Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Frugal Yoga: Props for Free!

With all that crazy yoga equipment out there, it must cost a fortune to have everything you need, right?  WRONG.  Using items found around the typical house, I found there are free alternatives to just about all the yoga "stuff" they've thought up.  See for yourself!

Yoga Mat:
Store Bought: Alternative: Used, Shelf Liner, Towel and Tablecloth
$7-30 $4 used,
$5 Shelf Liner (20”x6'x1/2”)
Free w/reuse of towel and vinyl tablecloth material
The mat serves 2 purposes – light padding and anti-slippage, so just make sure your flooring/mat/homemade collection of materials do that for you. If you are JUST STARTING yoga, I recommend you take a few large towels stacked up or a smooth blanket (not the one with denim pockets) and fold it so it is 5-6' long and shoulder width (about 2'). If you find slipping to be an issue on this, grab a 'sticky' vinyl tablecloth to overlay, or roll a wide length of shelf liner over top.
I did buy a mat new, 5 years ago, and I do recommend you get a commercial mat AFTER you tried yoga at a class or performed to some videos so you know you want to continue. I bought my mat on sale for $7 new (from Target, approx 1/4” thick), and it has held up well to light-moderate use. You may find them used in various condition at thrift stores, but often they want almost as much for them used as new (note: for 2nd hand mats, make sure to unroll it to and look for undue wear before buying.) For these commercial mats, there is a good article on how to naturally clean them here. You should clean them once every couple of sessions, and make sure to store them out of direct sunlight. Alternatives to the commercial mats exist. Some people simply use a roll of really thick shelf liner, like Duck 20" x 6' Select Easy Liner, which costs about $4.74. For harder floors, place a towel under the mat if you can't find shelf liner thick enough.

Yoga Bag (for Yoga Mat)
Store Bought New: Alternative: Camping Chair Bag or Pant Leg Case
$10-40 Free w/reuse of item on hand
Free w/reuse of worn out pants (plus sewing)
$1-2 for a pair of pants to sew up
Carrying around a rolled up piece of foam is awkward, so having something with a strap to throw it over your shoulder is convenient when traveling to yoga practice. We have camping fold-up chairs permanently set up on our little patio stoop, so I just stole the cheap draw-string bag that one of them came in. It's a bit longer than my mat, but that means I can shove in belts, clothes, or other items from a workout. Feeling craftier? A fun basic tutorial for using a pants leg to make the bag. 

Yoga Blocks:
Store Bought New: Alternative: Woodblock, Paperback Block, Books
$12.00 $3 in wood plus woodworking
$1.30, with 5/$1 paperbacks, plus .30 cents in duct tape
Free w/reuse of books
These chunks of foam aren't needed, but they come in handy for the beginner. They help you hold poses longer, conserving strength so you can go longer. They help set proper alignment and modify poses to make them a little easier (such as bringing the ground up to you so you don't have to stretch so far) and they can prevent injury by preventing movement, like your knees/hips rotating too far. Making your own is simple enough, as you can sand a piece of wood in 6”x9”x4” proportions. For those without woodworking materials or inclination, or those needing a lighter block, I recommend the paperback block. Trade paper back books of ill-repute (romance novels) that are approx 6x9 or the standard paperback of 4-1/4″ x 7″ should be collected/found. Pile 6x9 books 4” tall (or just 3” high for those with smaller hands,) and any 4-1/4”x7” standard paperbacks to 9” tall stacks. These you can wrap together permanently with duct tape, or if you want to read them again, have them cinch-belted together. Or, you can use any appropriate sized book on its own (just make sure if you have a 'block' under each hand, they are the same height to promote even alignment.) No crappy novels on hand? If you come across some large chunks of styrofoam, these can be cut to the same magic sizes and covered with duct tape. Otherwise, cut cardboard rectangles 6"x 9" until your pile is about 3-4” tall. Glue them together, then wrap in duct tape. Warning: cats see these as scratching posts in gift wrap, so keep them out of sight when not in use if you have feline company.

Wrist Supports / Wedges:
Store Bought Alternative: Tennis Ball, Rolled Edge, Sanded Baseboard
$15.00 $0.33 Tennis ball
Free if you just roll your mat
$3.00/ft or less baseboard trim plus woodworking
The wedge’s curve or incline lessens the degree your wrist will need to bend; it brings the floor closer to your hands in the pose. A yoga wedge is approx. 20” long, 1-2” tall and 6.5” wide, and wrist wedges are the same, only approx 5-6” long each (and you use 2 at a time.) A yoga wedge can be made out of wood or firm, scratch-resistant foam. Smooth a piece of molding that approximates the wedge dimensions, and finish it. Those with weak wrists but no woodworking skills should try a tennis ball cut in half, which can have the same effect. Here's a good video for using wrist wedges. In the video, she also suggests rolling the edge of the yoga mat to achieve the same support/reminder as from wedges.  Super simple, and free.

Yoga Straps:
Store Bought: Alternative: Ties/belts, Obi, Bathrobe Belt
$7-15 $0.50-$4 used ties/belts plus sewing
$2 used judo gi obi
Free w/reuse of bathrobe belt
A yoga strap is used to force alignment, assist in holding limbs in place, and allow poses where maybe you can't quite touch your hands behind your back. This is a nice overview on using straps here.  Now, a typical strap is 1.5" wide and 6', 8', or 10' wide. Judo gi belts (as in, black belt, or green belt) are called obi, and are made of tough cotton with stitching run through them. You may find them in random colors at thrift stores. They will range in length from barely 5' (kids obi) to 8' or more, depending on the size of person who originally got it (the obi is made to wrap around the waist twice, plus 95cm to make a knot). If Judo isn't big in your area, find 2 men's ties and sew together for one long piece of material, or find some canvas/soft belts with the D buckles and sew them together. Wait for a thrift store half of sale, and it shouldn't set you back more than $4. Rummage sale for ugly ties, and it shouldn't set you back more than $0.50. If you really don't want to spend anything, just steal the belt of your (or your S.O.'s) bathrobe. Replace it before they catch you, though. :)

Yoga Bolster:
Store Bought: Alternative: Sewn Bolster w/Stuffing, Blankets, Towels, Lg Throw Pillows
$30-80 Free w/reuse of old blanket
$3-12 cloth material plus sewing and $3-12 in used blankets
$2-6 stiff/firm used decorative pillows
A yoga bolster is firm padding that is meant to be supportive and firm but soft, to aid you in various poses. A bought bolster – say that 5 times fast!- will set you back anywhere from $30-80 bucks. It is essentially padding, and they found in a variety of size, shapes, and 'firmness'. Finding a soft, thick- material blanket (like the old wool ones) is all you need to make a bolster for yourself – just fold it into quarters, fold that in half and roll up, and take a second blanket folded into quarters and fold around it in 'business tri-fold of paper' fashion. Or just roll it up to whatever dimensions you need. Towels can be used the same way. Want something more permanent? Roll up some not-so-great thrift store blankets and stuff them in this 'bolster' pillow case – instructions here. Another not-so standard item I require now for yoga is a pillow, for my knees. You can use a blanket for that, too, or a larger decorative throw pillow. The really well packed ones can still be found in thrift stores for a couple of bucks, and a few of those can be used together as bolster fill-ins for some positions, too.

Eye Masks:
Store Bought: Alternative: Sewn Rice Mask, Rice Baggie in a Tie, Rice Sock
$4-15 $1 in material scraps, plus sewing and $0.05 rice
$1 scrap tie, $0.05 baggie and $0.05 rice
Free w/reuse of sock, and $0.05 rice

I hadn't even heard about these until writing this article, but it makes sense. Eye masks are used as a sort of 'sensory deprivation/focus' tool when lying stretched out to relax (called savasana=corpse pose.) They block light and allow pressure gently around the eyes/brow/sinus region. There a lot of people with 'make your own' tutorials online, usually involving some scrap soft cloth and rice sewn into an figure 8 shape or rectangle. I think I will try putting rice in a gallon Ziploc bag, rolling it thin and shoving it inside a soft cotton men's tie. Otherwise, just grab a tall sock without holes, fill it with a small amount of rice, and tie one end shut. 

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