Q: Hi Erika: First, I love, love, LOVE your blog. I read it everyday. I want to start a regular fitness routine and I thought yoga would be something wonderful to start, especially while I’m a student and the classes and gym are FREE at my school! I want to gather supplies before I start. I could always rent from the gym but (ew!) I’d rather have my own so I can practice at home as well. I went to a website, but I am lost! What is a yoga blanket? What kind of mat do I need? Do I need those foot-sticky thingies? What’s the best attire: spandex or loose? Ugh…I am so lost! Please help! LOL
First of all, what kind of awesome school is offering free yoga classes? I really hope that more colleges start incorporating fitness – beyond intramural and phys. ed. – for all students.
Jeez. Jealous much!
Second, I know how people looooove to go on a rampant shopping spree – anything to make us feel more inclined to commit to something new – but sometimes, it’s not always necessary.
When I first started off with yoga, Namaste Yoga – which I wholeheartedly recommend to any yoga newbie – came on three times a day. I didn’t know much about yoga, I just knew that it looked challenging and that I wanted something that might help with my flexibility. From there, I set myself up with a schedule. Since the same episode played at 7, noon and 6PM, I’d watch the 7AM showing, attempt the moves at noon, and go full out in the evening. I mean, I was committed.
When I first started out, I didn’t have a yoga mat. I just had a hard linoleum floor. I tried standing on my bed – wobbly yoga is not fun yoga, let me tell you – to practice, but wound up running into my ceiling more than I liked. From there, I ordered a mat from Amazon.
The girls on the yoga show didn’t use blocks, straps, mats, sticky feet and hand things, and they didn’t wear loose clothing. As a matter of fact, they didn’t wear much in the way of clothing, at all. All kinds of booty shorts and sports bras abound in that series. And, while I wasn’t wearing that little in the comfort of my own home, I wasn’t wearing mumus, either.
Fast forward to a few years later (wow, I can’t believe it’s been years, already), and now I take yoga classes at my health club. Because I began without blocks, straps, blankets and mats, I was a little dumbfounded by people who had stacks of “props” sitting next to their mats… that is, until I started approaching poses that I’d started experiencing difficulty with.
The thing about yoga classes in comparison to learning via DVDs is this: while I credit my DVD series for teaching me the basics – what each pose should look and feel like, how to flow, how to even relax and not be so afraid of your own body – there will always be fine tuning that you can only get in a classroom environment. I can execute trikonasana (triangle pose) perfectly – hand on the ground, without a block…that is, until your instructor grabs your arm and turns you so your chest is facing the ceiling instead of the side… and then you start feeling thankful that you’ve got that block. My health club provides yoga mats, which are awesome… that is, until you get in that downward facing dog and realize that their mats aren’t as slip-resistant as yours.
(That’s another thing about classes – I finally started learning the original names for these poses! Yeee!)
All this being said, if you’re a newbie to yoga, here’s a few things I recommend to make your journey a bit easier (and cheaper):
1) Spend some time watching some DVDs. I’ve owned Yoga For Dummies and the Namaste Yoga series and found both helpful. Yoga classes are pretty quick paced, and there are very few things in the world that feel as awkward as being that student in a yoga class who clearly didn’t know their plank from their pigeon pose, and is holding everyone up because the teacher has to keep helping you. I’ve never been that guy, but I’ve given that guy the side-eye before. Don’t be that guy.
Spend some time, in the comfort of your own home, remote in hand, practicing what some of the poses should look like. Pause the DVD frequently. The goal is to prepare you for going in. Your execution might not be perfect, but it’d be better than someone expected to move quickly and fluidly in a class.
In fact, if there’s a “yoga basics” class offered, by all means take it. Even after years of practice, I attend basics classes and pick up things I didn’t catch, and it makes me a better yogi. Not only can you never have enough of the fundamentals, but its further proof that humility is key in the development of one’s abilities. Treat yourself carefully, and that means don’t put your body through what could be a rigorous experience without having at least a broad understanding of what you’re going into.
2) Clothing. Wear something form fitting. And, while I know many of us may not be comfy enough with our bodies in form-fitting gear… get over alllllladat. During a yoga practice isn’t the time to chastize ourselves and make ourselves feel bad for the state we’re in. If anything, during a yoga practice is the time when you should be most free from outside negative influence. You don’t feel bad about who you are because you’re actually a terrible person… you feel bad because of an outside influence that shouldn’t be present when you practice.
Loose fitting clothes – namely big t-shirts – are frustrating during a yoga practice because, quite frankly, once you get into poses that require you to lean forward, there’s nothing more anger-inducing than your shirt flying over your head. You don’t want those things to interfere with your ability to flow from movement to movement. You don’t want oversized shirts to get in the way of being able to reach your toe from behind the other side of your back.You also don’t want your shirt to fly off once you hit that one legged down dog. That’s a bad place to be with no shirt.
Notice that I’m saying “form-fitting,” not spandex. When you say spandex, I think Jane Fonda and, well, I’m not even entirely sure Jane Fonda liked that. Your pants should be form fitting to the point where if you laid on your back and your legs were lifted in the air – like an L shape – your pants wouldn’t come sliding down to your thighs. Your shirt shouldn’t obstruct your view if you were leaned down in a downward-facing dog pose. I suppose you could “tuck in” a big-sized t-shirt, but once it becomes untucked, you’re gonna look like a parachute, and it’s more fidgeting outside of your practice. Feel free to safety pin it to your pants. Whatever it takes to assuage your self-consciousness, because it’s a really unwelcome vibe.
3) Scout your prospective yoga studio (or, in your case, class), and find out what they offer you. Most gyms offer the mats at a bare minimum. More upscale joints will provide mats, blocks, blankets, hoops and straps. Expect a lot of the startup studios to provide… a place to purchase all the props you may need. That’s okay, it just means you’ll have a nice little collection of what you can use at home as well as in class… which might actually make life easier for you. You won’t have to get used to multiple mats, and you can buy what better suits your needs. You won’t be like me, who has to lay half of one mat over half of another to elongate my mat. (I wish they’d realize that you short people don’t have yoga on lock. Jeez.)
4) Yoga props:
Mats. The stickier, the better for a newbie. To me, yoga mats are characterized by two main components – stickiness and texture. They can be one in the same – a mat with more ridges can feel stickier – but I’ve definitely had sticky mats with little to no texture. Sticky mats, if you’re carrying an extra pound or two, can offer more support when you’re in positions that might result in you slipping forward, or your feet slipping back. While yoga does help you develop the muscle you’ll need to help you sustain those poses without sliding around, you also need support to hold you up in the beginning.
Gloves. This is where the gloves and sticky socks come in. If you practice at a place that offers mats that aren’t very sticky or supportive (as is the case with worn out frequently used mats), you can use the gloves and sticky socks. I’ve also had very creative yoga instructors place a towel over the front and back of my mat, which offered a nice bit of support for where my hands and feet would be, too. It’s all in how you play it – if you’re getting yourself a good mat, you won’t need the gloves. But if your mat is provided, you may want them.
Blocks. I learned without blocks, but they can be valuable for people who are just starting out with balancing poses or basic flexibility. If your ability to hit that half moon pose is affected by you inability to reach the floor without keeling over, then having a pair of blocks standing on top of one another can ease that learning curve… without bruising. You can start with the blocks balancing on one another the long way, then after you’ve grown comfortable with that you can turn one block the short way. From there, it’s all about adjusting so that you remain successful and progressive in your learning.
Blankets. The blanket was new to me until I started taking classes. Some of us aren’t flexible enough to be able to sit on our heels when we’re on the ground, and can only comfortably support our spine if there is space between our booties and our heels. You can use a blanket to help facilitate that. If you fold the blanket, you can make it wide enough that it fits between your booty and heels, making it easier on your body to sit comfortably.
Straps and hoops. If you have difficulty reaching your toes, then it stands to reason that you might also have difficulty reaching that big toe while balancing on one leg with the other leg clear off into the air, right? Wrap a strap or hoop around your foot, lift it up there, and the strap acts as an extension of your arm while you work on developing your flexibility. You can just as easily use a belt in this fashion, too.
Finally, relax! I know our first intention when we dive into something new is to “make sure we have everything we need” but if there’s one thing I learned through the unorthodox way I came to appreciate yoga, it’s that you truly don’t need much. You just need a desire for focus, desire for peace of mind, an ability to commit and an ability to be humble… because conking out on your forehead repeatedly requires humility to help you get back up and do it again!