Yoga is a lifeline when you’re feeling stressed and overwhelmed, which is why it’s more important than ever to keep up your practice during the coronavirus lockdown.
With studios closed for the foreseeable future, this is a great time to turn your home into a private yoga studio and invest in props that will help you relax, restore or stretch out after a long day working from home.
If you don’t have an established practice and you can’t get to class, there are a wealth of online resources to help. Many studios have started livestreaming practices – including London’s Lifecentre and Triyoga.
Our reviewers have put together a list of accessories that are perfect for any yoga style – starting with the foundation, a mat, and building up – then adding in a few luxurious extras, like an eye pillow and aromatherapy oil.
If your usual practice is flow-based, or you want to stay active at home, you can get your studio off the ground with just a few props: a brick and a strap are helpful for alignment and support. Use them where you feel like you’re over-stretching to reach the ground.
Slow, long-hold practices like yin and restorative yoga are prop intensive, but also luxurious, and an ideal practice to delve into if you are feeling anxious and overwhelmed: start with a bolster, which will make you more comfortable in some poses, and an eye pillow.
We tested multi-style equipment like the brick and strap in flow-based practices – vinyasa and ashtanga – and then slowed right down and indulged in some two-hour restorative and yin practices to put the stress-busting props through their paces.
If you’re just starting out with restorative yoga, or you want to try it to help with stress, bear in mind that setting up the props can feel intimidating at first: arranging some poses can feel more like building flat pack furniture than yoga.
But once you’re in the pose you could be there for up to 15 minutes, so it’s worth putting the time in. At the start, aim for a short practice of two or three poses, so you don’t give up. Try to see the process of setting up your bolster, bricks and blanket as part of your yoga practice: you are, quite literally, giving yourself some support.
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Complete Unity meditation cushion
This is a unique and beautiful “zafu” (or meditation cushion) made and designed by a family-run company. The height and firmness – we tested the firmer, buckwheat-filled cushion – gives exactly the right amount of lift to help support you in an easy cross legged pose or any variation on lotus you feel comfortable with, while the gentle give of the stuffing means you can find your perfect level of tilt.
Our reviewer has always struggled with pins and needles during long seated poses or meditation but had no problems at all with this pillow. Use it at the beginning and end of practice to snatch a few moments of calm, or for seated pranayama (breathing work). We loved the “meadow of enlightenment” pattern with its subtle wildflowers – it's so pretty, you won’t mind leaving it out after class.
ecoYoga jute mat
Our reviewer’s all-time favourite mat comes into its own during home practice, particularly if you plan to focus on long holds and restorative classes. The hessian surface is comfortably textured, which great if you’re lying on it for a long time, but has plenty of grip for days when you feel like moving through a vinyasa flow practice.
At 6ft – there is an extra-large 7ft version – there’s plenty of space to lie down without hands and feet spilling onto the floor. At a thickness of 4mm, it isn’t super padded, so if you have sensitive knees you might want to lie a blanket on top for kneeling poses, but that means it’s light enough to take to class when it resumes – which is handy, because you’ll love this mat so much you won’t want to leave it behind.
Yogamatters ikat buckwheat bolster
An essential prop for restorative yoga and a handy tool for every other practice, a bolster is effectively a long, firm cushion that can support you in backbends, forward bends, and basic relaxation poses.
Our reviewer loves resting her head on a bolster in restorative forward bends, and this lovingly crafted cotton bolster – which is stuffed with buckwheat for firm support – is perfect for that, providing a soft cushion for your forehead.
It’s also good to look at and is covered in an intricately woven black and white ikat case. This is on the firm side, which we really liked, but Yogamatters also does softer, fibre-filled options if you want slightly less support.
Lululemon lift and lengthen yoga block
A long time devotee of hard, cork blocks, our reviewer was won over by this squishy foam brick from Lululemon. It is slightly taller, wider and thinner than most bricks, which makes it more versatile. Designed to be used both on its top or its side, there’s a support level for everyone, whether you struggle to get anywhere near your toes in a standing forward bend and need the floor to come to you, or you’re centimetres away from the ground in triangle and just need a little boost. Best of all are the sloped edges and soft foam, which make this a comfortable prop to support yourself in backbends like bridge pose.
Neal's Yard aromatherapy blend, optimism
We were introduced to the idea of using essential oils in yoga in Tulum, Mexico’s yoga hub, where a teacher diffused a calming oil like lavender at the end of each practice, during final relaxation. This lovely, upbeat blend from Neal’s Yard mixes grapefruit and jasmine to promote confidence and joy, a perfect oil to diffuse during your practice if you’re feeling worried or overwhelmed. If you haven’t got a diffuser, drop a little onto a handkerchief or flannel and keep it close to your mat.
La Aquarelle lavender eye pillow
Unwrapping this eye pillow was like walking into a blossoming lavender field. Everything about it is luscious, from the rich, calming smell of the lavender buds it’s stuffed with to the super soft sheen of the bamboo case, which is hand dyed with plant-based dyes like pomegranate and avocado stone. The bulk of the stuffing is organic flaxseed, which means you can safely pop it in the microwave or the freezer before you use it – we loved to use it slightly warm in a long restorative pose like reclined cobbler’s pose, where it was the perfect antidote to a long day staring at screens.
Bam serenity bamboo hoody
Extraordinarily soft, pop this snuggly hoodie on over your yoga gear before savasana or any other long, restorative pose to stay warm and comfortable, then spring up and straight into your next video call. Classy and contoured, it deserves pride of place in your working from home wardrobe, with a smart but relaxed fit, handy pockets, and two pretty but subtle colour options – we tried the charcoal. With no zips, buttons or hard seams, it’s comfortable to wear in reclined poses where your back is against the mat, and the lovely bamboo and organic cotton fabric is breathable and odour resistant – ideal to wear while you warm up in ashtanga or vinyasa.
Prana raja yoga and pilates strap
Durable and strong, this 6ft strap from the yoga experts at Prana is more than long enough to give you the extra reach you need to get into fuller expressions of poses like head to knee or dancer’s pose. Your yoga teacher may have shown you how to use a strap’s d-ring buckle to create a loop or lasso – if not, there are plenty of tutorials online. Once set up and looped around your waist, this strap can hold your feet in place during poses like reclined cobbler’s, allowing you to relax more completely.
Manduka recycled eco wool blanket
Stiff enough to use as a prop but soft enough to relax on or underneath, Manduka’s recycled wool blanket is perfect for a restorative practice. We loved how securely it held its shape when rolled up into a makeshift bolster or folded into a small pillow for a little lift in seated poses. But while it felt more substantial than the cotton blankets that we tested, it was still comfortable; there was no scratch from the wool, and the deep weave gave thickness and squishiness. For a long and purely restorative practice with a lot of reclined poses, this blanket could easily replace your yoga mat.
Perfect for yogis who are used to gentle pressure and adjustment from teachers during class, this sandbag is filled with tiny stones to a comforting weight. Look online for more guidance about using sandbags, but the general principle is to deploy them wherever you want to take any strain out of a hold or to add a little depth to a pose: place one across your lower back in child’s pose, for example, or across your lap in a supported bridge (where you lie along a bolster). The Yogamatters sandbags are individually filled by hand, so you get exactly the right weight every time.
Yogi Bare acupressure mat
Once you’re past the mental hurdle of voluntarily lying on a bed of nails, this acupressure mat becomes indispensable. Made up of tiny clusters of blunted spikes, it isn’t painful – there is a very short, initial discomfort as you adjust to the sensation – and it doesn’t break the skin; instead, it provides just enough stimulation to give you a gentle high, similar to acupuncture or a deep tissue massage.
We loved using it at the end of practice, as a kind of enhanced savasana, with an eye pillow on for extra luxury. We found it worked best through very thin fabrics or on bare skin, so keep a blanket to hand in case you get cold. There are some contraindications – if you bruise very easily, for example, so check the website before buying.
The verdict: Yoga equipment
Complete Unity’s meditation cushion is a prop you will use in every practice, and can support any additional meditation or pranayama you do seated. For a prop you will use on and off the mat, buy the bamboo hoody – we now lives in ours.
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