This is an excerpt from Instructing Hatha Yoga 2nd Edition With Web Resource by Diane Ambrosini.
If you walk into a sporting goods store or the retail area of a fitness club - or peruse the cover of many yoga periodicals - you might get the impression that yoga requires a specific uniform, as well as certain equipment, if one is to practice it successfully. In reality, Western fashion sense and marketing notwithstanding, nothing could be further from the truth. Unlike many physical activities and exercise programs, yoga practice requires minimal equipment. Indeed, East Indian citizens practiced yoga for millennia with nothing more than thin reed pads, a simple loincloth or sari, and bare feet.
However, though yoga instruction and practice require little in the way of equipment, certain elements can make your teaching - and your students’ class experiences - both safer and more comfortable. The specifics depend on the style of hatha yoga you teach, the nature of your student population, and the location of your class.
Apart from personal fashion preference, select from lightweight fabrics to allow for maximum movement and comfort. In general, comfortable shorts or leggings and a snug-fitting shirt work well for practicing yoga. Loose-fitting T-shirts, though comfortable and easy to move in, often end up over the head in inversion postures, thus creating an annoying distraction. These clothing selections apply to students and instructors alike.
Another factor to consider when suggesting clothing options for students is the type of yoga being practiced. Students in a fast-paced class may be most comfortable in a single layer of lightweight, sweat-wicking clothing that can accommodate the heat and moisture generated by the body. In contrast, students in a less vigorous style of class may be most comfortable beginning class with warm-up layers that can be peeled off as body temperature increases and then put back on during the cool-down at the end of class.
Yoga instructors should follow the same general clothing guidelines as their students for comfort and ease of movement; in addition, they should always dress in a professional manner. Students must be able to see how your body moves as you demonstrate, but you should avoid wearing clothing that might be overly revealing, such as see-through fabrics, precariously low-cut necklines, or wide-legged or skimpy shorts.
Practitioners of Kundalini yoga suggest that you wear clothes made of white cotton and other natural fabrics to foster the electromagnetic field surrounding you during practice.
In addition to bare feet and comfortable clothing, another indispensable piece of yoga equipment for most people is a sticky yoga mat. Yoga mats provide a stable, nonslip surface and, depending on the thickness, a bit of cushion on which to practice. Mats can be found in a variety of colors, lengths, thicknesses, and materials - all of which are matters of personal preference.
In some settings, yoga mats are provided on site. If you teach at a site where mats are not provided - and if students are reluctant or unable to purchase their own - you might suggest that they each bring a large towel or blanket. Whatever is used, it should be large enough that both the hands and the feet can be in contact with it during postures such as Adho Mukha Shvanasana (Downward-Facing Dog). Be mindful, however, that towels and blankets are generally slippery and should be used with caution, especially during standing poses. In fact, in many instances, one might be best served by practicing directly on the ground.
Occasionally, you will encounter a student who recognizes that a mat is beneficial to one’s practice but is under the false impression that any exercise mat will do. It is true that the mats used in Pilates floor classes can be used for yoga practice; however, they tend to be thicker and made of more flexible material and provide less traction than do yoga mats. Many fitness clubs provide short, soft, and sometimes slick mats that are generally used for floor-exercise work. Unfortunately, these mats are designed to cushion sit-ups and other exercises or stretches that do not require the traction provided by yoga mats. These and other soft mats may slide across the floor unless the student pays closer attention to the mat than to his or her yoga practice, which both defeats the purpose of yoga and increases the potential for injury. This type of mat also has too much cushion to provide stability while standing. Therefore, one would be much safer using a towel or no mat at all.
If you teach in a facility where yoga mats are provided for students, you will need to address a health and safety concern that is often forgotten or ignored. When multiple pairs of sweaty bare feet use a mat, it becomes a dirty and foul-smelling habitat for germs. For this reason, mats should be cleaned and disinfected on a regular basis, and replacement mats should be purchased as needed. The smell factor alone should encourage students to bring a personal mat! For many people, an average investment of $30 for a basic mat is a small price to pay for the practical protection provided by a mat reserved for personal use.
Learn more about Instructing Hatha Yoga, Second Edition.