Two decades ago, I was a new yoga student. My first yoga prop was, no surprise, a mat. Turquoise blue, it was one of those pebbly textured mats, made in Germany, favored by Iyengar yoga practitioners.
Guess what, I still have it. It’s one of my second-string mats, and it’s seen spiffier days. But it’s still usable.
Props might seem expensive at first glance. But they last for decades. Your prop collection can be a lifetime investment.
Now that Zoom yoga is the norm, students who formerly did yoga only at studios and community centres suddenly need a home space—and props. I’m often asked, “What props should I get?”
Here are my recommendations, listed from most essential to non essential. Remember, however, that you can do a thorough yoga sequence with only a mat. You can also substitute household items for props. Don’t limit yourself by your prop supply.
Mat Theoretically, even a mat is optional. But its grippy surface is very helpful. If possible, try several different mats before buying to determine your “touchfeel” preferences. The gold standard, according to many, is a Manduka mat. I don’t own one (and I have too many, mostly the German type described above, to justify buying another).
Strap The inch-wide, cotton strap with sliding-bar metal buckle is an Iyengar yoga classic—and my favorite type. This buckle is unobtrusive and easier to manipulate than double-D ring or plastic snap-on buckles. Length options range from 6ft to 8ft (recommended) to 10ft.
Blocks Blocks are versatile and make many poses more doable. An inexpensive starting point: foam blocks. They’re light and portable. Halfmoon, a Canadian company based in Vancouver, produces quality foam blocks in unique colors and in two sizes, 3in and 4in (recommended).
That said, nothing can rival the heft, durability, and beauty of solid wood blocks, another Iyengar yoga signature. In Canada, woodworkers use cedar. Those pictured in this post were made by Watt Wrks. (Rebecca Watt is one of my students, and she’ll handcraft more if there’s enough demand.)
Other options include cork-covered blocks (non slippery with a hint of softness) and hollow wood blocks (lightweight).
Chair A chair is a chair is a chair. Or is it? For Iyengar yoga, nothing can match a metal folding office chair. They can be hard to find. Try office supply stores, hardware stores, and even dollar stores. I bought mine online from National Business Furniture, which previously had no minimum quantity, but now sells them only in packs of four. To remove the back, you need a metal drill (or something).
Backless versions specifically for yoga are offered at much higher prices. See, for example, the Pune Yoga Chair sold by Yoga Life Style.
Household chairs are fine for some yoga uses, but the back rest is often too tall or curved. That said, any chair is better than no chair.
Chip-foam Blocks These are a Canadian phenomenon–and a fantastic example of upcycling discarded foam. They’re handy for sitting poses and they can substitute for blankets: for example, under knee in lunge or as base layer for shoulderstand blanket stack. I recommend buying four at the same time—if you want them to match. Otherwise they’ll probably vary in appearance (green or yellow?) and in density (soft or firm?) based on random batches of foam.
Halfmoon is my pick for chip-foam blocks. They also sell covers, which are decent, but I’m not a fan of the synthetic fabric or, worse, the Velcro closure. I recently got beautiful cotton ones with zippers from Aquarius Design, a one-woman bolster maker in Nanaimo. Don’t let her bare-bones website fool you; her fabric selection and workmanship are excellent.
Blankets Non-yoga-specific blankets (or large towels) can work nicely for yoga. Don’t assume that you must buy yoga-specific blankets. The main criteria: sufficient size and thickness.
Blankets sold specifically for yoga vary in quality and price. They might be made of wool (varying percentages) or of cotton. An affordable option: those colorful Mexican cotton-acrylic blankets!
I got my first set of blankets—bulky felted wool—from a longtime San Francisco company, Yoga Props. (Check out their nonchalantly retro website if nostalgic for—or curious about—the ’70s.) I later bought more blankets from Halfmoon, light cotton and heavy wool ones, both which could double as stylish home furnishings.
Bolster Brace yourself, we’re now entering splurge territory. No one “needs” a bolster, but it’s ideal for restorative poses. Halfmoon is known for their bolsters, which come in a variety of fabrics. Between round (cylindrical) and flat (rectangular) bolsters, I generally prefer round. But they can be too large or too squishy. Bottom line: size and firmness vary by maker, so choose wisely.
Sandbags I bought my pair of 10lb sandbags many years ago. I’ve always loved the grounding sensation that sandbags provide. Truth be told, however, I rarely use them.
I probably have a few too many props. Thus I’d advise buying what you will definitely use now, not tomorrow or in the vague future. Same rule for clothes and books.
Image: Cedar wood blocks, 2020, Watt Wrks.