My first yoga mat, blocks and strap came from a nondescript store so long ago I can’t remember acquiring them. The only thing I recall is paying a piddling for all three, which came in a set.
Since then, yoga has become much more popular, so there are many more tools to choose from. It’s worth taking advantage of the bounty, if you know what each item is used for and what makes sense for your practice.
A mat is a no-brainer. It defines your practice space. And thanks to its grippy and pliant surface, it prevents slipping and offers some padding, when it’s on a flat expanse.
Most mats worth their salt weigh more than you’d want to lug around for air travel. Plus, they don’t fold easily (that’s why mats get rolled up when they aren’t in use).
Given that, trips beyond your neighborhood yoga class might call for a foldable mat. It’s your best bet for a suitcase. It’s thinner, so it’s not going to offer the same cushioning as a typical mat. But it will do the trick otherwise—and it’s better than no mat.
The most trusted yoga prop is a block. It’s wonderfully versatile.
It can make poses gentler—and make poses more intense. It can encourage alignment, help you train for arm balances like bakasana (crow pose) and create restorative versions of poses. That’s a lot to cover, so we’ll hit on three.
Often, figuring out how and when to use a block is intuitive. For example, if you’re in a low lunge and your hands don’t reach the ground, a block under each palm will reduce the stretch on your hamstrings and lift your torso (sure is easier to breathe without collapsing on your front thigh). The pose is now gentler.
But if you want to make low lunge more intense, you could step your front foot onto a block. This is too intense for most people—but it shows how a block can be used to achieve totally different goals.
Next, let’s say in high lunge it’s tough to keep your front knee over your front ankle, generally the best alignment, especially for the anatomy of your front leg. To help yourself, you could face a wall as you go into your lunge, and when your knee is over your ankle, place a block between your knee and the wall to cue your alignment and help you focus on maintaining it.
Unless you’re very flexible or have exceptionally long arms, a strap lets you reach parts of your body otherwise impossible. The point in yoga is almost never to touch your fingers to your toes, and the like (the point is to work on the process of perhaps one day having that happen).
But if a pose is impossible without some connection between, for example, a hand and a foot, you’re going to need a strap. Injury is almost guaranteed without one. Take reclining hand-to-big-toe pose. Few people can reach their foot with their hands. But that doesn’t mean only a few people should do the pose.
Wedges don’t get as much love as blocks or straps. But if you have tight calves or tight Achilles tendons, a wedge is a great friend. It’s especially helpful when you’re in malasana (garland pose)—though you could use it for a normal squat, with your feet together.
Yoga practitioners who can’t get their heels down in a squat often completely avoid poses built around squats—which is unfortunate because they miss out on balance training. The wedge solves that problem.
Mitra Malek, a former Yoga Journal editor, has taught yoga regularly since 2006. Connect with her at mitramalek.com.