Getting Started with Yoga Part 1: Setting Up your Space
Starting a yoga practice can be very confusing.
What exactly do you need? How much money should you be spending on equipment? Where should you put this equipment in your home? How do you set up your space? In this blog, we will be looking at exactly that. How to set up your space in your home for a safe and sustainable home yoga practice.
There is so much information on the internet pulling you in all different directions regarding equipment like yoga mats, blankets, bolsters, yoga wheels, yoga paws, and much more that knowing exactly what you need can become a bit of a minefield.
Even when you do have a clear idea of what you need there are so many different varieties of the same prop available that it again becomes confusing to know how much money should you spend, do you need to spend any money or whether are there alternatives that you can use while you discover if yoga is the right thing for you.
If you do decide on some props to use then how should you set your space up at home? What do you need and don’t you need in your space for a safe and sustainable practice?
This is the first of a four-part blog series looking at how to get started with yoga. It is aimed at complete beginners who are totally new to the practice and have maybe done a little bit of research and found themselves quickly overwhelmed and confused by all the information out there.
In this first blog, we will be looking specifically at what you need in your space at home to practice yoga.
Where can I set up my yoga practice space at home?
Now there’s no real right or wrong answer for this but I would recommend somewhere you have 2m by 3 m of preferably hard surface flooring. This will allow even the tallest of people to be able to spread their arms out wide, take a wide stance and lift their legs up in the air behind them without kicking any household items (or unsuspecting pets) up into the air. For complete beginners and for people who have been practicing for several years it’s really helpful to have nearby access to a blank wall.
A wall becomes your best friend in your practice as it helps with many things including balance, providing a safety net for some postures, and for measuring out the alignment in others. It is also used for modifying some postures to your particular body proportions. Don’t make the mistake of believing that a wall is only used by beginner or lower-level Asana practice. I’ve been practicing for 14 years and I use a wall regularly in my practice.
Often times you will see other people’s practice spaces looking particularly Zen. However, this might not be feasible for the vast majority of us. Life is busy, made busier by children and pets, both of which enjoy cluttering the place up (but we forgive them because LOOK AT THAT ADORABLE FACE). My only advice is that if you can keep your mat and the space around it free from obstacles that might put you at risk of injury then you’re golden. Your place does not need to be completely clutter-free in order for you to have a sustainable practice. Over time you will make the space your own, it will be your little corner where you will go to find refuge or work something out or just to get the juices flowing so make it however you like it.
What should I wear to a yoga practice?
Second, let’s look at the clothes you will need. Now, social media will have us believe that we need the tightest and whitest of leggings and a crop top or sports bra in order to practice yoga the correct way. In reality, however, as long as you are comfortable and have freedom of movement you can wear anything you like. The reason many teachers will be wearing tight leggings and tight tops is actually so that the student can more clearly see that teacher’s alignment and have a clear understanding of how to adapt that alignment to their own body. It is not necessary for you to be wearing anything uncomfortable in your practice. When I am teaching, I will usually be wearing tighter fitting clothes, but in reality, in my home practice, I’m usually in looser fitting clothes as I genuinely feel more comfortable in myself and in my practice in this way. Sometimes on my laziest days, I will be practicing in my pajamas.
What do I need to practice yoga?
Third, let’s look at the items you will need. Teachers all fall on a spectrum here, with some saying you don’t need anything (including a mat), and others saying you need several items to support your practice. Personally, I fall more toward the latter but this doesn’t mean that you need to spend a fortune on new products to be considered a worthy practitioner. Most of these items you likely already have around the home.
Do I need a yoga mat to practice yoga?
The first item that I do recommend you invest in is a good-quality, eco-friendly, sustainably-made, non-slip mat. As you will see on my Instagram posts and my YouTube channel (both @ellie_smith_yoga if you enjoy flagrant self-promotion) I prefer a Liforme (www.liforme.com) yoga mat. Though they are a little pricey, they have lasted me through years of daily practice without chipping or needing too much care and attention. There are several other brands you could look at including Jade (https://jadeyoga.com/), Manduka (http://manduka.com), and Gaiam (https://www.gaiam.com/collections/yoga-mats). I recommend you shop around using these links and then dig a little deeper to find what suits you and your budget the best.
As a side note, if you don’t want to purchase a mat that is absolutely fine. Traditionally yogis in India would practice either directly on the earth, or on a simple towel to prevent slipping. The popular yoga mat that abounds today is actually only a 60-year-old invention. Prior to this, Yogis used nothing as yoga tended to be more of a seated practice (https://liforme.com/pages/yoga-mat-history)
What props do I need to practice yoga?
Other items that are useful to have to help support you in your practice include two sturdy blocks. You can find a decent pair of yoga blocks here, or alternatively, you can use similarly sized hardback books that are robust enough to resist your weight as you use them to push up from the floor. Think Oxford English Dictionary-level robust.
Another commonly used item in Asana practice is and yoga strap, like this one here. Suitable alternatives include a belt or a long scarf or even a towel, though do take care to use a softer towel to avoid chafing. Anything that is roughly the span of your arms, and strong enough to endure you pulling it with both hands in opposite directions.
Another staple item in yoga practice is a yoga blanket. You might often see a Molina wool blanket or a Mexican blanket used in online classes, in-person classes, and on social media. However, if you consider purchasing one of these be careful of fake sellers selling low-quality synthetic items that are not as advertised. To avoid this, skip the large online selling platforms and, instead, go directly to a trusted brand (for example here). If you’re not ready to invest in a blanket yet (or ever) that is totally fine, you can use any reasonably large blanket that is easy to fold and easy to roll up, or even a large bath towel will work just as well.
The final item that is on my list is the yoga bolster. Though these can be quite pricey, they are very sturdy and have longevity, and are quite nice to have around for when you want to flop into supported Shavasana or need something to cuddle. Mine is from www.huggermugger.com. But, you can easily substitute with a blanket or two, a thick sturdy pillow, or a couple of cushions from your sofa or bed.
A brief note about religious deities: some people like statues of Hindu gods or Buddhist deities in their practice space. I am not one to say if that is right or wrong but beware of the cultural guidelines around displaying such items. For example, in Hindu and Buddhist religions it’s considered disrespectful to place any likeness of a deity directly onto the floor – they need to be propped up somehow, elevated from the floor. In some religions, you shouldn’t face your feet towards the likenesses of deities either, so the positioning will also need to be taken into account. Personally, in my space I have just my mat and whatever props I will need for that practice at hand. I try to remove any external distractions. So, the TV will be turned off (to avoid judging the latest Real Housewives of Anywhere scandal), any intriguing artwork is placed elsewhere (because I’ll start to ponder the psychological state of the artist – and buyer!) and any work that I’ve got going on will be kept out of sight so that I can focus my mind on the Here and Now (not the emails I have yet to respond to without screaming internally). Clutter? No problem, as long as it’s not on or near your mat to reduce the risk of injury.
When is the best time of day to practice yoga?
Finally, let’s look at when you could practice. Now you have your space set up, your clothes decided and the items that you will either use from around the home or purchase if that is within your budget, let’s (briefly) get down to the nitty-gritty and start putting the plan into action.
When are you going to practice? This actually is the easiest part to decide but the most difficult to put into action. Life gets busy, motivation drops and human nature is such that we tend to talk ourselves out of things that we are not fully confident in. I’ve talked myself successfully out of many a yoga practice over the years and this is what I’ve learned: as a beginner, daily practice is not necessary.
If daily is something you can commit to by all means go ahead. Honestly speaking, most of the time I cannot commit to a daily practice. In the early years every time I pushed myself, I would quickly run out of steam and fall off the wagon for two or three months at a time and then negative self-talk my way further from it whilst side-eying my mat that would by now have become a Professional Dust Collector. Not what Liforme had intended, I’m sure.
What I have found to be more sustainable over the years is to look ahead at my schedule, see the busiest day that I have got coming up and substitute those days for something more manageable like 5 minutes at my desk or a breathing and meditation practice instead, or even just reading a page of a book about yoga or listening to a yoga-related podcast. Or, just taking the day off from pressuring myself to practice. This all constitutes yoga practice, but I’m guessing you’re here for the physical part so in that case, I would recommend that you set aside 20 to 30 minutes two or three times a week.
But, what is the best time of day to practice? Traditionally early early early early morning (that time of day reserved for overthinkers, witches, and energetic partygoers) is considered the best time for a plethora of reasons. However, we have to adapt yoga to the modern-day context in order for it (and us) to thrive. These days, it’s not feasible for many of us to be waking up before dawn to commit to a 30-minute movement practice. I cannot dictate to you when is the best time of day for you, that is something that you will have to be aware of and honest about yourself. Only you know when you will be able to commit to practice. Some of us like to get it out of the way when everybody else is still asleep, some of us could practice during lunchtime to energize ourselves or to de-stress after a particularly difficult work morning, but for some of us, it could be just as we get back from work. And for others (like muggins here), it’s usually at the end of the day between prepping dinner and eating dinner. That’s when I often have 30 minutes to spare to get on my mat and ease out all of the tension from the day. I also find this helps me to sleep better. I find an early morning practice usually makes me feel worse though I’m not clear on why. Perhaps it is a combination of not enough caffeine, not enough sleep, and too much grumpiness. Try not to get caught up in the urge from external sources to practice every day at 3 A.M. unless this feels right for you. We’re after a safe and sustainable practice here, meaning one that you can continue, not one that checks off other people’s boxes and risks depleting you of energy, money, and the will to live.
So, take a few minutes to look at your week and pencil in 3 days where you could fit in twenty minutes of practice. Then, decide what time, realistically, would be best for you. If it is tough to find the time, remember, you could break it down into five-minute chunks. A little bit of yoga does you the world of good. Worrying about it doesn’t.
Is there a handy guide for all this glorious information?
Funny you should ask! If you’d like a quick guide regarding today’s blog, click below to download my free guide for beginners, “Home Yoga Prep: Getting Started the Right Way” which has some extra-juicy bits of information and a little bonus practice in there too.
That’s it for now! Good work if you made it this far and aren’t still lost in the online world of mats and blankets. In the next blog post, we will be looking more closely at how to practice. I will be taking you through some simple practices to do and some resources that you can use to follow along.
All right my friend, if you have any questions or concerns drop me an email at email@example.com. I would love to connect with you and help you in any way I can. Be sure to check me out on Instagram and YouTube and feel free to send me a DM or comment with any questions.
Hi, I'm Ellie Smith. I'm passionate about sharing how the practices and principles of yoga can enhance our public speaking presence. Whether you're a university student, new or returning professional, or simply want to boost your confidence behind the mic, I'm here to help guide you on your yoga journey so you can go from the pose to the podium with ease.