11 common props in yoga (and their free alternatives)
There is a whole range of props and yoga accessories available these days. This section lists the 11 most common props and their free alternatives.
For each item, I have linked to a webpage where the prop is available for purchase. These are not affiliate links.
I have listed the props in order of what I believe to be most to least common. That said, there are more (yes, more!) props in yoga that I have left off the list lest it become too overwhelming. Consider this a list of essential yoga equipment for beginners.
If you’re anything like me, I tend to think I need all the things in order to get started. In yoga, that just isn’t true, hence why I’ve capped it at 11 and provided suitable free alternatives.
1. Yoga mat
Surprised this is listed as a prop? I would be, too. Honestly, though, a yoga mat is a prop. Considering that yoga has been around for thousands of years, the yoga mat, invented in the 1960s, is a comparatively young addition.
The history of the yoga mat is an interesting one, and worth looking into when you have the time. Why? Because that will help you to make a fully informed decision about whether or not you really need one.
If you do decide to purchase a yoga mat, I urge you to choose one that uses eco-friendly material. I have a post about the 20 best non-toxic yoga mats that you can peruse before you buy.
As for thickness, the thicker the yoga mat is, the more cushioning your joints will get but it may also have a detrimental effect on balance. Aim for between 3mm-5mm, and if some poses require more padding use a blanket or towel, or fold over the edge of the mat.
For most yoga practitioners, a yoga mat is one of the first things we tend to buy. You’ll quickly find it can become an overwhelming decision to make. Personally, I use a Liforme yoga mat (in vibrant orange), because it:
- is non-toxic,
- is non-slip,
- has bespoke guidelines imprinted to ensure good alignment
- comes with a robust mat carrier to keep your mat safe during transit between studio and home (or when backpacking through South East Asia).
FREE ALTERNATIVE: A large towel, or (drumroll please) nothing. NOTHING? Yep. If you have a hard floor surface or a low-pile carpet, you’re good to go. Have a towel on hand to mop up sweat, and a blanket to provide some insulation during savasana.
2. Yoga blocks (or yoga bricks)
There are many different types of yoga blocks, but the most common are foam or cork. When I first started out, I immediately went to the local sports store and bought myself the cheapest foam blocks I could find. This, like many things I’ve done in life, was a mistake. They buckled under a little bit of pressure, and very quickly became covered in chips and grooves from general use.
Some foam blocks are good. But, in my opinion, if you’re shelling out for some blocks, go for these Cork blocks. They are:
- super stable
- a little heavy but not in a limiting way.
Cork blocks will be able to hold your body weight without buckling, providing you with the stability and resistance that is needed during asana, pranayama, and even meditation.
FREE ALTERNATIVE: Any thick, sturdy books you have (hardback Oxford English Dictionaries are the perfect yoga block substitute), a robust water bottle, or any wooden blocks will do (I used to use little storage blocks back in the early years of my practice). Anything that emulates the size and shape of a brick and provides stability will be fine.
3. Yoga blanket
Often in yoga studios, you will see the conventional traditional Mexican yoga blankets. I have a couple of these at home, one for yoga and one for lazing on the sofa.
Their size makes them quite versatile to use in your practice. I roll mine up like a sausage to emulate a bolster, This post provides the pros and cons of a few more options.
FREE ALTERNATIVE: Any large towel, throw, or bulky scarf has worked for me in the past. I used a small quilt once that my mother made for me – perfect (just don’t tell her I did that).
4. Yoga belt
Also known as yoga straps, you’ll find a variety of different versions online. Opt for something that is long and ideally cotton as this will provide more versatility and be fairly durable respectively.
Straps are used mainly to increase flexibility. For example, wrapping the strap around your toes in a seated forward fold and pulling on it gently to allow the hamstrings to open up.
FREE ALTERNATIVE: A long belt. I have also used a thin scarf and even a towel before. The scarf and belt worked brilliantly. A Towel is OK if you’re not too sweaty, otherwise, it might chafe a bit on steamy feet.
5. Yoga bolster
Often used frequently in a restorative practice, yoga bolsters are lovely to have if a little pricey. They are long, sturdy cushions that can be used to rest on, sit on, squeeze, or ugly cry on when watching The Notebook.
If you do buy one, go for a dark color. My biggest regret in life was forking out for a lovely light grey bolster only to watch it pick up all the dust and dirt and sweat stains (lovely, right?). I quickly realized why the studio where I took classes had opted for deep purple and navy.
FREE ALTERNATIVE: a large sturdy cushion or pillow will work just as well and likely will be a lot cheaper.
6. Yoga wheel
This one really is useful if you’re keen to work on backbends and upper back flexibility, or are looking to alleviate discomfort from a Lumbar hernia (that’s the reason I bought mine).
There are, as always, several options available. I went for a cork-covered version as this is pretty comfy on my spine.
FREE ALTERNATIVE: Hang off the edge of the sofa or the bed, and place something heavy over your feet to keep them grounded if you need to. A cat worked great (he is a pretty hefty cat). A sturdy inflatable gym ball worked for me, too.
7. Yoga Towels
You’ll probably see people cover their mat with a similarly sized towel. This is to sop up the sweat during a particularly vigorous practice (think Ashtanga Yoga), or if they’re practicing in a hot and humid location.
I used to cover my old mat with a towel during peak summer in Japan when the weather gets up into the low 40s (in Celcius) and the humidity is flirting with 80%.
Now that I have my Liforme mat, I don’t need a yoga towel. Instead, I have a small towel handy to dry me off when I’m really sweaty. Yoga towels tend to be grippier than regular towels, while still being soft to the touch.
FREE ALTERNATIVE: Any towel will do, but beware of slipping. I used to use a bath towel but found that my thin travel towel was better as I slipped and chafed much less.
8. Meditation cushions
These are usually little round well-stuffed cushions to sit on during meditation sessions. You can find a list of durable cushions here.
Personally, for meditation sessions either at the end of a yoga practice or as a stand-alone practice, I just opt for my yoga block or folded yoga blanket.
FREE ALTERNATIVE: Any firm pillow or cushion, yoga block (or book), or yoga blanket (or towel) will do as long as you are comfy, and that your knees are in line with or lower than your hip points.
9. Yoga chair
Chair yoga is increasingly popular with those less mobile – be that through a disability, injury, or wear and tear due to age. You may see your yoga teacher use a foldable/collapsable chair for two reasons.
- They are easy to store in a studio without taking up much space
- The chair likely has no arms in the and the back is of a nice height to rest your arms on during twists.
FREE ALTERNATIVE: A dining table chair as long as it has no arms, doesn’t wobble, and the seat isn’t too high (meaning your legs won’t dangle off the edge). I’ve also used a bench, and old, school chairs (you might see me use these in my Facebook Group lives).
10. Eye Pillows
In Savasana (corpse pose), at the end of class, your teacher may direct you to close your eyes. My teacher usually will dim the lights at this stage in an evening class.
I teach morning classes, and, try as I might, it is proving impossible to dim the sun. Some students like to place an eye pillow over their eyes to block out the light a bit.
FREE ALTERNATIVE: A small towel or folded blanket (avoid covering the nose, though, so breathing isn’t restricted).
FUN FACT: You never actually have to close your eyes in Savasana. The purpose is to withdraw the senses inward allowing the mind and body to relax. However, for many, closing your eyes in a room filled with strangers, or even in your own home, can feel quite unsettling. It is perfectly fine to keep them open and try to rest the gaze on one spot, letting the eyes relax a bit.
A little-acknowledged but super helpful prop is a wall. If you have a bare bit of wall near your practice space, then use it. Whether you’re a new or seasoned practitioner, we all have our off days where our Tree Pose is not quite as solid of an oak tree as we’d like.
That’s all part of it. On those days, a wall comes in really handy – sometimes to support a hand searching for stability while your tree blows in the wind, and sometimes just for friendly reassurance.
The more support you have at your fingertips (literally), the easier it is for balancing in standing poses like tree. Your balance will improve over time.
Other reasons a wall is your best friend include:
- help with alignment in poses like phalakasana (plank pose) and chaturanga dandasana (yoga push-up)
- support when practicing fear-inducing inversions like headstand
- when replicating poses off the mat (for example pushing your hands into the wall as you step back into an L shape to replicate a sort of standing adhomukha svanasana (downward-facing dog)