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Getting the Skinny on Power Yoga Gear

To prop or not to prop? Yeah — that's the question! Do you think that you can suffer the slings and arrows of Power Yoga without special props, or do you feel destined to become spiritually connected with some fun, comfortable Power Yoga gear? Take a look what props are, what they're good for, and the pros and cons of using them in Power Yoga.

Props are pads, blocks, mats, straps, pillows, blankets, and other objects that may be helpful for beginning yogis. When you first attempt certain Power Yoga postures, you may have trouble keeping your balance, or assuming or maintaining certain positions comfortably. With a pillow here or a block there, what had been a wobbly, unsatisfying perch becomes a comfortable, secure pose. Some people swear by props; others avoid them like the plague.

Props can very often assist you in your practice, especially if you're feeling awkward, inflexible, and unstable with a posture. Yoga props can be a great help in getting you started and making you comfortable with Power Yoga postures and exercises. Other props, like eye pillows, simply make you feel more comfortable. Many students like to cover their eyes with eye pillows during relaxation poses. Some students like to relax with blankets under their knees or neck pillows under their necks.

Of course, you don't have to use props. As a matter of fact, props were discouraged by many of the original teachers of Power Yoga. Props were considered unnatural, unnecessary distractions that really diminished the purity and focus of Yoga. Since then, many people have come to realize that Yoga props can help you get started and successfully expand your Power Yoga routine. After you get your moves in the groove, you should be able to kiss most aids good-bye and fly solo through your Power Yoga routines.

As a beginner, try some of the props available in your Yoga studio. See what works best for you and then do what feels natural. If props help you get with the Power Yoga program, go for it! Periodically, you can try the postures without props; if you discover that you don't need them anymore, you can toss the props aside. It's a fluid process, and you're in control.

Taking a magic carpet ride

Even though you really need any Yoga prop, most Yoga enthusiasts would still recommend that you have a good mat. You might say that the true path to enlightenment is a nice, light, soul-levitating mat. The mat makes your practice more comfortable and more stable. It also gives you a warm pad for relaxation exercises and a "home base" to work from in class.

You can choose from a variety of Yoga mat styles and types:

  • Cotton mat (a classic): Beautiful, 100 percent cotton mats are wonderful for Power Yoga workouts. They feel good on your skin, and green cotton mats (made from cotton grown without pesticides and processed without bleach and harmful dyes) are good for the environment, too. You can get cotton mats that are thick and stuffed, but these are better used for relaxation and restorative Yoga. For Power Yoga, stick with a cotton rug-like mat.
  • Rubber mat: Sticky rubber mats help keep your feet and hands from sliding out from under you when you assume postures. These mats give you much better traction than do cotton mats, yet they have a somewhat unnatural feel, and their manufacturing processes aren't always environmentally friendly. These days, you can choose from many different styles, textures, and thickness. Check out different ones and see what works best for you.
    Almost all sticky mats are a little less than sticky — in fact, they're downright slippery — when new. You have to break them in, so get moving!
  • Combination (best of both worlds): You might prefer to use both types of mats; you can keep the rubber mat on the bottom and the cotton mat on top; flip them over to get the foundation you need. Use the sticky mat when you need extra traction and the cotton mat when you want to rest on a natural-feeling surface during a posture.

As with most Power Yoga decisions, only you can determine what type of mat is best for you — however, beginners should seriously consider using the two-mat combo. Most types of mats can be purchased through magazines such as Yoga International and Yoga Journal, or you may be able to buy one at your local Yoga studio. A local studio probably will let you try out various types of mats so you can pick out one that works perfectly for you. You may even find cotton mats in import stores or department stores.

Strapping up your Power Yoga workout

Straps in Power Yoga practice have become as common as automobile seat belts. Straps can help you work out in many ways. They help you extend the reach of your hands, give you a handle to hold onto while balancing in poses, and can assist in supplying counter-tension during spinal twists and other postures. Yoga straps are usually 1-inch-wide strips of cotton or some cotton-blend fabric, and they come in a variety of lengths. Most straps are plain, although some have buckles.

The straps don't come with instructions, so you need to use your imagination a bit when deciding how straps work best in your Power Yoga practice. But if you're a beginner or if you have a body type that doesn't mold to the Yoga postures right away, straps can help you get the benefit of these postures even before you're able to conform your body to them on your own.

If flexibility isn't your best physical trait, you may have difficulty reaching your toes in the Seated Forward Bend. Even if your toes seem a mile away, the strap can help you benefit from this posture. To use a strap with this pose, place it just below the balls of your feet and hold the ends in your hands. You get the stretching benefit to the back of the legs, even though you aren't yet able to get into the "official" pose. (Remember: That benefit cannot occur when you round your back and hunch your shoulders.) Your feet remain straight, your calves get a good stretch, and you're on your way to becoming flexible enough to do the posture without aids!

You can buy Yoga straps from any of the other Yoga prop sources mentioned in this article, but you don't have to get so fancy. Plenty of people do just fine using old socks, towels, or cotton belts as straps in Power Yoga workouts. The choice is yours.

Playing with blocks

Now don't go stealing your children's building blocks; Yoga blocks are a bit different. Blocks are square supports made of wood, plastic, or foam, and they have many excellent uses in Power Yoga practice. Blocks are truly props, in that they can help prop you up into certain poses, such as raising your hips off the floor to help stretch your ankles and hips. Blocks also give you something to lean on during a standing or bending posture when your hand won't quite reach the mat. As you practice new postures and linking movements (asanas and vinyasas), you'll find other ways that blocks can help you achieve poses in comfort.

You can order blocks through Yoga magazines or your local Yoga studio. Then again, you can make your own out of a block of foam or wooden box. (If you make your own, be sure that any foam material is dense enough to provide adequate support and that wood blocks are sanded and smooth.)

Relaxing with flax eye pillows

Eye pillows are small pillows that you put on your eyes during your relaxation time at the end of your Power Yoga session. The gentle pressure helps your eyes relax and sink into your head.

The pillows are often made of rayon or silk or another smooth, silky fabric, which soothes the eyes. They are usually filled with flaxseeds that stay cool and have a soothing feel. Some are stuffed with lavender and other relaxing herbs, or have soothing herbs mixed with the flaxseed. You can also drip a few drops of essential lavender oil on your eye pillow to add to the relaxing sensation.

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