Alyssa, a Hatha yoga instructor at ROC & Soul Fitness, breaks down her key essentials found in her yoga bag and some tips for new yogi's.
Q:What is in your yoga bag?
My favorite yoga mat - I have about four or five yoga mats floating around in my possession, but my favorite is a simple pink mat from TJMaxx. I carry it in my yoga bag just about everywhere I go. It was really affordable and it’s been super reliable so far! I usually don’t even use a mat when I practice on my own, so buying a super expensive one is not really economical for me!
All natural mat spray - the one I’m using right now is a Witch Hazel blend!
Some kind of essential oil roll on - I really like blends I can use for stress or tension relief. I love anything with lavender, thieves, or frankincense!
2 blocks and a strap - I love using props in my classes and in my own practice. If I could fit a bolster and a blanket in my bag, I’d carry those around too!
My little Tibetan singing bowl - The one I’m carrying now is designed for the root chakra. It’s a nice note to use to wake the students from savasana.
The Radiance Sutras by Lorin Roche - This book was a staple of my teacher training. It offers so much inspiration for my yoga classes and my own practice. Sometimes I’ll even read passages to my students.
First aid kit - You never know!
Q: Do you have any favorite yoga products?
A: There are so many products out there now, it’s so hard to choose! BuddhiBox is a monthly subscription box I’ve used to test out all kinds of natural and cruelty free yoga/spirituality/wellness products. It’s a lot of fun, and something to look forward to each month!
Q: When did you first get introduced to yoga and what were your initial thoughts?
A: I was introduced to yoga in college. I was dealing with all kinds of stress and anxiety, so a doctor recommended I try yoga. I don’t normally share my VERY first experiences with yoga, because I DO NOT recommend the same thing for others! But as long as you’re asking, I think it’s important to share my experience!
Somehow I learned about Ashtanga yoga, and for about four months I would pull up the Ashtanga yoga primary series video on YouTube and practice in my bedroom. Even though it was called the “primary series”, it was extremely challenging for me as a total beginner. I did as much of the series as I could, but parts of it were totally inaccessible for me which was really discouraging.
As I did a little more research, I learned that Ashtanga yoga should really be practiced under the supervision of an experienced teacher to ensure safety. It was actually very dangerous for me to be practicing this style of yoga on my own with absolutely no prior experience or supervision. I could not find an Ashtanga teacher near me, so eventually I decided to take a beginner Hatha-inspired yoga class at a local studio.
I remember feeling uncomfortable in my first few classes. I was going through the motions while my mind was totally occupied with other things. When I left class, it felt as though I hadn’t really done anything besides stretch. So Ashtanga left me feeling depleted and discouraged, and Hatha didn’t make me feel anything at all! I began to feel like maybe yoga wasn’t for me. But over time I learned to work with my breath and use it to find my fullest expression of each pose, and to become completely immersed in whatever shape I’m in. Now I enjoy all types of yoga!
Q: What do you enjoy most about teaching yoga classes?
A: I love that as a teacher I can create a non-judgmental space for all the learning and experimentation to happen. We’re all going through HARD stuff all the time! I want people to come to my classes and feel like they are safe to be just as they are: angry, annoyed, sad, content, excited, male, female, young, old, flexible or not. It was something I didn’t realize I was missing in my life until I found yoga: permission to embrace how I am feeling or what I am experiencing in each and every moment; to recognize it, feel it, breathe into it, and eventually let it go for the sake of coming closer to peace, God, Oneness, or whatever you call it. Even though I teach just a few times a week, it feels like the most important work I can offer in these times.
Q: What tips or advice would you give to those new to yoga?
A: Anyone who is drawn to yoga is seeking something, whether it’s peace, balance, mobility, exercise, community, or something else. Some people don’t even know why they’ve come to a class, and that’s okay! A few tips to help you get started:
Try a bunch of different teachers and styles. Roc & Soul offers not just Hatha, but Roc & Flow 1 (vinyasa) and Roc & Flow 2 (power vinyasa) with a number of talented teachers! Each style is very different, and each teacher is different yet! There are so many other types of yoga classes out there at other studios as well. Some people prefer large classes in a gym setting, while others prefer a more traditional and intimate studio. Try them all and see what works for you!
Don’t be afraid of props! Blocks, blankets, bolsters, straps, all this stuff will help make you feel aligned and safe in the postures. Just because the person next to you has their hands flat on the floor in a low lunge doesn’t mean it’s right for your body. Props = safety!
Practice Savasana like you would practice every other pose. Savasana, or Final Relaxation, is that ten to fifteen minute time period at the end of class when your teacher asks you to lie down and be still. It’s one of the most important parts of the practice because it allows your body to integrate and process the class you just experienced. Most students either love or hate this pose. Some people avoid it altogether. My challenge for you, whether you’re just starting out or not, is to treat Savasana like you would treat any other pose: make modifications (use props), find your breath, let go of any tightness that isn’t serving you, and lovingly accept whatever comes up. Try it and see what happens!