Establishing Habits for a Productive Life

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Getting Started with Yoga, Part I: Yoga “Mat”ters

There are many benefits to practicing yoga in a studio: the teacher is knowledgeable enough to correct your mistakes and prevent injuries, the atmosphere is focused and distractions are reduced to a minimum, and you are guided in your flow as opposed to having to construct it yourself. At the same time, there are days when we simply don’t have the time to get into a studio for a class, or times when we can’t afford to pay the premium costs of most studios.  Or perhaps you aren’t looking for a terribly strenuous practice, maybe just a few minutes of quick stretches at the beginning or end of your day.

In this series, I’ll offer a few suggestions to boost your home practice – everything from equipment, flow routines, playlists, recommended reading and more.

Let’s start with the essential equipment. If you’re new to yoga, I wouldn’t recommend spending a lot of money on equipment up front. You should explore whether yoga is right for you first before committing to all the expensive add-ons.

The only item that is truly necessary is a good yoga mat. They can vary widely in price so it’s important to think about what exactly you’re looking to get out of it. Are you hoping to travel with it? If so, prioritize thinness and weight.  Do you know that your mat will be going through a lot of wear and tear? Invest in durability. Check out the helpful chart from About.com below to compare technical specifications of five very popular mats.

Gaiam Kulae tpECOmat Jade Harmony Lululemon 
The Mat
Manduka PRO
material PVC TPE rubber polyurethane, rubber PVC
thickness 1/8″ 1/8″ 3/16″ 3/16″ 1/4″
weight light (2.2 lbs) light (2 lbs) mid (4 lbs) mid (5.5 lbs) heavy (7 pounds)
length 68″ 72″ 68″ or 74″ 71″ 71″ or 85″
biodegradable no yes yes no no
odor no no yes (rubber) slight (rubber) no
soft yes yes no yes no
traction fair good good good good
durability poor poor good good good
price $22 $39 $65 $68 $94

I first began my practice out with a $10 mat from Target, and it wasn’t long before I grew frustrated with its thin cushion and poor grip.  I ended up buying two more mats until I finally decided to just make the investment and buy a mat I wouldn’t have to keep replacing. Though the Manduka mat is expensive, it is built to last and may be the last mat you buy for many years.

Clothing. I’ve seen people practice in everything from spandex shorts to loose linen clothing. The main objective with your clothing is that you are comfortable and able to move about freely.  In a class, the instructor often prefers that you wear tighter clothing so they can see your form and make corrections if necessary, though if you are simply practicing in your home, this is not essential. And men, when practicing in a studio, please no loose-fitting shorts. No one needs to see your junk during a down-dog…

That’s it for the essentials, but if you’re ready to deepen and enhance your practice, here are some other things to consider:

  • To absorb all that sweat, I recommend buying a yoga towel for your mat.  Especially in Hot Yoga, it can get pretty slippery.  I own the Gaiam Yoga Thirsty Towel and that has worked well for me.  It will protect your mat both from sweat and dirt, thus enabling you to go longer periods without having to wash your mat.
  • To keep your mat smelling clean and fresh, I would recommend Manduka’s Yoga Mat Spray. Nobody likes to smell a week’s worth of practice during their child’s pose. (I’ve also heard that you can also put your mat in the washing machine by itself with a tiny bit of detergent on a low setting.)
  • To deepen your stretches, the Manduka Cotton Yoga Strap is useful, especially for those hard to reach places. If your hands can’t quite lock behind your back, or your fingers can’t yet stretch past your toes, this strap can provide that extra leverage.
  • To facilitate your poses, I would recommend the Iyengar block. The block functions as an extension of your body, allowing you to reach more difficult poses.  In place of, or even in addition to the block, I would recommend a Traditional Mexican blanket.  They can be very affordable and in many instances can take the place of your block in providing support.  They are also commonly folded up and sat on for meditation because they elevate the booty just a couple inches off the floor, allowing blood to flow to your legs so they don’t fall asleep. If you’re practicing Restorative Yoga, you can also the blanket for warmth.

And that’s it. Namaste!


Banana Chai Smoothie

After a long workout, I always look for something to cool me off without weighing me down.  I’ve been on the hunt for the perfect snack for a while, and I think I’ve finally found it.

This smoothie is packed with potassium to ease your sore muscles, calcium for your bones, carbs to reboost your energy level, and a unique spicy twist to keep your taste buds interested. Mix in some Vanilla Whey powder for an energy boost after an especially tough gym session, or throw in some extra ice cubes to chill out after your afternoon Bikram.  A twist on the traditional Banana Chai Smoothie, this recipe incorporates Trader Joe’s delicious “Spicy Chai Mix,” so you can still get that exotic Indian taste without a kettle!

Banana Chai Smoothie Ingredients

Ingredients:

  • 1 large-sized banana
  • 1 scoop Trader Joe’s Spicy Chai Mix
  • 1 cup (8 oz) Almond Milk, Soymilk, or regular milk
  • 1/4 cup instant oatmeal
  • 2-3 ice cubes
  • 1 scoop Vanilla Whey Powder (optional)

Toss ingredients in a blender and mix until incorporated.  Pour into a glass and if you wish, top off with a dash of cinnamon! Now towel off that sweat, put your feet up, and enjoy!