Tools and Texts to Support Your Personal Yoga Practice
The Yogis of yore may have needed little more than seclusion and a stable seat to conduct their practice, but we modern practitioners can take advantage of accessories to enhance the potency of our sadhana.
Below you’ll find a sampling of practice tools and specific texts that I’ve personally found to be highly beneficial on the Path.*
Yoga/meditation props and accessories
Chanting mantra while counting your repetitions on a mala is a powerful method for focusing the mind for meditation. Rudraksha seeds are among the bead materials traditionally used. Rudraksha translates to “Tears of Shiva,” and are the seeds from the fruit of a large evergreen tree that is native to the Himalayan region of northern India. The textured surfaces of Rudraksha give them a pleasant tactility and make them easy to pass through your fingers as you count. They also have the capacity to accumulate powerful vibrations from your chanting over time, reinforcing the potency of your practice.
Use a wool blanket under your meditation seat to help insulate you from ground currents that can interfere with the upward movement of spiritual energy (Kundalini). A folded blanket can also be helpful to elevate the hips slightly if sitting directly on the floor is uncomfortable. If you sit in a chair, you can lay the blanket over a mat and then set the chair on top of it.
The blanket must be made of wool; cotton or other fibers — especially manmade materials — won’t do. To preserve its energetic integrity, only wash your wool blanket by hand using cold water and mild soap, and don’t share it with other people or pets.
Mindfold (or a similar light blocking eye mask) can be very handy if you’re a beginning meditator who has trouble shutting out external stimuli. Designed as a sensory deprivation device, the mask is designed to block all light from entering so you can actually meditate with eyes open into the darkness.
You won’t need it forever; if you keep practicing, the day will come when you notice you can slip into a meditative state without assistance. But don’t toss your Mindfold — if you travel, hang onto it for the next time you need to sleep on a red-eye flight, find yourself in a noisy hotel room, or just want to shut out the bustle of a busy terminal for a while.
You will of course want a yoga mat to provide a secure surface for your morning sun salutations. After having used many brands over the years, I find that Gaiam provides the best value for the money. The graphics are appealing, the mats are grippy and long-lasting, and unlike a certain more expensive brand, their “new mat smell” doesn’t linger for years. I use one every day and keep several in my teaching space for students who may need one.
White sage is a potent smudge for harmonizing the energy of your yoga or meditation space. Yogis and other practitioners have used it for centuries to clear heavy or negative vibrations from rooms, buildings, and the human aura. I smudge my teaching space before class at the beginning of each week, and if students begin to arrive while I’m doing it, they can take a “sage bath” as well. If I find myself in a state of emotional imbalance, I will often smudge myself as a corrective, and I find that it immediately calms my nervous system and helps create a more centered and grounded state to my experience. Try it!
Palo santo is another smudge/incense I use a lot, but I recommend it more for ceremonial purposes. “Palo santo” means “sacred stick” in Spanish, and like frankincense and myrrh, it comes from a family of tropical and subtropical trees called Burseraceae. Palo santo has a clean, sweet, slightly piney fragrance that’s appropriate for burning on your home altar or during moon ceremonies and initiations. It can add a sacred and devotional atmosphere to all of your Yogic activities.
Books that will change your practice and (quite possibly) your life…
The systems and practices of Yoga are vast, which can make it difficult to know where to focus your practice — at least in the beginning. The following texts have been instrumental to my understanding of the Yogic sciences and how they facilitate spiritual transformation. They also expound in much greater depth on many of the concepts I introduce in the course, if you feel called to a particular aspect of practice. I hope they are as vital to you in your journey as they have been to me in mine.
If you hunger to know the nut and bolts of how a Kundalini rising really works, without unnecessary drama and magical thinking, this is the book to add to your library. Harrigan describes in exhaustive detail the various types of Kundalini risings and how they relate to the stages and symptoms of spiritual Awakening.
The Enneagram is a tool of “spiritual psychology” that helps Awakening yogis identify and understand the elements of ego that are most prominent in their personalities, and how to work with them. Maitri’s writing is vivid, nuanced, and endlessly insightful. A beautiful read.
This is one of my go-to books for readings at the end of asana class. Adyashanti is a wonderfully compassionate and insightful contemporary teacher whose poetry and prose resonate deeply into the core of Being. One of my favorite lines from one of my favorite poems of all time resides in this book, from “Praise this day”:
I hope you’ll love this book as much as I do.
This book is the granddaddy of them all, in my opinion. Quite frankly, if you can make your way through all of the exercises this nearly 1,000-page tome, you’ll probably be well on your way to Enlightenment. It’s extremely well organized and written, covering not just the techniques I teach in an average class but the esoterica of the Yogic science behind them.
It’s a heavy read, but it’s an invaluable addition to the library of any serious yogi to have handy for reference purposes. I consult mine regularly.
There’s nothing I can say about Rumi that hasn’t been said before, except that you need this volume in your library if you want to read some of the most sublime words ever written about the nature of Being and its relationship to the Divine.
Rumi was a mystic and poet in 13th century Persia. His poetry often addresses “the friend” or “the lover,” which was his way of naming the formless force that many call God. He also was fiercely devoted to his spiritual teacher, Shams, whose name appears frequently in his writings. Rumi’s work has moved the hearts of devoted yogis for centuries.