Yoga

11 things you need on your yoga mat… or not.

Have you ever taken a yoga class that was so crowded that you could hardly find enough space for your yoga mat? And I don’t mean crowded with people but crowded with… people’s stuff. You sometimes have to maneuver your way through bags, bottles, blankets and blocks, and with every move to the sides of your own mat you risk stepping on your neighbor’s things. With yoga accessories becoming more and more plentiful every day, some practitioners seem to think that they need to come to class with a full range of equipment.

But what do you really need on your mat during your practice? What are the essentials for a yoga class?

Yoga props

Props are great tools to make many asanas more accessible and safe, and including them in your practice can be highly beneficial. So if you like using blocks, straps or any other type of props, make sure to put them within reach before the class starts. You will more likely make use of them when they are close to your practice space than if you have to fetch them from the props shelf (very much in the same way as you are more likely to drink enough throughout the day if a water bottel is within easy reach). Of course you can also make some simple adjustments to your body when no props are available (like placing your hands on your shins in Trikonsana (triangle pose), or practicing Eka Pada Hastasana (standing hand-to-foot pose) with a bent knee to protect your hamstrings) but usually a block or a strap will allow you to find greatest openness, stability and strength in a pose.

Needed on the yoga mat?   


Water bottle

Although some yoga teachers postulate that drinking water while practicing extinguishes agni, the “inner fire” that is believed to regulate metabolism, digestion and the immune system, it is absolutely vital to refill the fluid levels that are spent during a flow yoga practice. This is not only true for hot yoga classes and people who generally tend to sweat a lot, but important for every practitioner. A good hydration management helps to improve blood circulation to the muscles in order to avoid cramps and stiffness, promotes the flushing-out of toxins that are released during the yoga flow by your kidneys, and supports your circulatory system in balance poses and inversions. So there’s nothing wrong with drinking while practicing. As always in yoga: listen to your body and do what feels right for you. If that means taking a sip of water between your vinyasas, feel free to do so.

Needed on the yoga mat?   


Blanket

After a vigorous physical practice it is normal for your body to cool down when you get to the resting poses and Savasana. A blanket prevents you from feeling cold and supports relaxation by helping you feel cozy and warm. Yet it is not necessary to have a blanket close to your mat throughout the whole practice (unless you want to use it as a prop). Good yoga teachers will usually ask around class if anybody needs anything for Savasana and will gladly bring you a blanket if needed. If you prefer socks and a longsleeved shirt, that’s fine as well. You can place them in the back of the room before practice starts and just go get them after the last few counterposes before Savasana.

Needed on the yoga mat?   


Eye pillow

Eye pillows seem to have become a recent trend in yoga classes. They come in all colors and shapes, and are sometimes with filled with aromatherapeutic scents or stuffed with grainy seeds to promote tension relief. I have seen people who not only used an eye pillow but also ear plugs to shut every stimulus out during their relaxation phase. Personally I have always been fine with just closing my eyes and focusing my attention on my breath in Savasana. However, this might be different for other people. If you find it difficult to find stillness of mind without shutting your senses off, don’t worry if you don’t possess a dedicated eye pillow. A scarf will work just as well for covering your eyes and finding mindful relaxation.

Needed on the yoga mat?   


Incense and essential oils 

The use of incense as a tool for meditation has been documented for many centuries. The scented smoke produced from burning incense are believed to promote self-awareness, release negative vibrations and deepen relaxation. I’ve attended plenty of yoga classes where teachers would burn incense and palo santo during Savasana and meditation, walking around the room and fanning the earthy fumes into everyone’s faces. In principle I like the smell of palo santo but I never ever burn it at home or inside a room. The reason is simple: the smell lingers for days, and unless you want to smell as if you’d just come out of a new-age shop for a week, it’s not advisable to immerse yourself in fumes, no matter how sacred they might be. In addition, research findings point to incense smoke being just another form of second-hand smoke, no less harmful than that of cigarettes when inhaled on a regular basis.

Essential oils do not pose the same risk at the practictioner, however they can still be a disturbance for others. A scent you love doesn’t necessarily appeal to your mat neighbor, and you never know if anyone in your class is allergic or reacts with any other type of irritation to the fragrances contained in your aroma spray.

Needed on the yoga mat?   


Towel

I used to have a yoga mat that was slippery like a hundred smushed slugs on a wet poolside floor. I dreaded every Down Dog because I knew my hands and feet would slip apart inch by inch the more sweat I worked up. A yoga towel was my life saver (or should I rather say: my nose saver, because I would definitely have broken it sooner or later by facepalming on the mat). Placing the towel on my mat with the sticky side down and the fabric side up provided just the right grip to practice safely and stably. You can also use a small towel (like the ones you would put in the guest bathroom) to wipe your hands between asanas or vinyasas, or to place your hands on in Down Dog and similar poses.

Needed on the yoga mat?   


Mat spray

There are two types of yoga mat sprays: the ones you use for disinfection of the rubber surface after the practice, and scented sprays that are intended to create an ‘energizing’, ‘balancing’ or ‘envigorating’ aroma atmosphere. The latter version falls in the same category as incense in terms of yoga etiquette: It’s always a good idea to ask your fellow practitioners if they mind the scent before you spray away.
As for mat disinfectants, most yoga studios will have some sort of sanitizing spray available for you to use (and expect you to use it especially if you borrowed one of their studio mats). So while cleaning your mat after practice is a definite must, it’s generally not necessary to bring your own spray.

Needed on the yoga mat?   


Mala beads

Which mala maker would discourage you from taking your mala beads to the mat? Certainly not me! Having your mala with you on the mat has nothing to do with style or fashion. While most people use their mala primarily for their meditation and not their asana practice, it can be highly useful for the physical practice as well. I like to place my mala on or in front of my mat as a point of focus, a so-called drishti. Anchoring my gaze on one steady point helps me maintain my alignment in balance poses, find strength in challenging asanas, and reminds me of my intention throughout my practice. Having it close to me also sort of infuses and charges it with the positive energy I cultivate during my yoga flow.

Needed on the yoga mat?   


Journal

During my teacher training we were encouraged to cultivate the habit of journaling after every class. We were given 15-20 minutes to note down our impressions and thoughts, everything from alignment clues, modification options and personal feelings triggered by the practice. I have loved writing for as long as I can remember and have several journals I use only for yoga-related stuff. However I always felt that writing immediately after coming out of Savasana was totally the wrong time for me. After a good class and a long relaxation at the end my head is blissfully clear, so usually all I manage to write is incoherent scribbles.
In regular yoga classes there is hardly any time to remain on your mat and do your journaling before the next class starts. So instead of trying to pour everything onto pages I would rather recommend reflecting for and hour or so and then dedicate some extra time to sit down with a cup of tea and write your thoughts into your journal.

Needed on the yoga mat?   


Food

An intense yoga class burns plenty of calories, so it’s no wonder yogis often get a ravenous appetite from practicing. If you’re like me you can recall at least half a dozen times where you spent your entire Savasana dreaming about what you would have for dinner after class. If you know you tend to get cravings, it’s absolutely okay to bring some snacks with you – for after class, not for clandestinely taking a quick bite in between two poses. Eating on the yoga mat should be avoided, even if it’s a whole-day workshop or a class that doesn’t involve a lot of physical practice. Longer master classes and workshops will usually have breaks you can use to fortify yourself with a light snack, so there’s no need to turn your mat into a picnic blanket.

Needed on the yoga mat?   


Cell phone

This one should be a no-brainer. Unless you’re a doctor on stand-by duty or something really urgent (like leaving your kid with a new babysitter for the first time) requires you to be on call, the yoga mat is just no place to have your phone within plain sight. When your phone starts ringing or vibrating you loose your focus, and the people next to you do too. It’s not really zen to peak on your cell phone in Down Dog, and texting during class isn’t either. The same goes for using your phone to take pictures in class. It might be tempting to quickly post a snap of your practice on social media, but please keep in mind that not everybody likes to find pictures of themselves saluting the sun on another person’s Instagram feed. So please never take photos of your fellow yogis without their express consent. And yes, this applies to teachers as well. Savasana is not a photo op to document how relaxed your students are after taking a class with you.

After all, yoga is about finding the connection to yourself, not about staying connected with your social media followers 24/7. Use the time on your mat to tune in with yourself and give your body your undivided and undisrupted attention.

Needed on the yoga mat? 


The ratings above reflect my personal opinion and are not necessarily valid for every yogi. 😊

No matter what you choose to bring or not to bring with you on your yoga mat, the most important thing is to show up and dedicate time to meet yourself. If you feel that some of the things listed here make your practice more enjoyable and mindful, feel free to use them however often you like. Just remember: In the end, the only thing you really need on your mat is YOURSELF.

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