Ingredients to Practice
You would think that practicing yoga would be quite easy, you just need yourself, possibly a mat, and ideally a quiet space. But somehow social media, good marketing strategies and giving into all your wants and desires says otherwise, that you need several products to be able to do yoga correctly.
For instance, to practice yoga, you need the best yoga mat, which I recently learnt was only introduced in the 1980s.
So what did practitioners use before that?
Before this, practitioners used carpets, animal skins, or sometimes nothing at all. The sticky yoga mat was first introduced and marketed thanks to senior Iyengar teacher Angela Farmer, who was uncomfortable using any of the above-mentioned mats. She tried using a rubber carpet underlay, which turned out to be exactly what she needed to for her practice. The carpet underlay was later marketed and has now evolved into today’s sticky mat. Which, by the way, is a huge industry. You can find yoga mats in almost every color and print, eco mats, mats of different thickness, density, length and width, mats with lines to help with alignment, mats for every style of yoga and even the super sticky mat. Truth is, you don't really need a mat, just use what is comfortable for you. That may be an expensive mat, but it doesn't have to be. You need to try it out and see what works for you. I have heard many comments from practitioners claiming to know which is the best mat and just as many disagree.
You also need a pair of yoga pants, with a matching yoga top or yoga bra if you're a woman. But what did practitioners use before all this must-have Western yoga apparel?
Back in the day when yoga was practiced only by men, a dhoti was used. This little piece of fabric had to be perfectly wrapped but allowed great freedom of movement. Around the 1960’s, white yoga suits were popular. These were inspired by the Kundalini Yoga community, but obviously, this suit was not agreeable with every style of yoga.
BKS Iyengar modernized the dhoti into shorts. Iyengar’s version was too short and left practitioners exposed in certain postures. His yoga shorts were then modified into a longer version that was more snug around the thighs. From then on, yoga apparel varied from yoga shorts and t-shirts to the unitard, fitness outfits from the 80’s, the yoga capris, leggings, and the short yoga shorts often used in Ashtanga and hot yoga.
Deciding what to wear is not easy. Will you be practicing at a studio, shala or at home? Is it too hot, too cold, or too humid? Try out a few different yoga outfits depending on the style you practice and where you’ll be practicing. There are so many options--some of today’s yoga clothes can be worn as swimwear or act as all-day regular clothes. Choose something that you are comfortable in and allows freedom of movement. An outfit that you don't need to adjust or pull at during practice.
Oh, and don't forget the yoga towel, yoga blocks, straps, eye pillow, blanket, yoga ball,…who knows what else. Do we really need all these things? What are we trying to obtain by using all these additional items? Because your favorite yoga person uses it or endorses it? Because it’s featured in your favorite magazine? Because these pants fit better than those pants? Or this one makes you look ‘better?’ That’s not a good enough reason. Don’t give into the money-making industry of yoga. Find what it is YOU need to make the most of YOUR practice.
Using props, having the perfect mat and the perfect outfit are all great if they help you get on your mat every day. But placing too much attention on these outside items draws your attention away from the real inner work of yoga. Yoga is the practice of non-attachment; don't fool yourself into thinking you need any of these things. Learn to let go of your desire for the material items you think you need to make your yoga practice better, you can still have a great practice without them.
This week, I challenge you not to practice on your preferred mat or in your preferred choice of yoga clothes. Don’t use that block next time you practice. You may just surprise yourself.
All you really need is yourself and a true desire in your heart to practice.