We’ve all seen them. The “trendy” yoga types. You know, the ones running around town in designer yoga clothes with a cool yoga mat bag slung over their shoulder. If we are honest, sometimes we don’t like those yoga fashionistas with the half double decaf latte in one hand and the latest iPhone in the other because we know for a fact that they can touch their toes and stand on their heads with no problem. We know because their clothes and accouterments tell us, right?
I often receive emails from people who are interested in attending my yoga classes, and along with the usual questions about class times and prices, I almost always get asked 1) do I need a mat, and 2) what should I wear. The truth is, no, and whatever you want.
The yoga industry has blossomed into a huge and expanding business where mind-boggling amounts of dollars are spent every year. And while I understand a person’s enthusiasm in wanting to have the latest and greatest “yoga gear,” the truth is that many of the things we are told we absolutely have to have, we really don’t need at all, or at least don’t need to spend an exorbitant amount of money on. Here are three things that you absolutely, positively do NOT have to have to practice yoga.
A Yoga Mat
What do you mean I don’t need a yoga mat? Doesn’t EVERYONE have a yoga mat?
Considering that people have been practicing yoga for over 5000 years and the yoga “sticky” mat wasn’t invented until the early 1980’s, I’d say that a yoga mat is not really necessary. For many years yogis have practiced on the earth, on dirt, grass, and sand. If you are indoors you can practice on the bare floor or even on carpet. I have known people to practice on beach towels or carpet remnants.
So why do we have mats, and do they serve any purpose at all?
Yoga mats were developed to reduce slipping while practicing standing postures, and also to provide a degree of padding on our sensitive tushes and knees while in seated or kneeling postures. And, I’ll admit, those are pretty good reasons. I, myself, usually do practice on a mat. I like the ritual of rolling my mat out because it gives me a chance to transition from my busy life to my yoga world and to focus on what I am there to do during my practice time.
But I have also practiced on the beach, in the airport, and standing in the middle of my husband’s garden with not a mat in sight. Not having a mat is not a valid excuse for avoiding yoga. Ask the thousands, if not millions, of yogis that studied yoga before 1980.
If you play football, you have to wear your uniform because you need your pads and helmet for protection. Basketball players wear shorts for ease of quick movement and because let’s face it, it gets hot out there on the court. Study Judo and you will wear a gi because you need to be able to grasp your opponent’s clothes to execute certain moves.
So what is the standard yoga uniform?
There is none. You can practice yoga in your sweatpants. Or your pajamas. Really, all you need to wear to practice yoga are comfortable clothes that don’t restrict your movement. That’s it! And in really big cities these days you can even find “Nude” yoga classes, which definitely proves that clothes are not a prerequisite for the study of yoga.
I usually wear “yoga” clothes when I teach so that students can better see my form when I demonstrate postures. But I have practiced yoga in a bathing suit, in dress pants, even one time in a cocktail dress. I LOVE practicing in my jammies when it’s cold. Not having fancy yoga clothes is not an excuse to skip yoga. Wear what you want, and get on with it!
Props (straps, blocks, bolsters)
I will start this section by stating that incorporating props into a yoga practice is a good thing for many people. The use of props is one of the ways B. K. S. Iyengar was able to make the ancient practice of yoga accessible to the masses. But the fancy, expensive props that you find in most yoga studios are not a necessity at home.
Looking for a block? How about that old phone book, a small step stool, or even a left-over brick from your last renovation project instead?
Need a strap? I have used one of my husband’s old, stained ties as a strap. In a pinch, I have also used a piece of rope, a kitchen towel, and a sock.
Your restorative pose calls for a bolster? We all have blankets and towels that will fit the bill. And extra pillows from that rarely used guest room have always worked quite nicely for me.
Sorry, but not having the latest purple or green foam or cork block or that cool tapestry covered bolster from India is not a good excuse for not practicing your yoga. Period.
So the next time you come across one of those “trendy” yoga types, understand that their choice of clothing is nothing but a costume. And just because someone wears $150 yoga pants does not mean that they are a great yogi. All you really need to bring to your yoga practice is a desire to better yourself, one breath at a time.
K. Kris Loomis is the author of the humorous travel memoir, Thirty Days In Quito: Two Gringos and a Three-Legged Cat Move to Ecuador. She also writes adult parables and short stories as well as books about yoga and meditation. Kris is a determined chess player, an origami enthusiast, a classically trained pianist, and a playwright. She lives in South Carolina with her husband and two cats.
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