Whenever I walk into REI I’m simultaneously excited about all the wonderful outdoors-y things that people do, things that I could be doing if I only had the right gear, and amazed that there’s an industry dedicated to taking something as simple as say, hiking, and making it complex by selling things to enhance the experience. Granted, there are many activities that simply wouldn’t be possible without the right gear – whoever heard of canoeing without a canoe, or skiing without skis? But there are other activities like hiking, running or (dare I say it?) yoga that require next to nothing when you really get down to basics.
What do you really need in order to practice yoga? I found this thought running through my head while I was out of town on vacation for two weeks. I had dutifully packed my suitcase with my ipod, yoga pants, a few sports bras, travel mat and even some essential oils to take with me, fully intending to keep up my regular practice even while bombarded by family and friends and baked goods. But when I sat down in the living room before everyone else was awake and thought about it, yoga doesn’t need those things. As long as you have comfortable clothes that move with your body, you’ll be able to do the poses you usually do. And sure, having a mat is nice, especially when your hands start to slip on the carpet in downward facing dog – but is even that necessary?
As I moved through a sun salutation in silence, I realized how stiff my joints felt and how my muscles didn’t bend the way they usually did. Listening only to my body, without the voice of a teacher nearby, I decided to do another sun salutation, then another and another until I felt limber enough to try something else. By the time I finished my practice, I realized I’d done much less than I usually would have done in a class. It wasn’t a full hour of practice and I’d only opted to do five or six standing poses and double the number of lying down poses as usual. Maybe it wasn’t the best practice ever and I know myself well enough to know I do not prosper without the regular guidance of teachers and established class times at the studio – but it was yoga on my terms, the kind of yoga my body told me to do – which is yoga in its most basic form.
There are many things in life that would be nice to have. I find myself thinking all the time about how a particular new mat would be better than the one I have, how my workout clothes are wearing out and I should probably buy some new ones, and that maybe I would be better about practicing at home if only I had a block, strap and woven blanket like at the studio. It’s nice to take a step back and think about the things that are really necessary for yoga practice: a quiet space, comfortable clothes, a heart willing to listen to the teacher within.