Once upon a time, I had a bright pink yoga mat that I got for free while working at a rehab hospital. It had some prescription drug’s name emblazoned on it, it was flimsy, and it was pretty horrendous as far as grip goes.
That was my first mat, ever.
The hospital I was working as a rehab aide at offered a free yoga class on Thursdays for the staff and, every week that I could, I put that crappy mat to good use. That was many years ago, and since then I’ve added a few things to my practice (and gotten a more quality mat). I thought I’d share what I use, and how I use them. Just FYI, I’m not getting any sort of perks whatsoever for posting any of this. That would be nice, though.
(Also, reminder: none of this stuff is necessary for a good yoga practice. Like I mentioned, I was once using something that can barely be described as a mat, and yet I benefitted from each practice, regardless.)
Speaking of which…
1. Yoga Mat
I currently use a Jade mat. I have heard some not great things about Jade mats when they’ve gone past the “breaking in” stage, but for the past year I have had my mind blown by mine and I currently have no complaints. I threw my last mat away after Willow peed on it (listen to me, boasting about my glamorous life), and that’s how I ended up searching for a new one. I honestly didn’t realize how lacking my previous mats were until I started using Jade. I don’t slip and slide all over when I’m in down dog, and that is invaluable to me. Since Jade’s mats are made of natural rubber, they absolutely smell at first. Not sure if there’s any way around that, but it is what it is and I think it’s a small price to pay. [Side note: I also have a Manduka eKO mat, and while I can admit that it’s of extremely good quality overall, I just don’t feel that it has quiiiite the same amount of grip as the Jade. Plus the rubber smell is even stronger.]
2. Yoga Wheel
I actually won mine when I entered a giveaway Plexus was doing on Instagram last summer, and I’m so glad I did because I’m not sure I would have ever purchased one otherwise. I feel like it’s just not a widely popular item, but it’s possible that I am just out of the loop (I’m often very late to the party when it comes to what’s trendy or cool). Other than what I’d seen on Instagram, I don’t think I’d ever heard of such a thing as a yoga wheel. Anyway, I won their 10″ medium wheel and now I use it constantly. I roll on it before I get started with my practice, and my back makes sounds like Rice Krispies. It’s fantastic. It helps me get a little prepped for any backbends I may be doing, but it’s also great for when I just need to work out some tight muscles, or if I feel like my posture has been particularly awful. My husband, Pete, uses it to loosen up his tight back from cycling, Willow sits inside of it and pretends she’s stuck. Someday maybe Sophia (our chihuahua) will use it as a hoop to run through. Fun for the whole family.
I have a few straps that are all basically the same so I didn’t feel the need to list any particular brands, but these things are AMAZING. Go buy one at Target and watch your life transform. I use mine mainly to work on opening my shoulders. They are so, so tight, and need all the help they can get. I also use it to help me deepen a pose (like natarajasana [dancer], or eka pada rajakapotasana [pigeon]) or support me when I don’t think I can maintain safe alignment on my own for long (like in navasana [boat], when I so badly want to just stop using my abs and instead dump into my lower back). When I’m washing dishes, I’ll wrap the strap around me in such a way that allows me to keep better posture. The possibilities are endless.
I’ve used both foam blocks and cork blocks, and my preference lies with cork. They are heavier and sturdier, and I feel safer using them. Right now I have HemingWeigh blocks, and I literally use them every single day. I use them to bring the floor closer to me (like in ardha chandrasana [half moon]) and to bring my hips higher than my knees while in a seated position. I handstand on them often, which adds an extra element of difficulty. In the beginning of my handstand press journey, I used blocks under my feet to help me out until my core got stronger and my hamstrings got looser. I use them under my knees in savasana when my legs are in a diamond shape. I’ve used them in dhanurasana against a wall (tilted against it) to reduce the angle of my wrists.
I’ve sensed a weird perception of props like these that I just don’t understand. They are viewed by some as something to use by “weaker” people. Uh, no. In my opinion, props open the practice of yoga asana up to a wider variety of people. Blocks (and straps) can make poses more accessible to more individuals, and at the end of the day…isn’t inclusion a positive thing? That’s a rhetorical question because the answer is an absolute and obvious “yes”.
Yes, books, beloved books. I have been reading anything and everything yoga related, and I cannot stress enough how important each every book has been to my journey. Some of my favorites have been:
- Light on Yoga by B.K.S. Iyengar
This book is one that I am always going back to. It’s chock full of information on yogic philosophy, alignment, pranayama, and it’s complete with detailed instructions and photos for 200 different poses. It’s like the ultimate guide book. It’s a bit intimidating.
- The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali
Truth be told, I have not even finished this, yet. Each time I pick it up I end up highlighting half of the material, and then spending the next week trying to absorb it all. It is heavy, and it will make you think. I’ve had a few “lightbulb moments” while reading this, mainly because each sutra feels like another piece to some puzzle I didn’t even realize I was trying to solve.
- Where in the Om am I?: One Woman’s Journey from the Corporate World to the Yoga Mat by Sara Divello
This is a memoir, centered around one woman’s journey through yoga teacher training as she exits her corporate career. I enjoyed this so much because Divello’s thoughts on her training and experience were so honest. Plus, she’s from Boston! I always enjoy reading things by folks who are local.
- Stretch: The Unlikely Making of a Yoga Dude by Neil Pollack
Okay, if you read this you need to have a sense of humor. This book is a memoir and it is hilarious, but I can see how some would view it as crude. The guy’s just telling it like it is, though. Pollack details his adventure into yoga, and he describes himself as basically the opposite of what one would view as a “yogi”. I liked it a lot because it was such a striking difference to the usual yoga memoirs that I’ve read.
- Yoga Anatomy by Leslie Kaminoff and Amy Matthews
I got this for Christmas from Pete last year, and I’ve kept it on the coffee table so I can keep coming back to it over and over again. It helps me understand poses as they look from the inside of the body. Even if you are not doing any sort of teacher training, I highly recommend this if you’d like to learn about the muscles and joints involved in each pose. The more we know, the safer we can become.
- Yoga for All of Us by Peggy Cappy
This book is wonderful. So many people are under the impression that yoga cannot be practiced by those who don’t possess the typical “yoga body”, and this book provides the proof that yoga is for everyone. There are modifications included for each pose, and detailed instructions to go along with them. Can’t do downward facing dog on the floor? Use a chair! Can’t reach your foot to do a supine leg stretch? Use a strap! I am really passionate about trying to learn as much as possible about pose modifications so that more people will feel comfortable giving this yoga thing a try, and this book has given me so much information.Other books I love: May I Be Happy: A Memoir of Love, Yoga, and Changing My Mind by Cyndi Lee, Finding More on the Mat: How I Grew Better, Wiser and Stronger Through Yoga by Michelle Berman Marchildon, One Breath, Then Another by Amanda Erin Miller, and The Bhagavad Gita
Thus concludes my list of five things! Note: I didn’t mention YouTube because I don’t use it hardly at all anymore, but awhile back I used to watch Yoga with Adriene because she has some really great videos, for all different situations (“Yoga for a Dull Moment”, “Yoga for Scoliosis”, etc.). Her videos were great for me when Willow was smaller, and I never had the time to get to a class at a studio. Check her out if you need somewhere to start, or if you’re just looking to try something new!
In other news, I finished YTT last weekend (!!!) and I’m still processing everything. I’ll write a post once I have thoughts that are less scattered, but in the meantime I’ll share that, yes, I cried. Obviously.
Enjoy your weekend,