Choosing the Best Yoga Mat

In my six years of practicing yoga, I’m proud to say that I’ve only purchased two mats! And this is not because my mat sat in the back of my closet for some time. This is because I took my time selecting a mat, researched, and chose well. There are many factors that go into choosing a comfortable, long lasting yoga mat. Below is how you can evaluate yoga mats and find the one that’s right for you!

Length
Most yoga mats are about 68 inches (5′ 8”) in length. If you’re like me and are just about 5′ 8″ or taller, I’d recommend looking into extended length mats (usually 72 inches). This way, you’ll be able to spend the entire yoga class (including savasana – the final resting pose) on your mat.

Weight
While most yoga mats aren’t that heavy, it is important to keep in mind how you will transport your yoga mat to and from class. Given that I’ve lived in cities for the past several years, I often walk or take public transit to yoga. This means that I usually have my mat in a bag over my shoulder. I recommend getting a lighter weight mat if you plan to carry it around to and from class to reduce the weight on your shoulders and back. Lighter weight mats are usually 2.5-3 pounds.

Slickness
Yoga is not a place where you want to go sliding unintentionally off the mat. You could bump into a neighbor or even put yourself at risk for injury. If you’re attending hot or power yoga classes regularly or you sweat during your practice, I’d consider looking into an anti-slip mat. These mats absorb sweat well and allow you to keep moving safely – no matter how much sweat you drip on the mat!

Thickness
Thick mats are more supportive, but they can be more difficult to practice balancing poses on. Think about where you’ll be practicing yoga – on a hardwood floor, outside, on carpet, etc. Depending on the surface you’re practicing on, you may need more or less support. Typically, yoga mats range between 1/8″ to 1/4″ thick.

Price Range
Some yoga mats can be pricier than others. Having an budget set before you go shopping will help you to stay on track and find quality mats in your price range. I spent $75 on my first mat (lasted 4 years) and $55 on my second mat (still in good condition). In my mind, both of these purchases were rationalized considering that I used to attend in-person yoga classes at least once a week. If I rented my own mat for $3 each time, I would’ve spent about $150 a year on mat rentals. Instead, I spent about half of that on a quality mat that lasted 4 years. A quality yoga mat is an investment in yourself, your wellbeing, and your relaxation. If there is one area in life to save for or put it a bit extra towards, this is it!

Material
Many yoga mats are made with PVC, but there are many eco-friendly, PVC-free, and latex-free mats available. I look for mats made with manufactured materials because I spent lots of time on my mat and want to be conscious about what I’m breathing in for hours each year. When shopping for mats, look for the materials section to learn more.

Color
Yoga mats come in all colors, so selecting a color is completely up to you! I prefer to choose calming colors for my yoga mats – deep blues, purples, or grays. I like to look down at my mat during class and feel at peace!

Now you can take what you’ve learned and pick out the best mat for you!

Should You Teach Yoga for Free?

I remember the last weekend of my yoga teacher training so vividly. My future as a yoga instructor finally felt real. The aches and pains from doubling up on yoga classes during training weekends were starting to fade. I felt strong and I felt ready.

During the last training weekend, we had our first and last session on the business of yoga. This was the first time learned what I would need to do to secure a teaching position at one of my top choice studios. This was also the first time I heard the words “offer to teach/assist for free”.

By no means do I consider myself an experienced teacher. By all means do I consider myself someone who is worthy of being compensated for the time, preparation, and effort I put in to teach a class.

This brings me back to question: Should you teach for free? After all, if you consider teaching yoga your job, would you want to work for free? There are many reasons why you might decide to teach for free (or not). I’ve outlined a few of them below as well as my decision not to teach for the time being.

Reasons to Teach Yoga for Free

1. You are teaching a class for a charitable cause.

If you decide to teach a yoga class to raise money for a cause you believe in, teaching for free is an act of service. Similarly, if you choose to teach yoga at an organization that does not have the resources to compensate you but you support its mission, your yoga class is a contribution to the community.

2. You want to gain experience on your own terms.

Since March, many people have been staying home and are looking for a way to relax, stay moving, and tap into their inner thoughts. Organizing classes for family and friends through social media is an option to gain experience teaching. It also allows you to set your own schedule and get creative with sequencing.

3. You want to teach for free.

Simply put, if you desire to teach for free and it brings you joy, why not teach?

Reasons Not to Teach for Free

1. You need to make money.

If you plan to teach yoga as a source of income, teaching for free will not get you there.

2. You would like to be compensated for teaching.

Preparing for a yoga class takes time. Creating sequences and playlists and making it sure it all flows together smoothly won’t happen in just a few minutes. If you believe that you should be paid for your efforts, you should not teach for free.

3. You would like to be compensated for teaching in the long run.

If you are building a business as a yoga instructor, offering classes for free may help you to attract an audience. However, if you want this same audience to pay you at some point in the future, think again. If people are accustomed to accessing your content and classes for free, it’s possible they will be reluctant to pay for it in the future.

Why I’ve Decided Not to Teach for Free

It was a tough decision not to teach for free. Obviously no one saw a pandemic in the future when I graduated from yoga teacher training last December. With most indoor group activities on hold, I made the decision to teach virtual classes for free for a while. I’ve decided not to teach for free at the moment for a few reasons. With in-person classes, you feel the energy in the room. There is an unparalleled liveliness to practicing yoga in the company of others. Virtual classes, on the other hand, feel empty to me. Talking to a camera in a room does not bring me joy. Editing videos is not how I choose to spend my free time. And if I have two free hours on a Saturday, I’d much rather spend it practicing yoga than creating playlists and sequencing. That’s how I feel right now. I recognize that my feelings may change in time, but they also might not. And that’s ok. Overall, there are good reasons to and not to teach for free. I’m sure this is a question I’ll revisit later.

Owning Your Wellness Journey

Staying at home has led me to have some pretty interesting realizations about myself. In the past few weeks, I’ve thought deeply about my health and wellness journey and how even though it was a part of me, it wasn’t something that I truly took ownership of.

Before the pandemic, if I wanted to work out, I went to spin class. or yoga. If I wanted to treat myself, I went to the spa for a hot stone massage or the nail salon for a mani/pedi. If I wanted my home to smell good, I’d go to TJMaxx (sometimes two in one day) just to smell the candles.

I was so excited when the day rolled around and it was time for me to go to one of those places. I picked out my clothes beforehand (often color-coordinated) and could not wait to do these things in the name of “self-care”, fitness, or wellness.

And then we got told to stay at home. Even though some things have opened up, I haven’t been back. Gone are the days riding front row at spin class while the instructor high fives everyone on the way out of the room. Gone are the hands on adjustments to improve your alignment in yoga class. Non-existent are trips to stores like TJMaxx where you can touch a whole bunch of things in the store, place them back down on the shelf, and walk out with only one item.

This routine I created could not be adapted to life as we know it now. Because it depending on human touch, contact, and hanging out in indoor spaces while very unconcerned about how many people were there or how many items I touched that I didn’t plan to buy.

So, I realized that this routine I created to help me stay well and be joyful was largely out of my own hands. It involved so many people, several strangers, and a whole lot of not-so-personal spaces. Most of all, my routine was based on me receiving things, whether it was instruction, guidance, or relaxation via hot stones. I may have scheduled the appointments and booked the classes, but this routine was not mine.

What I have been exploring over the past few months is taking more ownership of my wellness journey. It is much less about what I can go out and do and instead about the inner work I need to do. Some days that means I take an hour long power yoga class (virtually), and other days, I may read or paint. I select activities based on what I’m striving to achieve.

Although it certainly feels odd to reach a stage in this pandemic where I’m missing the “practically strangers” that I often encountered in my daily life, I’ve accepted that this is how things are for now. And I’ve realized for me that wellness isn’t about where you go. Practicing mindfulness and finding activities that are relaxing and bring me joy can be practiced from anywhere.

Structuring a Yoga Class

This post is for all of my new yoga teachers out there and aspiring yoga instructors to-be! I am a proponent of tangible advice, and that’s what inspired me to write this post on how to structure a yoga class.

When I graduated from yoga teacher training, I had so many questions about how to actually teach. I did not know where to start! Given that I immediately decided to throw myself into preparing for auditions, I had to learn quickly. There are many different ways to structure a vinyasa yoga class, but my strategies are listed below.

Know Several Key Sequences

For the months of my yoga teacher training and the months following, I recited sequences whenever I could. Sometimes I was in the line at Trader Joe’s and other times, I was walking to school! In my free time, I learned the basics-sun salutations, warmups, cooldowns, etc.- by saying them out loud and repeating them to myself in my head. Gaining confidence in these basic sequences helped me to become more comfortable in what I would be teaching. I also knew how much time these sequences would take up in a class because I had rehearsed them.

Use a Stopwatch

This brings me to my next point. If you are planning to teach a class, it’s essential to be cognizant of the time so that you allocate enough time for the class to safely warm up and cool down. Because it can be difficult to gauge how long a set of sequences will take when you are just starting to teach, I recommend using a stopwatch during class. This will help you to keep track of the time and make adjustments during class if needed. I keep my stopwatch out of the view of my students because it can be distracting to look at the clock while practicing yoga.

Take Your Own Class

One thing I love about vinyasa yoga is how free flowing it is. There is an endless amount of poses and transitions. You can try something new each time and tap into your creative side. That said, if you’re working on some unique transitions or teaching poses that are new to you, record yourself teaching and take your own class. It might seem like one pose flows easily into another until you try it out and realize it feels a bit awkward. Experimenting with different poses while you develop sequences will help you to figure out which transitions will work best in a class setting.

Write It All Down

I love writing (if you couldn’t tell already) because it helps me to get my thoughts out and not forget things. Writing down your sequences will help you to keep a record of everything you’ve taught in the past. You can build upon these sequences in the future or use them again in a future class. You’ll never have that feeling of teaching a great sequence you wish you remembered if you have everything recorded! I like using Excel for my sequences, but keeping a notebook would also work just as well.

Divide Your Class Into Sections

Dividing your classes into sections will help ensure that you have created a balanced class. For a more specific example, this is how I would structure a 45-minute vinyasa class:

Grounding/Warmup: 5 minutes
Sun Salutations: 10 minutes
Flow: 15 minutes
Standing Poses: 5 minutes
Seated Poses/Cooldown: 5 minutes
Savasana: 3-5 minutes

And with that, I hope you have some more clarity around planning yoga classes – happy sequencing!

Keeping a Consistent Practice

The most beneficial, transformative yoga practice that you can ever have will be a consistent practice. It’ll be the practice that you can’t walk away from. It’ll be the practice that you keep coming back to, even when things get tough. It’ll be the mat you return to on the days when you don’t feel like it. Consistency is challenging. It’s hard because it requires commitment and sacrifice. It’s hard because it doesn’t just require motivation, it calls for dedication.

Motivation is an amazing feeling. It’s our drive, what keeps us going and what keeps us working hard. We find motivation in different places. It might come from attending an energizing yoga class or meeting up with someone who is passionate about the same things that we are. The downside of motivation is that it can fade. Maybe you’re starting to feel uninspired or maybe it’s been a while since you did something that fed you soul. When motivation starts to wane, it’s easy to give up, put your mat in the closet, and leave it there. This is where dedication kicks in.

Unlike motivation, dedication is not necessarily going to you that burst of energy. Instead, your dedication will be your “why”. Whether it’s setting aside time to self reflect or time to challenge your mind and body in new ways, your dedication will always be there. It ruminates in the background, like a soft, steady hum. Most of the time, you don’t hear it above the noise that is your motivation. But your dedication will be there when you need it most, especially on the days when you simply don’t feel like practicing.

Establishing what motivates you and why you are dedicated to your practice will help you to stay consistent. There is no one definition of what consistency is. For some, this could be every day; for others, this could be once a week. Creating an achievable schedule will help you to make the time for your practice and commit to it.

The great thing about creating a custom schedule is that you can do what’s right for you. For example, there are many ways to practice yoga on the daily basis, if that’s what you choose to do. Your practice could be a mix of both power and restorative with meditation sessions so that you alternate between high and low intensity days. You can practice for 10 minutes or choose to do a longer session. Once you’ve created and maintained a routine, your practice will become a habit. And even on the days when you’re tired or sore or just don’t feel like hitting to the mat, you’ll have both your motivation and dedication to support you and your yoga journey.

How to Start a Meditation Practice

Before yoga teacher training, I practiced yoga for 5 years without realizing that yoga was a part of something much greater than the physical practice. Since graduating from YTT, I’m determined to introduce more aspects of yoga into my life. Currently, I’m working to improve my meditation practice.

Over the past few months, I’ve been trying to develop a consistent meditation practice. It has been challenging for me to get started and I often find myself getting distracted. There are so many different ways to mediate and it is important to find a practice that works best for you so that you stay consistent. Below are a few strategies that I’ve been using to encourage myself to mediate more.

Create a personal meditation space

Setting up a meditation space in your home is important. Whether you redesign a corner of a room or have a few yoga blocks that you can arrange in a comfortable seat for yourself, find something that works well for you! These days, I enjoy sitting on my yoga mat on one block. Having my seating arrangements already in place is one less thing I have to worry about once I decide to meditate. If sitting isn’t your thing, I suggest trying a walking meditation. Since many of us are spending more time at home and likely seated for most of the day, a walking mediation allows us to get some fresh air and meditate while moving.

You can choose guided or unguided meditations and/or incorporate music

I’ve realized that it’s hard for me to sit in silence and meditate because I easily become distracted by my own thoughts. One minute, I’m meditating and the next, I’m making a grocery list. I’ve been opting for guided meditations recently because having something to concentrate on and a voice to listen to on keeps me from drifting into my thoughts.

Schedule a time to meditate

As the day goes on, I notice that my motivation to do anything starts to wane. After dinner, I start to slow down and prepare for bed. If I meditate too close to bed, I may fall asleep in the middle of meditating! Planning to meditate in the morning, afternoon, or early evening works better for me because I know that putting something off until after dinner means I won’t do it. Knowing when you have motivation during the day will help you select optimal times to meditate.

Eat and drink before meditating

Meditating while hungry does not work for me at all. If my stomach is growling, I become overly focused on that sound and then start thinking about what I’m going to eat later. Ensuring that you aren’t hungry or thirsty before you set out to meditate will alleviate some distractions.

There are so many benefits to meditating, from increased concentration to decreased stress! I hope you create a routine that works best for you!

Becoming a Better Consumer through Aparigraha

For many years, I only looked at yoga as the physical practice, asana. It was during yoga teacher training when I learned about the five yamas (avoidances) and five niyamas (observances) that are outlined in the “Yoga Sutras of Patanjali”. Yoga is a lifestyle, one that extends far beyond the hour that you spend on the mat during class. Digging into these principles has encouraged me to think deeply about my actions and how I can have a positive impact on the world.

One of the yamas that I have been reflecting on recently is aparigraha, the principle of non-possessiveness. Before the pandemic hit and stores closed, I went shopping nearly every weekend. I loved browsing in stores, feeling fabrics, and smelling candles. While I have questioned my shopping habits over the years, I realized that perusing the aisles of department stores or taking my time in TJMaxx to find the latest discount on Free People was relaxing to me. There is something about being in a crowd but not necessarily with the crowd that I enjoy. Shopping was a joyful experience, whether I came home with bags or not.

Then, everything closed. Then, things opened again, but it wasn’t the same. Today, I don’t feel comfortable wandering in a store for a few hours with no purpose. I definitely don’t feel comfortable smelling candles and taking 20 minutes to decide on which ones to buy. This in-store experience of relaxation and joy no longer exists.

I thought I’d become a more typical millennial and start shopping more online. But I didn’t. In the past few months, I haven’t felt motivated to buy clothes online. Scrolling through pages upon pages is just not as fun. There is nothing to touch, nothing to smell, and no one to talk to. Most of all, I realized that I don’t need anything. These days, I mostly wear pajamas or yoga clothes and I don’t wear shoes in the house. Whenever I look in my closet, I see so many pieces that I haven’t touched in months.

And this is where aparigraha started to kick in for me. All of those weekends when I was out shopping, I was seeking something. I’m starting to think now that I wasn’t seeking possessions on my shopping trips. I could return empty handed or settle for buying an oat milk latte and still feel like I had a solid trip. While it’s unlikely that I’ll return to my routine until there is a viable treatment/vaccine for coronavirus, being thrown out of my routine helped me to realize something important.

Now that I’m spending more time indoors, I’ve been looking closely at the things I do have and deciding if I need to keep them or let them go. In the past few weeks, I’ve sold clothing on Poshmark and recycled other items that I no longer need. Letting go of things I don’t need feels freeing. I know the day will come again eventually when I’m living life to the fullest – both in and out of the home. I know that I will be tempted to fall into my old patterns. But I also know that I have this experience of self-reflection to look back on.

When I shop online now, I ask myself a few questions: Do I need this item? Do I have anything similar to it? Will I use it more than once? Will I use it every day? If it sold out in the next two minutes and was removed from my cart, would I be mad or would I just let it go? Is there something else I want more that would make more sense to purchase?

It may seem like a lot questions, but these questions help me to consume mindfully. They keep me from buying things I’d only wear once or things that likely won’t last more than a few washes. Becoming a better consumer is a journey, one that I’m starting to enjoy. And what makes it even more exciting is how I’m able to practice yoga off the mat in the process.

How to Start Practicing Yoga for Beginners

We are all beginners at something. Throughout life, we’re always learning how to do something, whether it’s driving or playing a sport. Yoga is very different than these activities, but that nervous feeling we get when we start out is the same.

When I starting driving, I was really afraid of making left turns. The thought of driving and turning into oncoming traffic was so frightening to me. I just wanted to avoid them. I soon realized that to get where I needed to go, I was going to have to learn how to safely turn left. To this day, I still remember how I felt as a new driver. My fear of left turns has transformed into me being cautious and making careful decisions.

When I first started attending all levels yoga classes, I was intimidated. I would often look around the room and I felt like I had no idea what I was doing. The fears of beginning something new came back to me. And so I did what I normally do when I get nervous – I avoided the situation! For about a year, I stayed home and practiced yoga on YouTube. I felt comfortable in my home where no one could see me. I learned the names of poses at my own pace and I certainly wasn’t distracted by what was going on around me. After this year, I started attending all levels and intermediate yoga classes in my community.

There are many ways to begin a yoga practice. That said, it’s often hard to know where to get started because there are so many choices. Below is my advice on how you can begin a consistent yoga practice!

Use props!

In yoga, props such as bolsters, blocks, blankets, and straps are your friends. Even after 6 years of practicing yoga, I still use props. They are everybody’s friends. Props will help you to reach the ground, open up in your chest, and improve your flexibility and mobility. Props will support you throughout your practice and help you to safely access new poses in your body.

Start with shorter flows.

One great aspect of yoga is how many different ways in which you can practice! Most studios have classes ranging from 60-90 minutes, but online classes are much more varied. If you’re just getting started, try out a 20-30 minute flow. This will help you to familiarize yourself with the poses and the practice before jumping into a longer length class.

Stay consistent.

The more often you practice yoga, the more accustomed your body will become to the practice! I try to practice yoga daily, even if it is only for 10 minutes. A consistent practice will allow you to maintain your flexibility and help you to improve.

Grab a friend!

It’s such a great feeling when you’re in yoga class and you have a friend to practice with! Your friend can serve as your accountability buddy. This will make it easier for the both of you to maintain a regular practice routine.

Don’t worry about what’s going on in the room.

It’s hard not to get distracted and look around the room in a yoga class. I would encourage you to stop looking at what other people are doing unless you are learning a pose. There is no reason to compare your yoga journey to anyone else’s. We are all in different places and that’s ok. Comparison has no place, and it can lead to feelings of dissatisfaction.

Explore more than asana.

Asana is the physical practice of yoga. During my yoga training, I was introduced to much more than this element of the practice. Yoga also encourages breath work, meditation, and self-study. Combining these elements with a physical practice will help you round out your experience with yoga.

I hope that these tips make it a bit easier for you to get started. I’d love to hear more about your journeys with yoga in the comments!

5 Things to Know Before Yoga Teacher Training

Last summer, I decided to take the leap and sign up for a 200 hour yoga teacher training program. It was undoubtedly a life changing experience, and I am so grateful for it. There are so many things that I wished I could have know before I started my teacher training, so I’ve decided to share them with you below! I love sharing my YTT (yoga teacher training) experience with others, so feel free to let me know if you have any questions!

1. Get familiar with the studio where you’ll be training.

Yoga studios are unique when it comes to style, instruction, and training. If you are not already practicing yoga at the studio where you plan to train, I’d recommend taking a few classes and speaking with the instructors that will be facilitating the program. Remember that this is your training experience – it’s important to find a studio that aligns with your goals and how you enjoy practicing yoga.

2. Save money and then save more money.

Most 200 hour training programs range from $2,500 to $4,000. Even if you are not completing a destination teacher training outside of the US, this is still a significant investment. During training, I found myself needing more yoga attire since it was difficult to find time to do laundry on the weekends when I was at the studio for 12 hours. I also purchased a few things so that I could practice at home such as blocks, straps, and a yoga wheel. I would say the most surprising thing I ended up spending more money on while I was in training was food! I normally spend my Sundays meal prepping, but during YTT, I spent my Sundays at the studio. By the time I got home at 7pm, I often had homework (I was in grad school at the time) and other tasks to handle before the start of the week. I found myself ordering more takeout so that I could manage my time and complete my other necessary tasks.

In addition, if you decided to teach after you complete training, there are a few optional expenses that you may incur on the path to finding a teaching position. These expenses may include registering with the Yoga Alliance, getting CPR/First Aid certified, or getting professional headshots taken, etc.

3. Establish a practice routine and stick to it.

Before YTT, I practiced non-heated vinyasa yoga once a week, typically on Sundays when I took a day off from my other workouts. Once I registered for YTT, I knew that this once a week practice would not suffice. My training weekends involved two 90-minute hot vinyasa classes per day. In addition to those classes, I also took two classes during the week at the studio. Although yoga is much more than the asana practice, developing an understanding of the poses, observing other instructors in the classroom, and getting used to moving in the heat are important. Looking back, I could have prepared more for the start of my training by taking 2-3 classes weekly. I was able to push through it, and I certainly enjoy a good physical challenge. That said, I was incredibly sore for the first month or so of training. After each training weekend, I felt like I had just run a half marathon and needed a rest week!

4. Find a YTT with a schedule that works for you.

YTTs come in all formats. There are some 3-4 week intensives, where you train daily. There are also many weekend programs, which work well if you are interested in completing training while still working on in school. My program consisted of eight weekends with training from morning until night on Saturday and Sunday. What I liked about this schedule was that my Friday evenings were completely open. I spent this time packing my yoga bag, cooking a nice dinner, and getting some sleep before the busy weekend ahead. I saw many beautiful sunrises when I was waking up at 6am to be in the studio by 7:30am. These long days taught me discipline. I did trade some nights out for nights in to catch some sleep, but it was worth it.

While I do think that an intensive, especially one in a travel destination, could be a great experience as well, I knew that it wasn’t for me this time around. I had recently come off of a running injury before entering teacher training, so I worried about potential re-injury with an intensive program.

5. Research the yoga industry and start seeking out teaching opportunities while you’re still in training.

Depending on where you’re located, yoga teachers might be in demand. But they might not. I’ve found that seeking out opportunities to teach yoga is similar to finding a professional job; you’ll need to continue to build and use your network. Job postings alone aren’t likely to get you through the door. Take classes at studios in your area where you may be interested in teaching. Meet with instructors and studio owners. Ask about being placed on the sub list. And remember to get creative – there are many places to teach yoga besides a yoga studio. Your path as a yoga instructor is in your hands.

6. Keep an open mind and have fun!

You will be pushed mentally, spiritually, and physically. You’ll come into training with your “why”, your reason for going through this transformative process. You’ll start questioning your “why”, and eventually it may change. Some things may not resonate with you the minute you learn about them in training. But a few months after training, you’ll reread one of your yogic texts and it’ll all just click. It’s an exciting journey, and this is just the start!