On the face of it Yoga seems to involve very little equipment, I mean yourself and a mat; what could be more simple than that!?
And… Yes, this is true but there is an awful lot of other equipment that comes with the practice of Yoga, (and conveniently manages to fill the boot of my car at all times), that may or may not be helping your practice!
So how do you know what you really need to include in your Yoga practice? And more to the point… what should you definitely not be using?
I am not going to cover all the possible Yoga equipment out there, but instead I will just be going over the basic equipment and then a few of my favourites…
Oh and as ever, it is my responsibility to mention to you that there are affiliate links in this post so please be aware if you happen to purchase any of my recommendations, all of which I own or regularly use, I may be earning some income off of it. Here is a link to all of my disclaimers, should you wish to peruse through them!
I have to say that, as an instructor, I actually hate belts, well strongly dislike at any rate, I think that 85% of the time they make your posture worse not better. However, a lot of instructors do believe in them and I do occasionally offer them up to my students.
In theory, the benefit of the belt is that it helps you reach something that was previously unreachable, for example if you are sitting in a forward fold and cannot quite touch your toes, it helpfully extends your arms by looping over the feet. However, this is the exact pose that drives me insane when it comes to belts! People have a habit of really pulling against the belt and rolling their shoulders forwards, completely ruining any alignment and it is primarily this pose that leads me to not be an avid supporter of the Yoga Belt!
That said, they can be of huge assistance. If you give a belt to an advancing practitioner, they will, in general, be more aware of their alignment and likely be able to use a belt to loop the foot in such poses as Dancer’s Pose, thus helping to gently open and curve the spine, whilst still reaching the correct form and shape of the pose in question. See the image below:
So beginners forget the belt, just exhale and gently relax the muscles, slowly day-by-day trying to reach your goal but if you are ready to advance your practice, go ahead and get a belt! Here are some very affordable ones that I use to teach with: Koly® Yoga Stretch Strap, With D-Ring.
Bricks & Blocks
I like bricks! I think bricks are GREAT!! Really, really BIG fan!
Blocks are those flat ones that help you sit in a meditative poses or support the shoulders in a shoulder stand and yes they can be useful but nowhere near as useful as bricks. Unless you are a meditating regularly and really struggle with sitting on the floor, I would not recommend getting a block, I don’t think that they are worth it.
Often the words blocks and bricks are used interchangeably but I want to talk about my favourite, the Brick. A brick is normally around 20cmx14cmx6cm. The best bricks are made of cork, wood or dense foam. I like these ones: Voidbiov Cork Yoga Blocks Set, they have good stability and density. You need the density to be able to support your weight. You might also notice that they call these ones Blocks, as I said the words seem to be used interchangeably, you want to purchase the fatter one.
As a beginner, a brick can be placed on one of its many sides next to the foot in a pose, such as Triangle Pose. You, the practitioner, then place your hand on the brick and Voila! You have extended your arm, your body is in alignment, your chest is open! You have, without the need for too much flexibility, received the full benefits of the pose.
And bricks are not just for beginners either!
Advance practitioners can use the wondrous brick to assist in inversions (here is an awesome article, courtesy of Yoga Journal) and arm balances. You can also do some strengthening exercises with blocks to prepare for handstands, Kino McGregor does a great video here!
We have moved on from basic equipment to some of the items that I commonly use. I own a wheel and I think that it is great if you already have a some to a lot of flexibility in your spine. If you have none, a wheel is not worth getting, you will probably cause more damage than assistance by getting a tight and uncomfortable neck.
So the Yoga Wheel is something to get if you really enjoy practicing Yoga and have been doing it awhile, as they are not cheap. I have this one: MyYogaWheels UK Yoga Wheel , its not expensive and robust, there are more in-depth ones out there and pricier options also depending upon the finish. They come in a range of sizes, as you can see above, but I find that the standard size is best.
The first time, or the first few times, that you use a wheel can feel a bit odd. It is not a natural experience, let’s put it that way. Leaning backwards over a rolling object isn’t something I was doing everyday, although, now that I have a Yoga Wheel it has become a daily occurrence!
So the benefits … The wheel can be used to release your back, as a restorative practice, you simply lie across it and relax. This is lovely and mainly what I use it for. However, the wheel itself does allow you to really deepen poses. It comes in really handy for monkey pose, pigeon pose and some core strength work.
Here are some pictures, courtesy of the wheel invented Dharma….
Foam Rollers, Lacrosse Balls and Spiked Balls
If you do not have a Lacrosse Ball, go and buy one! Here’s a lovely one: 6 cm Lacrosse Massage Ball! Lacrosse balls are your friend! Foam Rollers are also your newest and best-est friend! And if you think I need some more myofascial release in my life, (and lets be honest, who doesn’t?), then spiked balls might as well be your new partner in crime!
Right! Now that I have fully expressed the reason that I am single, through my love for massaging tubes and balls (probably something to do with an obsession for excel also), I can tell you a little bit about how to use them!
We will start with the basic Foam Roller, get one with ridges all over it, I use this one: TriggerPoint GRID Foam Roller . The foam roller should be used after exercise not before. This is because you are lengthening the muscles and as a general rule, whilst we are on it, always stretch AFTER exercise, NEVER BEFORE! I will explain that in another article at some point but its important, just believe me and follow the advice! You can use the foam roller to work out knots and general muscle soreness throughout your body, however, it works best in your legs. Here is a nice foam roller sequence, with Ashley Borden.
Which is where the Lacrosse ball comes in, which can be interchanged for a spiked ball, Starwoods also does a nice selection of those, I have this group: 6 cm Lacrosse Ball, 7 cm Very Firm Spiky, 7 cm Medium Firm Spiky Balls + Carry Bag(pictured above). The Lacrosse ball can get deeper into the muscles and into smaller more bone-surrounded areas that the foam roller struggles to get into. Such as the shoulders and lower back. Here is a great example of the Lacrosse ball in use:
The magic of the Lacrosse ball doesn’t stop here! I like to include in a Yoga session by placing it under certain muscles when holding a pose, to really release the muscles and work deep into the tissue. A great pose to do this with is Sleeping Pigeon Pose, you can place a ball under the quad of your long leg or into the glutes of your angled leg.
All in all I think that props are great! But most do need some guidance on usage and as a general rule they should not really be used by beginners, except Bricks and Lacrosse Balls, everyone should have one of each of those!