Sunday, May 16, 2010

Gearing Up for Iyengar Yoga: Props Make the Difference

Thinking about Iyengar yoga but not sure you’re ready for those more advanced poses yet? No need to fear. While it demands proper form and attention to detail, Iyengar also relies heavily on the use of yoga props to help even beginners find the right alignment and hold poses as long as necessary.

Your choice of props will depend on your specific needs, body type, and level of mobility. Yoga blocks, for example, can be placed in a variety of different positions and provide just enough extra height for the most challenging poses. Blocks can also be positioned behind your hands, heels, or hips to stay in proper form.

Are you a little less flexible? A yoga strap is an inexpensive and useful prop to extend your reach---and ensure the right alignment---in a variety of poses. Straps can be especially helpful in one-legged standing poses and seated stretches.

And if you’re new to Iyengar and need a little more support in certain postures, you may want to try a yoga bolster. Bolsters are available in a handful of shapes and sizes, any of which can make your poses easier and more comfortable.

If you ultimately want to increase your flexibility or ease that recurring back pain, Iyengar yoga may be an option. But don’t be intimidated by the focus on perfection and detail. With guidance from a certified Iyengar instructor, you’ll be able to find the right props to make your practice manageable and reap the benefits.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Gearing Up for Iyengar Yoga: The Right Yoga Mat

Your yoga mat is the single most important accessory in your yoga practice. A good mat provides the cushion you need to comfortably hold a pose and the traction to keep you from slipping. But as Iyengar yoga is so strongly grounded in proper technique and correct body alignment, choosing the right yoga mat is even more critical.

Traditional, or sticky, yoga mats are available in a variety of styles and sizes. When practicing Iyengar yoga, a standard 1/8” inch thick mat will likely offer enough padding to maintain even the more advanced poses. If you’re a little newer to Iyengar, though, consider a 1/4” thick yoga mat for added comfort. Granted, you may feel a little less connection to the floor, but the extra cushion can make many poses a bit easier to hold.

Also make sure to choose the right material to suit your needs. The most common yoga mats are made of PVC, or vinyl. Standard PVC mats deliver a solid mix of traction and durability, but are also easy to clean and maintain. Or you can choose from the growing selection of eco-friendly yoga mats. Mats made from environmentally-safe materials, including jute or natural rubber, have become very popular in recent years and are a great alternative to PVC.

So if your yoga practice is limited to a few classes a week at the local yoga studio or park district, a basic yoga mat will probably be fine. But if you’ve stepped up to Iyengar and are trying to ease the symptoms of chronic pain or increase your flexibility, then do your homework, shop around, and invest a little more in a better quality yoga mat.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Gearing Up for Iyengar Yoga

Why do you practice yoga? For many, yoga offers a deep sense of relaxation and is a great way to ease the stress of everyday life. But a new wave of Americans has discovered the more practical health benefits of yoga. Whether you’re suffering from arthritis, chronic back pain or that nagging sports injury, yoga can potentially increase your flexibility, improve mobility, and relieve many common muscle and joint problems.

And a great place to start is Iyengar yoga.

Iyengar is among the newer styles of yoga and has become very popular in recent years. With meticulous attention to detail and a focus on form, Iyengar systematically works every part of your body to ensure proper alignment. While it can seem a little intimidating to beginners, Iyengar utilizes a variety of props---including blocks, straps, yoga blankets and bolsters---making it accessible to just about anybody.

In the next few posts, we’ll take a closer look at Iyengar yoga and how the right yoga gear can make all the difference in your practice.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Choosing the Best Yoga Mat Bag: Price and Budget

What are you looking for in a yoga mat bag or carrier?

If you simply want to roll your mat and toss it over your shoulder on the way to class, a yoga harness or sling is likely the most inexpensive option. Prices range from $8-15. Traditional, drawstring yoga mat bags offer the same convenience with a little extra protection and durability. You can find basic nylon mat bags online for as little as $10 and washable cotton yoga totes, with extra room and a few more features, in the $40-60 range. And if you need a more versatile option, with room for your props or a change of clothes, consider a yoga duffel bag. Designed with either extra space or a compartment to hold your mat, yoga duffels will typically cost between $45 and $100.

If you practice regularly and have spent the money on a quality mat, make sure to choose the yoga mat bag that best suits your needs and protects your investment.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Choosing the Best Yoga Mat Bag: Materials & Eco Friendly Yoga

Given the popularity of the yoga movement, it’s not surprising that the selection of yoga products has grown significantly over the past few years. Look at yoga mat bags, as an example. Not too long ago, mat bags were a standard, no-frills accessory. Simply a means of carrying your yoga mat to the studio and back home. Today, though, yoga mat bags are available in a wide array of shapes, sizes, styles, and colors.

If it’s time to replace your tired, worn-out mat bag, consider your options. And the material that best suits your individual needs. Bags are made from a variety of different materials, including:

Nylon or Canvas. Many standard, entry-level mat bags are made of either nylon or canvas. Easy-to-clean and affordable, nylon and canvas are also among the most durable and can last for years.

Cotton. Cotton yoga mat bags are the most common on the market and for good reason. Cotton is durable, holds up to daily wear-and-tear, and is extremely lightweight. Cotton bags are also fairly waterproof, which makes a difference after a few sweaty sessions in the studio, and many are machine-washable.

Natural Fibers or Recycled Products. Eco-friendly yoga mat bags have become a popular choice in recent years. Hemp and jute mat bags, for example, are made from natural fibers, but are still relatively durable and inexpensive. And you might also consider a recycled paper mat bag. Lightweight and very environmentally-friendly, many bags made from recycled materials may not hold up quite as well over the long run.

So take your time and shop around. With such a wide selection and easy access, you’ll likely be able to find a yoga mat bag with just the right combination of durability, washability, and convenience.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Choosing the Best Yoga Mat Bag: Explore Your Options

Your yoga mat bag is more than just an accessory. The right mat bag can protect your mat from the wear and tear of daily practice. But it’s also about convenience. Maybe you walk to the studio and just want a simple way to throw your mat over your shoulder and go. Or you’ve started a new restorative yoga class and need a bigger bag to hold your yoga blocks and gear.

Though there are plenty of styles on the market, most yoga mat bags fall into one of three categories:

Harnesses and Slings. A sling consists of a nylon strap that you can attach to your mat, while a yoga mat harness offers a wraparound sleeve for added protection. Both typically feature a cushioned shoulder strap, are extremely lightweight, and an ideal option if you walk or bike to class.

Traditional Mat Bags. Yoga mat bags are available in a variety of different materials, including nylon, canvas, and even recycled paper. With a drawstring enclosure and shoulder strap, you’ll appreciate the portability and convenience of a good mat bag. And while most are long enough to accommodate a standard 24” mat, larger sizes are also relatively easy to find.

Yoga Duffel Bags. But what if you want more from your mat bag? A yoga duffel bag can be a great alternative when you need extra room for your car keys, water bottle, a good book, or a few yoga props. Most feature either side or bottom compartments to stash your mat, extra pockets and pouches, and a shoulder strap for added convenience.

Whichever type of yoga mat bag you choose, you’ll likely find the right combination of protection, convenience, and portability to suit your specific needs and lifestyle.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Choosing the Best Yoga Mat Bag

So you love your yoga mat. It prevents you from sliding during your most demanding poses and offers the comfort and cushion you crave for your practice. You roll it out with pride at the studio, clean it regularly, and would never leave it lying around. It’s there with you through thick and thin. Like a good friend.

Do you feel the same connection to your yoga mat bag?

Okay, so it’s not the most important decision you’ll ever make. But if you haven’t shopped for a new yoga mat bag in a while, you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the selection and styles on the market. Mat bags are available in a variety of shapes and sizes and can be more functional than you’d imagined. Whether you’re looking for a simple bag to hold your trusted mat or versatile yoga duffel for your gear and car keys, make sure to shop around. You’ll likely find the ideal solution for your every need.

In coming posts, we’ll take a look at a few different types of yoga mat bags, explore various styles and materials, and help you decide which mat bag works best for you.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

DISCOVER Yoga for Runners: Choosing the Right Gear

Not only is yoga a great cross-training platform for runners, it’s also become very accessible. Yoga studios have popped up all over the country. Your local gym or park district are likely offering affordable and convenient classes. But if you’re a runner and want to get the most out of your yoga practice, you’ll need to choose the right yoga props and gear.

For the most part, your equipment will depend on the specific style of yoga and what you expect from your workout. Common to all and the best place to start, though, is a quality yoga mat. Your yoga mat provides stability, helps keep your body aligned, and prevents you from slipping. And for runners, the right mat can deliver the cushion necessary to reduce the risk of injury to muscles and joints.

Thickness is important. Mats typically start at 1/8”, but consider an extra thick yoga mat for added cushion and comfort.

Many runners practice yoga to stretch out their muscles, increase flexibility, and improve their body alignment. Iyengar yoga, in particular, is ideal for runners and relies heavily on the use of props, such as blocks, straps, and yoga bolsters. Props make it easier to perform many yoga postures comfortably and without strain. Yoga blocks, for example, are usually positioned behind the heels or hips to help maintain proper form, ensure alignment, and hold poses longer.

At a certain point, and to get the most from your yoga practice, you’ll want to shop around and find the right yoga gear for you. But if you’re a runner and think that yoga can potentially take your performance to the next level, it’s more important that you just get started.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

DISCOVER Yoga for Runners: Where to Begin

Runners across the country are turning to yoga to help increase flexibility, improve their performance, reduce the risk of injury, and find the right mental balance. But while yoga really can be the perfect complement to a daily routine, there are several different styles of yoga from which to choose. Some center around meditation and relaxation, while others offer a more intense, aerobic workout.

Hatha yoga, for example, is one of the more traditional forms of yoga and probably the best place to start. Hatha is a lot more relaxed, with a focus on basic postures, and can enhance breathing and flexibility. And it’s among the most accessible. Runners can check out classes at the local yoga studio or gym and get started right away.

Iyengar yoga works every part of your body and lengthens your muscles though properly aligned poses. Relying heavily on props---such as yoga blocks, bolsters, and straps---Iyengar is both physically and mentally challenging, but probably the best style to reduce the potential for running-related injuries.

Want something a little more rigorous? Ashtanga or vinyasa (flow) yoga consists of a series of more demanding poses, all of which flow together to test your physical limits. Similarly, power yoga has become very popular and provides an equally intense and more aerobic workout. Though flow and power yoga styles are great for enhancing performance and endurance, they’re likely not the best options for beginners.

There are several other prominent yoga styles and plenty of variations on each. But the key is simply getting started. Look for a local class or studio, check out resources online, and experiment until you find the right yoga style for you.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

DISCOVER Yoga for Runners: How Can Yoga Help?

As most casual and competitive runners will attest, a daily run can help boost energy, strengthen the heart, lower blood pressure, and build bone mass. But running can also be both physically and mentally demanding. Yoga provides the perfect balance to offset the stress on muscles and renew the body and mind.

Today, more than ever, runners are turning to yoga to help:

Prevent Injuries. As a weight-bearing activity, running can place a great deal of stress on muscles and joints. Many injuries are the end result of either overuse or imbalance. But regular yoga practice can counter these imbalances and provide symmetry and alignment, potentially relieving many back, neck, and joint problems.

Increase Strength and Flexibility. In spite of regular pre- and post-run stretching, few runners are very flexible. Yoga poses, particularly those supported by the right yoga props, can lengthen the muscles, improve flexibility, and expand range of motion.

Recover Faster. Yoga not only helps to focus and calm the mind, certain poses can help increase the movement of oxygen through the body and prevent the buildup of scar tissue.

Enhance Breathing and Capacity. By conditioning runners to take slower and deeper breaths, yoga can positively impact lung function, relax the entire body, and increase the flow of oxygen-rich blood to muscles.

Especially for competitive runners, yoga is a natural way to balance the mental and physical demands and take performance to an entirely new level.

Monday, April 26, 2010

DISCOVER Yoga for Runners

Spring is finally in the air. It’s a time for renewal and a great opportunity to shake off the winter blahs. And if you’re like millions of other Americans, you’re already hitting the streets or trails for an invigorating morning run.

Much like the yoga movement, running has become an obsession in our country. In fact, a recent study by Running USA shows that the number of road race finishers has more than doubled over the past twenty years.

But whether you’re training for a marathon or just running to get in shape, yoga should be part of your daily regimen.

Okay, yoga and running may not seem like the perfect match. How can the relaxed, mind-body balance of yoga align with the intense, aerobic demands of running? Consider the benefits of increased flexibility, stability, and oxygen capacity---as well as the potential to reduce or prevent injury---and you’ll understand why yoga is the ideal cross-training platform for runners.

And if you’re worried that you don’t have time to practice yoga regularly, start small. Simple stretching and breathing routines before and after a run can make a big difference. When you’re ready for a little more structure, and have a little more time to invest, just grab a yoga mat and head over to the local yoga studio or gym. Practicing yoga even a few times a week can go a long way in getting your mind, and body, ready for the big race.

Next up, we’ll take a closer look at which styles of yoga are best for runners, the benefits of each, and the yoga props and gear that make the most sense for your practice.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Gearing Up for Restorative Yoga: It’s About the Props

Restorative yoga can help you unload stress and relax both your body and mind on a whole new level. In order to achieve the deepest state of relaxation, though, you’ll need to practice your poses with as little effort or strain as possible. The right props can safely support your body in a variety of postures and help you find the proper alignment.

If you’re relatively new to yoga, or have stuck with the more traditional styles, the use of props may be a little intimidating at first. Just understand how the right props can support your postures and start with the basics, including:

Blocks. Yoga blocks are among the most useful of props and can be positioned behind your hands, heels, or hips to stay in proper form. Blocks also help you hold poses longer and with less effort.

Blankets or Rugs. A good yoga blanket or rug can be used in a variety of ways. Layered on a yoga mat, for example, a blanket can provide even more cushion for seated poses. Blankets can also be folded for additional elevation or support.

Straps. Ideal for beginners, yoga straps can help you hold poses longer, with better form and far less strain.

Bolsters. Available in a variety of shapes and sizes, yoga bolsters---much like a folded blanket---can make your yoga poses easier and much more comfortable.

Eyebags. Okay, so it may not be the most essential prop in your yoga practice, but a peachskin eyebag can go a long way in relieving tension and unwinding after a long day.

But while props are essential in restorative yoga, you don’t have to spend a lot of money to find the support you need. Be creative. Remember, props are simply a means of becoming more comfortable, relaxed, and balanced in your practice. Look around the house and experiment with everyday items like towels, pillows, books, and seat cushions.

Whichever props you buy or find, you’ll appreciate the deep sense of relaxation that only restorative yoga can deliver.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Gearing Up for Restorative Yoga: Your Yoga Mat

If you’ve been practicing hatha or any of the more traditional styles of yoga at your local studio, you likely have a pretty reliable sticky yoga mat. And though restorative yoga poses don’t require much traction, you will want enough cushion to provide support and balance. Explore a few different options, and experiment a little, to find just the right level of comfort.

A basic 1/8” yoga mat will probably be just fine for most relaxation poses, especially when layered under a good quality yoga blanket or rug. For a little more cushion, consider upgrading to a 1/4” thick mat. Extra thick yoga mats have become very popular and much easier to find.

Depending on your level of commitment, need for comfort, and how often you practice, you might also think about investing in a futon-style cotton yoga mat. Cotton mats are often up to two inches thick and can be conveniently rolled or folded for different postures. And they’re great for expectant moms.

Whether you’re taking a restorative yoga class at a studio or practicing at home, the right mat can make a big difference. But don’t be afraid to start with what you have on hand. You’ll eventually find what works best for you.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Gearing Up for Restorative Yoga

Having one of those days? You know, your in-laws are driving you crazy, you’ve got to finish that project before the deadline, and your car just started making a strange whirring sound. It’s more than anybody can handle. You just need some relief.

If you’ve ever practiced restorative yoga, then you already know how effective deep relaxation poses can be in combating stress. And while it’s all about letting go of tension, restorative yoga can also be a potential antidote for chronic back and other pain. In fact, studies have shown that meditation and relaxation techniques, with proper support and medical guidance, can positively impact menopausal and pregnant women, as well as patients with certain forms of cancer.

As restorative postures are designed for support, comfort, and balance, many rely heavily on the use of yoga props. Blocks, pillows, rugs, blankets, eyebags and the right mat can all contribute to a deeper sense of relaxation. Over the next few posts, we'll take a look at which props can best enhance your practice.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Choosing the Best Yoga Mat for You: Price and Budget

As you can imagine, the price range of quality yoga mats can be as wide as the selection. You can spend as little as $15 for a standard vinyl mat at the local sporting goods store or more than $100 for a high-end mat in a studio boutique. Again, though, your budget will depend on your specific needs, style, attitude, and practice.

The bottom line? You typically get what you pay for. Whether you’re a seasoned pro and spend hours a week on your practice or you’re brand new to yoga, your yoga mat is an investment. Take your time, do your research, experiment with different sizes and materials and, above all else, don’t skimp on quality.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Choosing the Best Yoga Mat for You: Materials, Texture and Eco Friendly Yoga

For a variety of reasons, the materials used to manufacture your yoga mat can make a big difference in your practice. You want maximum comfort, cushion, and stability. You’ll need the right non-slip or absorbent surface depending on your style of yoga. And if you’re looking for an eco-friendly yoga mat, you’ll have plenty of options.

A Material Issue. Not long ago, most yoga mats were made of PVC, or vinyl. Conventional vinyl mats do have advantages. They provide ideal traction, have just enough of “give,” and are easy to clean. Vinyl sticky mats offer a slight texture, which also helps to prevent slipping, and a softer feel than others.

Eco-Friendly Alternatives. What if you practice yoga and are concerned about the impact on the environment? While PVC mats aren’t biodegradable and may end up clogging landfills, you do have options, all of which have pros and cons. Jute yoga mats, for example, have become very popular among the eco-friendly set and are made of natural plant fibers. They tend to be a bit pricier, though, and have a harder, more organic texture than traditional mats. Natural rubber yoga mats provide excellent grip, cushion and durability. But if you’re allergic to latex, stay away.

The Feel of Cotton. Depending on the specific style of yoga you practice, a cotton yoga mat might be perfect for you. Cotton mats are extremely comfortable and absorbent. And the mat of choice for that hot yoga class or simple meditation. They won’t replace a vinyl or eco-friendly sticky mat, though, as cotton mats tend to slide around on hard floors.

When deciding on the right material in your yoga mat, consider both the practical implications and your personal preference.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Choosing the Best Yoga Mat for You: The Right Size

Browse the yoga mat selection online or at your local yoga studio and you’ll notice that most are the standard 68” long and 1/8” inch thick. But dig a little deeper and you’ll likely be able to find the right combination of length, thickness, and weight to match your needs.

Size Does Matter. While a standard 68” mat will do for most of us, you may be a little taller or just want some extra length. Shop around. You’ll find yoga mats in lengths up to 80” and be surprised at the difference an extra long mat can make.

A Little More Cushion? With any yoga mat, it’s important that you feel a connection to the ground and keep your balance, especially during standing poses. But if you ever find yourself stacking 1/8” mats because of an injury or you just want a bit more cushion, consider upgrading to a 1/4” thick yoga mat. Thicker mats are becoming more common and are relatively easy to find online.

Weighing In. You’ll likely never give much thought to how much your yoga mat weighs. Unless, of course, you travel a lot and don’t want to lug a heavy mat around the airport. Or even around town. Travel yoga mats are becoming more than just a niche in the market as more people take their yoga on the road with them. Most are only 1/16” thick and can be pretty easily folded and tossed into your carry-on bag. Despite the obvious trade-offs of less cushion and durability, travel yoga mats make sense for both road warriors and local travelers.

At the end of the day, you don’t have to settle for a standard-sized yoga mat. Experiment a little, understand your options, and take the time to find just the right mat for you.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Choosing the Best Yoga Mat for You: Types of Yoga Mats

As the yoga movement has grown over the years, so has the selection in yoga mats. It wasn’t that long ago when your choices were limited to a handful of colors in the standard PVC-mat. Things have changed. But while mats are now available in a wide variety of sizes, materials, and styles, there are still two basic types of mats.

A traditional, or sticky, yoga mat prevents slipping and helps you stay aligned as you move from pose to pose. Sticky mats are used in the more common forms of yoga, including Hatha and Iyengar, that focus on physical postures. Many yoga studios will let you use or rent a basic yoga mat during classes, but you’ll probably want to invest in your own.

Cotton yoga mats have become increasingly popular with the trend towards physically demanding yoga styles---such as Bikram, or hot yoga, and Ashtanga---in which you’ll end up sweating quite a bit. Cotton mats will better absorb perspiration and keep you cool, but may slip a bit on hard floors. Incredibly comfortable and cushy, they can also be stacked for shoulderstands and are ideal for meditation, restorative yoga and pregnant moms.

Whichever variation of the sticky or cotton yoga mat you choose, take your time and find the mat best suited to your taste, comfort, and practice.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Choosing the Best Yoga Mat for You

So it’s time to buy your first yoga mat. Or you just want to replace the one you’ve been using for years. In either case, do your homework and make sure you choose the best yoga mat for your individual needs.

The right yoga mat can give you the stability and comfort you need in even your most challenging poses. But remember, everybody’s different. Worried about that nagging back pain and need a little more cushion? Looking for a mat that you can bring along on the road? Maybe you just signed up for a hot yoga class at your local yoga studio and want extra absorbency.

And let’s face it. At the end of the day, your mat is a reflection of you. Whether you opt for a functional sticky mat, the most eco-friendly material, or the latest and most stylish pattern, you’ll likely be able to find the perfect yoga mat to suit your tastes and personality.

Shop wisely and consider your options. Over the next few posts, we’ll explore the key factors in buying the ideal mat: type of mat, size, material, and cost.