One of my first yoga teachers kicked my ass with props. (No, not literally! Although, I once dropped one of those wooden blocks on my toe, making the nail black for months.) Anyway, when I was a wee beginning yoga student, I thought props were for sissies. Or people who were too out of shape to touch their toes. Or for people seeking a "gentle" practice. Since I did not want to be any of these things, I would just struggle through every pose without any help, thank you very much. When my teacher suggested some of the people in the room might benefit from use of a prop, I'd just smile because I knew she was clearly not talking to me. It went this way for months until one day my teacher made a sweet suggestion to use a block. I ignored her. Then, she looked me in the eye and suggested a block again, this time a little more firmly. I still ignored her, sure she wasn't talking to me. Finally she stood up, walked across the room, picked up a block, walked back across the room and put it in my face. "Here! You need this!" I was embarrassed. I was also mad for at least a week. But I decided that in her class I might as well just use the blasted prop so she wouldn't embarrass me again. After a few more classes I realized that props were actually helping my practice--I was able to go deeper into the pose, feel things I'd never noticed before. I had been converted!
Guess what!? I've been practicing for eight years now and props are STILL a necessity. Only now I know that props are not a sign of weakness--they're a useful tool and EVERYBODY needs to use them sometimes.
That said, here's my list of yoga props every beginning yoga student should have in their homes. If you practice in a yoga studio you probably don't need to lug all of your props with you (they will have plenty there!), but it's nice to have your own stuff for your home practice--which is where most of the transforming takes place!
1. Yoga Mat. Yoga mats are important to keep your hands and feet from slipping as you practice. I think it's important to have your own for two reasons. 1-Renting a mat is icky. There's sweat, germs, bacteria, and I don't even want to know what else on there. 2-It's an investment in your commitment to the practice. It's also a physical reminder to practice when you see your yoga mat propped up in the corner of a room somewhere.
2. Eye Pillow. Eye pillows are my favorite prop ever! Sure, they're great for Savasana. But there are a lot of different uses, too. (Click here for a list.) If you don't want to spend the $20 on a cutesy one in your yoga studios boutique you can easily make your own. You don't even have to sew! Just fill up one of those socks you have laying around without a match and fill it up with rice, beans, or flax seeds.
3. Strap. Straps are important--not just for those times when you can't reach your toes--but also for those times when your hands can almost clasp or when you can ALMOST back bend so deeply you can ALMOST touch your foot to the back of your head. Everyone needs one. But you don't have to have a "yoga" strap. If you're at home a plain ol' belt that holds your jeans up will work just as well in most cases!
4. Blocks. Blocks bring the floor closer to you when you can't quite reach. But they also are great for giving you a little extra lift when you're learning arm balances or jumping through. I recommend you get two sturdy wooden blocks (just make sure you don't drop them on your toes!). The foam ones are too squishy and feel like they might collapse if you put your weight on them. Of course, if you don't have blocks yet I'm sure you have some things around the house you can substitute--a stack of text books, maybe?
5. Blanket (or 2). Blankets are another versatile yoga prop. You can fold them so they're thick or thin, long or narrow. Two blankets stacked on top of each other make a suitable alternative for a bolster for restorative poses. Blanket Folding 101 -- Lie or sit over the side with the fold not the blanket's edges so you'll be even and more supported.