Straps, bags, sweat-wicking clothing, toe socks (with grips no less), blocks, cushions and mats have all become tools of the yoga trade. Every corner we walk on seems to have a new yoga store selling wares to both new and experiences practitioners, and I’ve even taken to writing about many of them who make amazing products that do all that they claim to, adding a little special something to each and every asana. Don’t get me wrong, many of these products are beneficial and helpful to our practice, but are they necessary? Do we need them as much as the industry seems to think we do?
I myself have quite the cupboard full of goodies including blocks, cushions and a strap, and will shamelessly admit to owning many hundreds of dollars worth of yoga clothing that blissfully swaths me in snugly stretchiness. Furthermore, due to my injury, my block in particular has become vital for me to bend into certain poses, since my right knee no longer has the flexibility and strength to perform the moves all my own. And downward dog without a mat? Unheard of. My knees would cry out in both pain and pleading for the squishy few millimeters of protection. But there are also many people out there who also have injuries and are happy to perform their moves in the middle of a park with a pair of cutoffs and a tank top. No fancy swag required. I got to thinking, is one way of practicing better than the other?
These days, many classes have been adding more and more props in order to both deepen practices for more familiar yogis and ease into poses for those who haven’t been at yoga for very long. It also serves as a means for making classes more interesting, when studios seem to be popping up in every city and competition for the next new thing is vital to the success of the studio. To an extent, many of these pieces of equipment have become part of the hype, which is getting us further away from the meaning of yoga, and the ability to be able to practice anywhere, anytime. We soon get to feeling like without all the pieces we have become accustomed to using, we no longer know what to do.
Like anything else, it is my humble opinion that yoga equipment should be used in moderation. They can easily be brought in to specific classes and occasions, and in fact, many specific kinds of yoga require equipment, but at the end of the day, you should ensure that your practice doesn’t rely on all of these pieces. All this being said, for those with injuries and disabilities, equipment can help you to perform moves without, or decreasing, the amount of pain they cause and furthermore, give you the confidence you need to improve your practice. In that way, equipment can be fantastic and sometimes, totally necessary.
This week, after a bike ride that ended in a long and painful hill up to my house, I decided to hang out in the park and perform a few moves, cushioned by the grass that Mother Nature gave me. I couldn’t get into downward dog…it hurt too bad. Sitting cross-legged is almost impossible. Is yoga better with a mat? Sometimes. But there’s also something to be said for the smell of blades of grass in your nostrils and a little dirt on your cheek.