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Essential equipment for the ultimate yoga experience1st March 2017
Yoga is the ultimate feel good exercise. The great thing is, you really don’t need much to start practicing it. However, whether you are looking to build on your core strength or to perfect that one tricky pose, there are some objects and props you can invest in to help you get the most out of your body and the different poses you can achieve. Although some of these may not be considered essential, they can help you to get that little bit more from your yoga experience.
We looked at a range of items and yoga specific objects, with a focus on their benefits and how they can be incorporated into your usual yoga routines and sessions.
A yoga mat
It seems a little obvious doesn’t it!
Although yoga really can be practiced anywhere and at any time, with or without a yoga mat, it does make a big difference to have a cushioned surface. Yoga mats offer a platform from which to focus your efforts, with the additional benefits of comfort and, let's face it, security. We all feel a bit more grounded when we can quantify our space and a mat will help you to do just that. Choosing a design which is non slip will also enhance your yoga experience, providing a non-slip base that even the sweatiest of hands and feet will be able to grip and support throughout your session.
Ideally a yoga mat will need to be 180cm x 60cm x 1cm. It should be lightweight so it can be stored and transported easily. A mat roll can be taken along to work or to the gym with ease and is ready to use in an instant. Although colour doesn’t matter, a lovely bright mat will be sure to positively affect your mood!
Yoga blocks are an excellent way to add a challenge to your usual routine. They can help you to improve on a particular pose and can even be added into strengthening exercises to enhance the effectiveness of these too.
Yoga blocks are especially helpful for those who are still in the beginning stages or who are a little less flexible than they might like. Using a block for stretches will reduce the stretch distance and make your poses more easily achievable. A block is also a fantastic way to start off when learning a new pose or position. Beginning with feet or hands leaning on the block, gradually you can lower yourself closer to the floor until eventually you no longer require it. Similar support can be achieved in other areas, including the head, the neck or the back.
In addition, the abdominal muscles can be strengthened and core muscles improved using a series of exercises. Lying on your yoga mat, simply grip the block in between your feet or, alternatively, your thighs, and extend both legs into the air. If straightening your legs is difficult, don’t be afraid to slightly bend your knees. Next, slowly lower your legs almost to the ground. Keep your hands by your sides, palms flat to the floor. Again raise the legs to the starting position and repeat, remembering to keep the block squeezed between your thighs or feet at all times. This exercise can be completed in sets, as many times as you like.
A resistance ring
If you are familiar with Pilates you will no doubt also be familiar with this slightly strange looking contraption. Perfect for strengthening core muscles and improving flexibility, the resistance ring is a great way to enhance your yoga workouts. Use the ring as part of upper body exercises, pelvic routines and leg work, in both standing and floor based exercises. You can choose to use the ring with either the inner grip, or the outer one, or obviously alternate between the two. Most yoga and pilates resistance rings are suitable for a range of different abilities, shapes and sizes and really do offer a fantastic way to enhance your yoga practice and experience.
A yoga strap
The strap is a very simple piece of equipment, but is also very effective. When introducing some of the more complex and trickier positions to beginners, the strap is a definite help.
The strap can be wrapped or pulled carefully around different body parts, like the ankle, the base of the foot, behind the back or around the outside of the arms. Used essentially as a limb extension, a demanding stretch can be made slightly easier and more simple. Using a strap not only helps the user to build confidence, but also ensures they do not strain the delicate skeletal system. Choose a strap which is approximately 70cm.
Used to complement postures and stretches during a typical yoga routine, spiky massage balls can really help to make sure the muscles are protected and well looked after. The balls can work to ease tension, as well as to improve and increase circulation. In doing so they can also work to aid faster recovery following the session, leaving you ready and well for the next one.
Spiky massage balls are available in a variety of sizes and have been designed with specific areas in mind. A 6cm ball is for use on the hands and feet, an 8cm is perfect for arm work and for the back, choose a 10cm ball.
If you really want to understand how the body works and how practicing yoga can improve health and wellbeing, a good knowledge of anatomy is helpful.
Choose a yoga specific anatomy book for the ultimate resource for instructors, enthusiasts and other yoga practitioners. Try to find a guide to how the different poses and stretches affect the joints, bones and muscles and how these are all linked to the rest of the body.
If you struggle to find the time to get out of the house there are also a large range of different tutorial DVDs available to help you to practice yoga at home. Many of the celebrity DVDs offer the perfect solution for the busy mum or for those who work long hours and can’t make it regularly to scheduled classes. Some of the best include:
Jayne Middlemas: Love Yoga – From the popular presenter turned fitness guru, this DVD will have you super sculpted, toned and in shape in no time at all. There's a beginners' routine for those new to yoga, followed by a second workout tutorial which builds on the core skills learnt in the first.
Geri Halliwell: Body Yoga – The former Spice Girl has developed this DVD to enhance mind, body and spirit. This is the second in her yoga series and includes a number of sections from warm up to strength training and relaxation.
Giggs Fitness – Former footballer Ryan Giggs has developed a yoga inspired programme designed to prevent injury and maintain flexibility. The DVD offer clears and expert advice and some comprehensive routines which can be followed from home. Suitable from beginner to more advanced level, the combination of exercises are exciting and challenging, including generic conditioning circuits and yoga inspired exercises with a focus on preventing musculo skeletal issues and developing flexibility, core stability, stamina and speed.
For a yoga practice which is truly rounded, Mala beads are essential. Not only do they tell the world about your commitment to the discipline, they also help when counting your meditations and chants, so you won’t lose your stream of consciousness. Working your way round the circle, starting and finishing with the largest bead. They don’t need to be expensive to become pretty precious to the yoga enthusiast.
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