International Day of Yoga: Everything you need to start practicing

Louise Whitbread
Get kitted out in the best comfortable clothing and equipment to practice yoga at home: iStock

This year, 21 June marks International Day of Yoga, an annual event created in 2015 by the United Nations General Assembly.

Its aim is to raise awareness of the benefits of yoga which according to the NHS include: increased strength, flexibility and balance, as well as helping to relieve high blood pressure and aches and pains.

Celebrating the practice of yoga with an annual event was first proposed by India and in the Indian prime minister Narendra Modi’s address to the 69th General Assembly in 2014 he said: “Yoga is an invaluable gift from our ancient tradition. Yoga embodies unity of mind and body, thought and action... a holistic approach that is valuable to our health and our well-being. Yoga is not just about exercise; it is a way to discover the sense of oneness with yourself, the world and nature.”

The theme for 2020 is "yoga at home" and "yoga with family" and the UN describes yoga as a powerful tool to deal with the stress of uncertainty and isolation, as well as to maintain physical well-being during the Covid-19 pandemic. It has created free resources to guide you through meditation and yoga sessions on its wellness portal here.

It’s a great way to keep active and improve mobility, with little equipment needed. Especially during lockdown, as leisure centres and gyms remain closed. But it's still simple enough to start at home on your living room floor.

Here we’ve compiled the essentials you need to get started with yoga.

You can trust our independent round-ups. We may earn commission from some of the retailers, but we never allow this to influence selections. This revenue helps us to fund journalism across The Independent.

Yoga mats and blocks

Along with preventing you sliding about the floor, yoga mats are also a way to carve out your personal space, think of them like a mini studio.

Thanks to the rise of online yoga and home practice, the mat market is flourishing as we discovered in our guide to the best yoga mats. They're also no longer dominated by mass-produced mats designed to be sold as wholesale to studios, and modern designs are thick and luxurious with alignment grids.

Our favourite is the Liforme yoga mat (Liforme, £90). It’s spacious with a grippy surface, even in the most intense hot yoga class our reviewer tried, and it is longer and wider than most (at 185cm x 68cm) and it sits right at the sweet spot for thickness (4.2mm). What makes it so unique, though, is the grid system laid over the top to help you align yourself in poses.

The surface of this mat is really grippy, even in the most intense hot yoga class (The Independent)

It’s brilliant for anyone with a home practice when having a teacher on hand for adjustments isn’t possible. The lines are very slightly textured and they do take a bit of getting used to – particularly if you have a set shape for downward dog, for example – but it’s worth playing with.

A yoga block is a helpful tool if you need a little boost to reach harder positions. We’d recommend the Lululemon lift and lengthen yoga block (Lululemon, £18), made in a squishy foam texture.

A yoga block is a useful aide to help you reach trickier positions (Lululemon)

It is slightly taller, wider and thinner than most bricks, which makes it more versatile. Designed to be used both on its top or its side, there’s a support level for everyone, whether you struggle to get anywhere near your toes in a standing forward bend and need the floor to come to you, or you’re centimetres away from the ground in a triangle and just need a little boost.

Best of all are the sloped edges and soft foam, which make this a comfortable prop to support yourself in backbends like bridge pose.

Yoga clothes

Kit yourself out in comfortable fabrics that will wash well, be squat-proof, have enough give to help you reach all your positions without discomfort nor bunch or sag with continued use.

For women, the Sweaty Betty power gym leggings (Sweaty Betty, £75) were a firm favourite of our reviewers. We found them to be still good as new after hundreds of gym sessions and as many machine washes.

Stretchy, stylish and supportive leggings are not hard to come by and will make all the difference (The Independent)

They feature a small zip pocket at the back where you can stash your keys and another pocket on one side, perfect for storing your phone. These fit us perfectly but there’s also an internal drawcord if you need to make them tighter at the waist.

The stretchy fabric is very flattering, they come in a myriad of patterns and prints too if your style is more colourful.

If you want longer, shorter, baggier or more fitted clothing, in our guide to men’s yoga kit, we put upper and body garments to the test measuring comfort, quality of construction and elegance of design.

For your lower half, these Warrior Addict eco-warrior sweatpants blue (Yoga Emporium, £65) came out on top. They do everything you want in yoga pants: they stretch effortlessly when you need them to, are lightweight and comfortable, and they stay cool even when your movements are pacey.

If you prefer a baggier fit, these sweatpants are ideal (The Independent)

The material, Tencel, is also antibacterial. Made from wood pulp, there is even an eco story: Warrior Addict makes them from up-cycled sample fabric – most companies don’t use all their sample fabric.

You don't have to spend a lot either for quality. This Uniqlo Men airism crew neck T-shirt (Uniqlo, £12.90), while not specifically designed for yoga wear, is a tremendous budget option.

For a loose-fitting tee that's quick-wicking, Uniqlo has an impressive range of inexpensive options (Uniqlo)

We found it to be a comfy fit (a helpful guide on the website can tell you which size you want) and very soft to the touch. But the reason it’s so good for yoga is largely because it is outstanding for wicking away sweat very quickly so the T-shirt stays comfortably dry as you practise.

Virtual classes and live streams to join

If you’re new to yoga and want some guidance to help perfect positions and technique, try following a session with Yoga With Adriene, one of the biggest yoga YouTube channels, fronted by instructor Adriene Mishler.

She leads free, very straightforward sessions on her channel to her six million subscribers, creating challenges such as 30 Days Of Yoga or poses for specific needs like chronic pain or for cramps. You’ll also find simple poses to imitate posted on her Instagram too.

However, with studios and gym shut, many have begun leading online classes and live streams you can join and still feel part of a community, even as you work out alone in your home.

Fitness app Fiit offers easy to follow, at-home workouts led by experienced trainers, and the yoga sessions that are comprised of bodyweight moves and practising breathwork and mobility in 25 or 40-minute chunks for £10 a month.

If you don't have a big TV to connect your yoga classes too, use your iPad or phone propped up on the mat instead (FIIT)

There are hundreds to pick from with a dedicated section for beginners so you don’t feel out your depth.

Live streams are another way to participate in a class from the comfort of your living room. London yoga studio, Dig Me Fitness hosts live streams of HIIT and yoga sessions throughout the day on Instagram that you can join before you sit down to work, on your lunch break, and once your workday is over with, accompanied remotely by hundreds of others tuning in too, while still going at your own pace.

If you miss the live class, you can still catch up by watching the class on its Instagram feed that’s posted once it's finished, so you can follow along at your own pace at a time that suits you.

Meditation

The benefits of meditation have been explored in various scientific studies over the years, with recent research revealing that mindfulness can be effective for easing chronic pain.

There’s plenty of tools at your disposal too, some are free too, and can be as simple as a mindfulness app that will help you get into a comfortable meditation routine or a relaxing scented candle. When searching to find the right app, it’s worth thinking about what you need as well as what you like. If you can’t stand the narrator’s voice, for instance, then you’re going to find it hard to relax.

If you want motivational messages sent through when you know you’re going to be stressed, there’s an app that will do that.

In our IndyBest round-up of the best mindfulness apps, we tested a mix of free and paid apps, all promising to soothe stressed minds. Coming out on top was the Calm app (Free one week trial, then £28.99 a year), which you can download for iOS here, download for Android here.

From bedtime stories read by Matthew Mconaughey to guided meditations, the Calm app is ideal for those looking for help switching off (The Independent)

As soon as you open it up, you’re greeted with the soothing sounds of the outdoors. As well as guided Daily Calm sessions, which help you unwind and refocus your attention, there are also programmes for intermediate and advanced users.

For long-seated poses and meditation at the end of your yoga practice, this Complete Unity meditation cushion (Complete Unity, £39) comes highly rated from our guide to yoga equipment for home workouts.

Wind down after practice with a meditation cushion that will ease sore muscles The Independent)

It’s a unique and beautiful “zafu” (or meditation cushion) made and designed by a family-run company. The height and firmness – we tested the firmer, buckwheat-filled cushion – gives exactly the right amount of lift to help support you in an easy cross-legged pose or any variation on lotus you feel comfortable with, while the gentle give of the stuffing means you can find your perfect level of tilt.

Our reviewer has always struggled with pins and needles during long seated poses or meditation but had no problems at all with this pillow. Use it at the beginning and end of practice to snatch a few moments of calm, or for seated pranayama (breathing work). We loved the “meadow of enlightenment” pattern with its subtle wildflowers – it's so pretty, you won’t mind leaving it out after class.

Aromatherapy oils

Consider introducing aromatherapy oils into your practice for added relaxation. This Neal's Yard aromatherapy blend, optimism (Neal’s Yard, £15.50) is a lovely, upbeat blend from Neal’s Yard mixes grapefruit and jasmine to promote confidence and joy.

This comforting blend of essential oils will help you relax and feel calmer during your yoga practice (Neal's Yard)

We found it to be the perfect oil to diffuse during your practice if you’re feeling worried or overwhelmed. If you haven’t got a diffuser, drop a little onto a handkerchief or flannel and keep it close to your mat.

Read our guide on how to start practicing yoga at home

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