You will need three basic items…

to participate in any of the awesome yoga and pilates classes we teach at the Union Yoga and Strength:

  1. A mat
  2. A towel
  3. A bottle of water

Everything else is optional. The easiest and most efficient way to be sure you have your three essentials is to purchase a reusable water bottle and keep it with you.  You need to hydrate during the day anyway, right? Take advantage of The Union’s mat and towel service and you’re ready to go. If you prefer to have your own gear read on for tips.   

Choosing a mat 

A Brief history of the yoga mat 

Yogi in

(Rajesh Kumar Singh/AP)

The practice of yoga has been around for thousands of years. In contrast, the modern yoga mat has been around for about 50 years. Yoga mats started as cloths in the 19th century and later turned into rugs around the mid 20th century. In the 1950s, when plastics became widely available, something resembling the yoga mats we know today appeared on the market. Fast forward to today, the yoga industry is booming!  There are many different types of yoga mats to choose from. Whether you want sturdy or sticky or cushiony or eco-friendly, there is a company that makes a mat for you.  All of the mats available have pros and cons and serve different purposes.

Thick cushioned mats are easy on the joints, knees, and spine but they are harder to balance on. Thin mats are lightweight, easily portable, and easier to balance on; however, there’s no cushion for the joints. Sticky mats are good to keep your hands from slipping in downward facing dog pose like in a power yoga class, but not necessary for Bikram style hot yoga classes. PVC mats are very sturdy and long lasting. They last so long they will sit in a landfill for a thousand years! Rubber is eco-friendly. Beware, some have a noxious smell. Cork mats are eco-friendly and don’t smell as bad, however; they can be pricey compared to cheaper PVC mats.  All of these options can become overwhelming, especially if you are new to yoga and unsure of what your specific needs are.

union yoga gearFor some, their mat is their friend, their sanctuary, their small slice of comfort, and reliability in this chaotic world. I’m going to tell you right now, I’m not that kind of girl. My mat defines my space in the room, and gives me spatial reference points during my practice. I don’t have any injuries, or need for cushioning. I don’t pay attention to the stickiness of a mat because I always have a towel over the mat anyway. So for me, I grab a mat off the shelf at the studio, easy peasy.  For the rare occasion I practice at home, I use a Lululemon mat that was given to me for volunteering, but I don’t have any attachment to it.  

If you’re new to hot yoga and your not sure what kind of yoga mat will suit you, an inexpensive travel mat is a great place to start.  Travel mats are thin, lightweight, and made of closed cell construction, meaning they won’t absorb moisture . This is especially important for hot yoga because you will sweat a lot. You don’t want to lug a sopping wet mat, that feels like a ton of bricks, out of the studio–let alone put that soggy mess in your car.   

Keep in mind, you’ll be using your new mat daily, so you want to make sure you have space for it.

While online shopping is amazing, I recommend good ol’ fashioned brick and mortar shopping when choosing a mat.  This way you can actually feel how heavy the mat is, see how thick it is, and get an idea of how cumbersome it will be. Keep in mind, you’ll be using your new mat daily, so you want to make sure you have space for it.

 Let’s talk about towels 

You basically have 3 options when it comes to choosing a towel; a yoga mat towel, a beach towel, or a bath towel.  Really, there isn’t a right or wrong answer, it boils down to personal preference.  

Yoga mat, yogi toes towel, white bath towelA yoga towel is a thin towel that is designed to lay on top of your mat during your yoga practice to absorb sweat.  They are usually microfiber, and some have little silicone nubs on the bottom to grip to your mat. A thinner towel means less give and more stability when balancing and less bunching when you’re moving in and out of postures. Mat towels are also designed to fit the size of your yoga mat. So if you are in Bikram yoga class, and laying face down in 3rd part Locust, or preparing to fold your towel over your heels in Rabbit, your towel is exactly where it needs to be. Mat towels are more expensive ranging upwards from $70.00; however, they figuratively last forever. With proper washing and care you could easily use the same mat towel for a decade. 

When a bath towel bunches or twists underfoot, the bunches can be uncomfortable and distracting.

A standard bath towel will work fine, however, there are some things to consider. A bath towel will be thicker, so you may not feel as stable when balancing.  When a bath towel bunches or twists underfoot, the bunches can be uncomfortable and distracting. Some people also feel like all of the fluffiness of a bath towel makes them feel hotter when laying on their mat. You will also need to choose which part of your mat will be uncovered. The uncovered portion will pool sweat if you’re a heavy sweater.  

A beach towel will most likely cover your mat, but have the same drawbacks as a bath towel.  The benefit to using a bath or beach towel is really just economics. Both bath and beach towels are cheaper. You can buy more of them. Do less laundry, and replace them when they get stinky. 

Stay Hydrated 

Practically speaking, any full water bottle will get you through a hot yoga class, but you may feel more refreshed if your water is cold. An insulated water bottle or travel cup is the way to go. You can find these types of water bottles most anywhere including grocery and discount stores.  

Optional Gear 

The following items are accessories that you might use in a power or a restorative yoga class. You won’t use these in a traditional Bikram 90-minute class, or a Hot Yoga 60-minute class.  

Yoga Block

Yoga blocks are small supports made of foam or cork. They are typically used to bring the ground closer when flexibility is limited. They can also be used as an aid to explore muscle contractions. Standard yoga blocks are 3 or 4 inches thick and come in various sizes. When assisting in balancing poses, a stable solid block is very helpful.

Strap

Yoga straps are long and made of canvas with two D-rings on one end. They are basically long thick belts. Straps can help you slowly gain flexibility in a posture, or help you experience certain benefits of a posture when your flexibility isn’t quite there. Straps will help you maintain the proper alignment and integrity of your poses. Looks for straps that can be washed as you’re going to get them sweaty.

Namaste, Omies

The important thing to know is… don’t stress out about it.  Show up! Do your best with what you have and you’ll get all the benefits.

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