yoga teacher trainingBy Dr. Paul Jerard, E-RYT 500

Selecting the proper Yoga props can make the difference between an uncomfortable practice and a fully engaged session. Props are essential for practitioners, who may be holding postures for minutes at a time, in the best possible alignment. For those students who are less flexible, using props ensures correct, safe positioning. Although many specialty props are available, the most common props used are mats, blocks, straps and bolsters.

Those who practice Hatha Yoga seriously should purchase their own props; and teachers, who provide props for student use, may need a wider variety than they would use for themselves. Here are a few tips for getting the most out of your equipment.

Mat: Most Yoga mats are often 68″ long, which is a good size for people under 6 feet tall. If you are taller, consider purchasing a 72″ mat. Mats come in a variety of thicknesses. While it is easier to balance on a thin mat, a thicker mat provides more knee and hip support. PVC is the most common material for Yoga mats, and it is also the cheapest. However, PVC is not very environmentally friendly and does not biodegrade.

Eco-friendly alternatives, with recycled materials, and even cotton mats, are available. For personal use, questions to consider during mat selection are the weight of the mat for comfortable carrying, the stickiness of the surface for foot slippage, and the ease of cleaning. Yoga mats, purchased for student use, must hold up to repeated cleanings and should have excellent compression resistance. You can test the wet friction of a mat by moistening your hand and pressing down laterally on the surface of the mat. The life of a mat can be tested by rubbing a sample with the edge of a coin, until the surface breaks down. Mats with a longer life will take many more strokes before the material breaks down.

Blocks: Blocks usually come in three varieties: solid wood, cork, and foam. Wooden blocks are sustainable, solid, and durable, while providing excellent support without wobbling. Cork blocks are lighter and softer than solid wood, which may be more comfortable for the palms of the hands, but they are more difficult to clean. Cork blocks dent and chip easily, so they are not a good choice for students. Foam blocks are soft, light, and comfortable and can be cleaned with a damp cloth. They are also the lowest cost option, though they break down over time and need to be replaced if abused.

Straps: Yoga straps come in a variety of lengths, from about 5.5 feet to 10 feet long. They feature either a D-ring, or a buckle, to make a loop in the strap. Darker-colored straps show dirt less and are a good choice for students. Due to their adjustability, an 8 foot strap is a good length for most people, with longer lengths for taller individuals.

Bolsters: Bolsters come in two shapes, cylindrical or rectangular. Cylindrical bolsters are usually 9″ x 25″ and rectangular bolsters are usually 12″x 6″x 25″. Bolsters should be dense and firm, but not too heavy. Rectangular, dark-colored bolsters, with machine-washable covers, are good for classes, as they are not as heavy and stack more conveniently.

Remember that a comfortable practice is a productive practice. Purchasing quality props pays off over time. Yoga teachers may want to carry pillows, stools, balls, blankets, and chairs for a variety of uses. Remember that walls, window sills, and counter tops can also be used as Yoga props.

If you are a Yoga instructor, who is stocking a studio, purchase essentials first and see what your students’ needs are as time goes by. Many Yoga studios have props lying around that have never been used.

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