Whilst yoga can be practiced without any props or special equipment, sooner or later most people decide to invest in some supplies for their home practice. Equipment can generally be divided into two categories. First, there is the basic equipment. This can include things like mats, blankets, and perhaps eye bags. The next tier in terms of priority might include straightforward supportive tools, such as belts, bolsters, and blocks. Finally, there is a range of specialized tools that can give very precise support to the positions for which they were designed. This article will discuss some of the different yoga supplies available, and what poses they are generally used for.
Yoga mats could be classed as essential, except that they can be substituted by a large towel, or a cotton rug that isn't slippery. The most important thing it does is help facilitate a student's grip as they move through, and hold, different asanas. It is much easier to use a proper mat compared to a towel or rug, but if you are short of funds, you can certainly make do. Mats are generally inexpensive, with 'sticky mats' being the cheapest. There are higher quality synthetic mats, but even these can be bought for the cost of a restaurant meal. Generally, it is suggested that mats be hand washed, but I have washed mine in a machine with no problems.
Cotton mats tend to be used in some Indian yoga centers, and are also available on the internet. There are also 'ecological' mats, made out of rubber, or other natural materials. These are quite popular with yoga practitioners who are sensitive to their effect on the environment.
Blankets can be used in relaxation at the end of a session, or to provide gentle support when doing some poses such as shoulderstand and headstand. Blankets tend to be thin and lightweight. This is especially important when they are used to support the neck in the above mentioned asanas.
Eyebags are usually made of satin, and filled with an organic, lightweight material like linseed. They are used in relaxation.
Props were introduced by BKS Iyengar, although they are used in many different disciplines now. The reason was that it made it easier for beginners and those with physical limitations to experience the benefits of some postures they may not yet be able to do. They can also help students become more aware of the subtleties of a pose, by allowing the body to align as it should. The props that particularly help with this are blocks, belts, bolsters, chairs, wall ropes, and special props developed for specific poses.
Bolsters are excellent for certain floor poses, and are often used to support the back. Blocks are typically used in standing poses, are and very useful when students are not yet flexible enough to reach the ground. This is particularly true in standing poses that involve twists. Belts are used in a variety of poses, including forward bends, and others that help keep the arms in the correct alignment. These are not usually expensive items, and are worth having on hand. They may allow you to really spend a lot of time in a particular pose.
The most expensive yoga supplies tend to be the very specialized props that can be used in headstand and backbends. They are certainly not crucial, in that you can use cheaper props to gain support in those poses. But they may offer particular benefits that are worth the cost to those than can reasonably afford them.
Good yoga props can make a home practice more enjoyable. It is particularly gratifying to be able to extend one's ability in a pose, and practicing at home certainly provides the luxury of time sometimes not available in a class. Props, in this instance, would be very beneficial. But whether you need anything beyond the basics, a mat, is an individual call.