Updated: Dec 20, 2020
Things have changed and, however temporary that might be, many are turning to home yoga practice. Using live, online classes to help them exercise their bodies and their minds, many are discovering yoga for the first time.
Many of us - myself included - have turned to yoga to help them through the uncertainty of the pandemic and are finding huge benefits from developing a daily practice, bringing strength, focus, and positivity to the body and the mind.
This is, of course, great for those of us dedicated to sharing the art of yoga practice. It’s quite a privilege to introduce newbies to yoga, and particularly gratifying to see new-comers discover the positive energy that emerges after a session.
Since I’ve been running online classes, I’ve been excited by the number of new-comers, and have had lots of positive feedback including:
”Feeling wonderful after yoga with Mike. Six weeks and my body feels ten years younger!! Never done it before!” - Andrew
“My body feels different - like I have more space inside, especially in my legs, and I feel more upright. When I stand, I can feel an upwards force, as well as gravity!” - Suzanne
So, people are finding the benefits of yoga for the first time, and those who have been practising with me for many years are getting daily classes instead of weekly.
The question that comes up a lot is "do I need equipment?". And the answer to that is, probably - equipment will always help. But I've been running my classes for everyone and have been adapting to the potential that some just don't have mats, blocks, and bricks, etc.
This article is about how I've found that blankets - if folded correctly - are probably the only equipment you really need. And how there are alternatives for belts.
Do I need equipment?
My training was in Iyengar yoga. I have since let my Iyengar certification expire because I wanted to explore my own practice in a new direction, but - fundamentally - it's the method I still follow to when I teach.
Iyengar yoga uses equipment to support the body during practice. For example, when sitting in swastikasana (crossed legs), it can be difficult to release the knees down towards the floor. Ideally, in crossed legs, it's useful to bring the knees either in line with or - ideally - descending downward below the hips. If the knees are higher than the hips, it can be difficult to extend upwards into the spine.
So, the solution for many people is to sit a little higher. In gyms and yoga studios, we usually have yoga blocks, and people can pile those up to a level that helps them descend the knees.
But this pandemic happened with little warning (at least, there was little by way of preparation time) which means that lots of new people are doing yoga but they don't necessarily have any specific yoga equipment to help them. In yoga studios, we have blankets, blocks, bricks, belts, bolsters, pads, mats, eye pillows, back stretchers, ropes, wedges - the list is long.
So, I've been developing my classes in a way that people can use more everyday pieces of gear to help. The blanket is a truly universal piece of equipment that has multiple functions, so I've been working on ways to make use of the humble blanket to take the place of other bits of kit.
Here's my list of useful yoga equipment that can assist your home practice:
Please note: I am not an Amazon affiliate or connected in any way with the sale of yoga equipment.
My yoga blanket is a coarse-woven, Indian cotton yoga blanket. It's what you'll find in yoga studios, but any blanket will do.
If you don't have an Indian yoga blanket, then a large bath towel is an excellent alternative - one of those "bath sheets" even better. A substantial, thick cloth is good because it offers more support when folded.
Blankets are usually folded into a 12x6-ish inch rectangle (see pic). We fold our blankets to add height under the seat bones while sitting, to support the spine will laying down, and to roll into a sausage shape to give more support in the supine poses.
If you have only one piece of yoga equipment, make it your blanket. And it's good to have more than one blanket available - I've found that having a selection of blankets can be useful.
I have my blanket as shown in the picture above, but I've also started using a folded duvet cover: the cotton is more tightly woven and the material thinner, making it easier to fold; and it gives a firmer, more supportive lift than the traditional blanket. And in combination, the two blankets work well together.
I'm going to show you how blankets can be used instead of the other equipment.
In supta baddhakonasana, the bolster sits around the lumbar, providing a lift of the chest to aid deep breathing. However, the rounded shape of the bolster also provides a great opening of the collar bone; again, assisting with the transit of the breath.
The bolster is a hugely useful piece of equipment that helps in a variety of ways - but the most common use for a bolster is to support the lift and opening of the chest in reclining poses.
In supta baddhakonasana, the bolster sits around the lumbar, providing a lift of the chest to aid deeper breathing. However, the rounded shape of the bolster also provides considerable opening of the collar bone; again, assisting with the transit of the breath.
However, you don't NEED a bolster: I've found a range of ways to fold a blanket to give you a similar lift in the chest.
Blanket as bolster
I've found that the most effective way to adapt a blanket so that it supports in a similar way to a bolster is like this:
This folded configuration will give you some lift underneath the chest for supta baddhakonasana.
Think about combining blankets
If you combine your Indian cotton (or bath towel) blanket with the duvet cover blanket, then you'll get greater lift in the chest. The duvet cover can actually serve as a more supportive lift because you can fold it more times and it feels firmer underneath the back.
This helps lift the chest a little more:
See, here, that there's more lift in the diaphragm region than achieved with just one blanket. Three blankets, of course, offer more lift still; so experiment and see what you need to give you the amazingly refreshing openness achieved when elevating the chest in reclining poses.
Basically, the higher the lift underneath the back, the better. Refer back to the picture above of supta baddhakonasana with the bolster: the diaphragm and the chest are much broader and higher.
If you have just two blankets, you can raise your makeshift bloster even higher by placing them on a layer of two of yoga blocks.
Bricks and blocks
Yoga bricks and blocks are particularly useful pieces of equipment. They support the lift of the spine in seated forward bends and seated twists and can be a boon for Setu bandha.
Here, we have two types of yoga block: a firmer, denser foam block and a softer, coarser foam composite.
Yoga bricks are firmer still and are really useful for raising the floor while in standing forward bends, such as half uttanasana or for placing under the hand in utthita trikonasana if reaching the shin is not possible or desired.
Yoga blocks are firmer than blankets and provide great lift for seated poses. Yoga bricks are firmer still and are particularly useful for Setu bandha.
If you don't have yoga bricks or blocks, then you could use a couple of thick, hardback books or a footstool or even a coffee table.
If you have a problematic back, then it's good to have a lift underneath your hands for standing forward bends (and possibly avoiding intense, seated forward bends).
Most people freak out a little when they're first handed a yoga belt in a class. They wonder what on earth we're going to do with it, but the yoga belt is your friend! It helps in a huge array of ways; from forward bending to stretching and opening the shoulders.
Yoga belts come with a self-locking hook at one end so that you can create a loop - but we don't always need a loop. I've developed my online classes so that we don't require loops - there are other ways of using the belt to help.
If you don't have a yoga belt, then you could use a neck-tie or just a normal belt you would wear around your waist. Some of my students have even been using their blanket instead of a belt and it works perfectly.
Yoga mats - Tree mats are great. They're expensive and quite heavy, but you stick to a tree mat like no other mat. Click here for a selection of great mats.
Alternatively, this yoga mat review page is good and has links to their favourite products.