You could be excused for thinking that yoga and Pilates were the same thing, but although there are definite similarities between the two, there are also some distinct differences. One is a spiritual discipline originating from ancient India more than 5,000 years ago, and the other is a form of exercise developed in the 1920’s in Germany by physical trainer Joseph Pilates. It was created for the purpose of rehabilitation, and for building strength, balance, concentration, endurance, and posture alignment. A greater focus on physical health and wellbeing, and increasing stress levels from modern life have led to yoga and Pilates becoming more popular over the years. As well as a growing number of celebrities practicing yoga and Pilates, which has further highlighted the benefits and helped to introduce them to more people.

If you’re a yoga or Pilates beginner, you really don’t need much kit to get started. Afterall, for thousands of years, there was no yoga equipment. All you needed to practise was your body, mind, and spirit. And while that’s really still all you need, practising yoga and Pilates could be made a little more comfortable with a few basic items:

  • Yoga mat: Your local studio or gym might have mats you can use, but as they would have been used hundreds of times before, it’s more hygenic to take your own. Having your own mat also means you can take it anywhere and use it anytime! But you will need a thicker mat for Pilates, compared to yoga, because there are repetitive exercises in the kneeling position, for example, which requires more cushioning.
  • A mat towel: Depending on your preferred style of yoga, you might end up sweating quite a bit during your session. This can make your mat slippery and dangerous. A standard hand towel will work just fine to soak up the sweat, but you may want to check out yoga-specific towels which fit the entire length of your mat and are made from extra-absorbent material that dries quickly if you’re practising Bikram (hot) yoga, and some other more dynamic disciplines.
  • Comfortable clothing: You’ll want to wear breathable fabrics to help you stay cool and dry, with good stretch so you can move around easily. Some styles may require you to wear clothes that don’t hide your form (such as leggings and a leotard), so the teacher can see your alignment.
  • Water bottle: It’s not normally recommended that you drink during your yoga or Pilates class, but it’s important to drink water before and after to ensure you stay hydrated. Most studios and gyms have drinking fountains and vending machines, but it’s useful to have your own water bottle too. They’re good for the environment, and your wallet. And for hot yoga classes, you may want an insulated bottle to keep your water cold.

Yoga studios and gyms will usually have straps, blocks, and other props for you to use, too. But once you’ve had a few sessions, you may want to get some of these items so you can also practise at home. They’re excellent tools for beginners, to help you perform poses correctly and minimise injury. A yoga block, for example, will decrease the distance between you and the ground, so you’ll be putting less strain on your body when performing a position you’re not quite flexible enough to do yet.

What should I consider when buying a yoga mat?

Yoga and Pilates studios, and gyms often have mats which you can use during the session, but it can be useful to have your own. Although, with so many mat options on the market, it can be hard to know which one to go for. Here are a few things to consider when buying your own mat:

  • Length: As a general rule, use a yoga mat that is at least six inches taller than you are. You’ll need to be able to lay on your mat comfortably, so consider an extra long yoga mat if you’re on the taller side.
  • Material: Mats are either made from eco-friendly materials or synthetic, and each have their strengths and weaknesses. Synthetic foam mats are inexpensive and long lasting, making them perfect for beginners. TPE (thermoplastic) mats are made from a rubber-like material which provides good cushioning, and although synthetic, they can be recycled at the end of their life to make new mats. Cotton mats are extra thick and all natural, making them perfect for meditation and restorative yoga. And all natural rubber mats are the most slip-resistant. They’re resilient and tend to bounce back after use, and provide premium cushioning.
  • Thickness: A 1/2" or 12mm mat is the thickest option, with excellent cushioning for Pilates work, although it’s a little too thick and bulky for yoga. A 1/4” or 6mm mat is by far the most popular choice. It offers good cushioning and durability, but can sometimes be quite heavy and awkward to carry around with you. A 1/8” or 3mm mat will still provide plenty of support and durability, while being lighter, but with a thinner mat comes the opportunity for faster wear and tear. A 1/16” or 2mm mat is the thinnest, making it perfect for folding up and fitting in your bag, though it has very little cushioning so it’s only really suitable on carpet or grass.
  • Texture: The patterns and textures on yoga mats are not always just a pretty design feature. Like material, it can help hands and feet stick to the mat, and what texture you go for can depend on the style of yoga being practised.

Many Pilates exercises are done on a mat, but sometimes other equipment is used, such as hand weights, stretch bands, gym balls, and foam rollers. Joseph Pilates himself also designed specific Pilates apparatus, like the Reformer, Cadillac, Wunda Chair, Spine Corrector, and Ladder Barrel. Some may sound like instruments of tourture, but all were designed with health and rehabilitation in mind. They are all used as aids and supports to perform various exercises, and are useful for isolating, strengthening, and stretching various muscles.