton, jute and biodegradable rubber can be just as slip free, plus they’re kinder to the planet.
Design: It’s easy to become attached to your yoga mat, particularly as they now come in such beautiful shades and patterns. Decide whether you want the motivational boost of a vibrant burst of colour or a soothing hue to help you tune in to a meditative space at the end of the day, then choose your mat accordingly.
Yogaunited eco-friendly TPE yoga mat
One for the green yogis among you, not only is this mat free from PVC, phthlates and AZO, it can even be recycled when you’re done with it. It’s lightweight, at 5mm thick and, while it has a smoother texture than many, my beginner student Nicki loved this mat, finding it less slippy than some if it’s “bumpier” counterparts. £26, yogaunited.co.uk
Tree of life yoga mat
Also, free of the six potentially harmful phthalates, this 3mm thick mat includes a free yoga workout download. It has a strongly textured surface, and I found it kept my hands quite stable in downward dog. £19.99, gaiam.co.uk
Yogamatters sticky yoga mat
Great for beginners, once this 4.5mm mat has worn itself in it develops a good sturdy grip. Alternatively, you can buy the basics together, and save money. Try the Yogamatters Beginners’ Yoga kit – sticky mat, yoga bag, brick and belt (£31.71). The cool thing with this kit is you can choose the colour of each item individually. £17, yogamatters.com
Straps let you experience correct alignment, and gain the benefits of a pose, before you have the flexibility to perform the full asana. Think of them as an extension of your arms, helping you reach your toes in seated forward bends, open your hips in leg raises or join your hands behind your back in extended arm stretches. My favourite way to use a strap is in supta baddha konasana (reclining butterfly pose). I wrap it behind my sacrum, over my thighs and shins and loop it behind my ankles – then I lie back over a bolster with an eye bag over my eyes and that’s it, I’m gone!
Manduka cotton yoga strap
This strap is based on a design by BSK Iyengar, so it should be good! In unbleached natural cotton with a strong, easy-to-use buckle. £9.95, fushi.co.uk
Yogamatters D-Ring belt
A slightly wider belt (3.7cm), that comes in a great range of vibrant colours. £5.75, yogamatters.com
Yogitoes rStretch Strap
Made with two recycled plastic bottles, plus lead- and heavy metal-free dyes, this eco-friendly elastic strap gives support so your muscles can stay actively engaged in poses. $17, yogitoes.com
Another way to extend your arms, you can rest your hands on blocks in triangle and half moon pose, or place them under your sacrum to support your back in bridge. Simply use end-up or on its side as your flexibility increases. You can also use blocks in restorative poses – try raising one end of a bolster to create an angled back support, use as a head support or place under under your thighs in sitting poses to release your hips open.
Teal yoga block
A foam block that’s easy to grip and super lightweight, it will give you support for balances and let you stretch deeper into poses. £10.99, gaiam.co.uk
Manduka bamboo brick
Made from sustainable bamboo, this block is lighter than traditional wooden ones, but still has a solid feel. With the beautiful Manduka logo etched on one surface, it looks like a piece of art! £18, yogamatters.com
Once you have the basics, you can build up your kit to make your practice more enjoyable. Try these.
Yogamali new water resistant mat bag
Keep your mat dry as you transport it to and from class – perfect for the winter months. £13.75, yogaunited.co.uk
Manduka equa yoga hand towel
Use this super absorbent towel to dry off in hot yoga sessions, or spread over your mat to help prevent slippage in sweaty sessions. £17.95, fushi.co.uk
Damask water bottle
Keep plastic bottles out of landfill sites with this 750ml aluminium alternative. £10.99; gaiam.co.uk
Yogamatters rectangular bolster
Ideal for restorative postures, the rectangular shape supports the whole of your back, or use to help perfect your shoulder stand. £38, yogamatters.com
Yogamali eye pillow with lavender
Chill out at the end of your session with a relaxing lavender-scented eye pillow. £6.95, yogaunited.co.uk
Eve is training to be a yoga teacher with triyoga.
This article first appeared in Health & Fitness Magazine