Nine Traditional Props for the Practice of Yoga
1) Guru Padukas (Holy Sandals of the Master)
2) Kamandalu (Water Pot)
3) Yoga Danda / Japa Danda (Stick for Mantra Japam)
The Yoga Danda is different from the Brahma danda carried by brahmacharis (those who have taken vows of celibacy) including sannyasins. This staff is more of a walking stick designed to support such wandering ascetics in their travel from place to place. It is a symbol of the central channel of awakening within the spine, the sushumna nadi, and a symbol of their independence and self-sufficiency.
4) Asana (Seat / Meditation Mat)
The importance of an asana, or a seat for practice is based in mystical knowledge of transfer of energy. Asanas made of certain, pure substances help to prevent the loss of spiritual energy through the legs and feet as they come in contact with the ground, and they help to create a protective barrier from negative energies which would otherwise be transferred from the ground and hinder the Yogi's meditation. Suitable substances for construction of an asana are said to be wood, cotton, wool, silk, darbha grass, or animals skins. Animal skins should be tanned from animals that have died of natural, peaceful causes, and the best are said to be from a tiger, lion, deer, or antelope. It is possible for an asana to be made of various layers of all these substances. Obviously, wool, silk, cotton, or animal hide is the easiest to travel with for wandering Yogis and therefor the most common. Wooden and dharbha asanas are more common in Temples and homes for puja ceremonies.
There are various yantras drawn on asanas along with specific mantras for purification which are used to purify and empower the asana for use. As an asana is used repeatedly for sadhana, spiritual energy builds and it helps to empower one's practice. Its use may seem excessive to novice practitioners of Yoga, but for the mystical Yogi attuned to the subtle energies around and aware of their effects on consciousness the asana is an invaluable tool to help empower the practice of Yoga.
5) Rudraksha Mala (Strands of Sacred Rudraksha Seeds)
The Rudrakshajabala Upanishat says:
"Wearing rudraksha removes the sins committed in day and night. Seeing it produces 100 thousand benefits, and touching it produces 10 million. Wearing it produces a billion benefits, and wearing and counting mantras on the beads produces 100 billion benefits."
6) Vibhuti / Bhasma (Holy Ash)
Vibhuti has mystical powers to open a channel to the inner realms. It casts an emanation of astral light around the wearer through which the Devas can see into the physical realm. Vibhuti has a purifying effect upon consciousness, keeping a person current with their karmas, and it has a protective effect. Wearing vibhuti protects from all sorts of negative energies from people and places one goes and actually can help to protect from physical dangers as well. When performing the pancha agni sadhana, the austerity of sitting in fire, Yogis first place vibhuti on the body to protect from physical burning. When Yogis pierce the tonque and skin with metal spikes as a part of traditional kavadi offerings to Lord Murugan, they place vibhuti on the skin before inserting the metal spike to reduce bleeding, infection, and other forms of lasting damage to the body.
Vibhuti has such a strong purifying effect that if water is not available, "agneya snanam" is considered permissible, which is to bath using holy ash. It is a very powerful practice of purification, in fact many times more powerful than a regular water bath to apply vibhuti all over the body head or toe. Vibhuti is always offered to Lord Shiva, and is commonly offered as prasad (a blessed sacrament) at Shiva temples. Small amounts are eaten for healing from serious diseases.
The Skanda Purana says that if a person performs any act of worship of the Lord while wearing bhasma, it will have great effects to purify that person and uplift them toward spirituality, even if they lack faith and merely do the outer actions of worship. This is the sacred power of vibhuti.
7) Tulasi Dalam (Holy Basil Leaf)
Tulasi Gayatri Mantram
Tulasi-devyai ca vidmahe viShNu-priyaayai ca dheemahi
tanno vrindaah pracodayaat
"May we know that Goddess Tulasi and meditate on the beloved of Lord Vishnu
May that Tulasi, with a cluster of flowers, bestowing virtue and strength, impel us."
8) Kaupina (Loincloth)
This garment is the fundamental article of clothing of the Yoga practitioner and a potent symbol of their renunciation. The scriptures extol the greatness of the lowly kaupina and many deities like Shiva, Hanuman and Palani Murugan have been depicted wearing it. Modern Sages like Ramana Maharishi and Nityananda of Ganeshpuri are most often seen wearing only kaupina.
Adi Shankaracharya's "Kaupina Panchakam" says:
"Always contented in the joy of ones own self
Who is peaceful by curbing the desires of his senses
Who is immersed day and night in the bliss of Brahman
The man with just the loincloth is indeed the lucky one."
9) Bhikshaa Bhaandam (Begging Bowl)
This practice, is one which is practical in the East where Yogis are revered as Holy people, and it is understood that their intense dedication and sadhana has a stabilizing effect on society and human consciousness. People rush forward to give bhiksha or alms to Yogis, because they know that it opens a channel for them and their families to have their karmas and troubles healed by the punyam (the merit) accrued from the many austerities practiced by the Yogi. Householders in the East understand that it is their spiritual duty to give food, and clothing, and money to support the mission of dedicated spiritual seekers.
Traditionally, the Yogi does not just receive bhiksha, but must give karmakanda in return. Karmakanda in this context means the blessing given by a Holy person to those benefactors who sponsor the efforts of the holy person by giving alms. Though people may not have the karma to experience healing or realization on account of their own merits, the act of giving bhiksha opens an energetic channel to the holy person enabling that mystic access to the subtle bodies where a persons karmas are held and carried from life to life. In the highest sense, the Yogi's duty upon receiving bhiksha is to aid in working out the karmas which bind and hinder those who have given alms. In certain cases, there will be no outer action to symbolize this inner work which the Yogi is duty bound to complete. In other cases, the Yogi will demonstrate outwardly the karmakanda by either providing spiritual teachings, pooja services or other spiritual services. Free from attachments, the earlier Yogis wandered place to place with little more than the sacred bhiksha bhanda as an implement signifying faith in the Lord's undying support. Their hearts and minds are open like the empty bowl to whatever the Lord brings into their path, and like the empty bowl which can be filled with food by generous yajamanas, their being is like a blank slate for the grace of God to flow through. Few in the West understand the seriousness of the practice of the Yogis in the East nor do they see it as their duty to support the efforts of such spiritual seekers. People often lack compassion and generosity.
Many are the stories of God coming to a person's home in the form of a beggar to test people's spirit of generosity. It is true that those who give, earn the karma to receive; and that those who deny any person in need, will themselves be denied in the future when they find themselves most in need. We must give to receive, which is a secret that is understood well in the East. For people in the West, the focus is on materialism and material comforts are abundant, but the bhiksha bhanda is empty and our hearts and minds are lacking spiritual bliss and tranquility. In order to bring back this ancient and beneficial tradition of bhiksha / karmakanda, we must start by giving generously to all in need. The enlightened masters are taking birth in the East, because there the system supports their existence and there the people are open to their spiritual assistance. To attract such souls back to the West, we must learn to look at all beggars as God himself asking for us to sacrifice a little and give of the abundance we enjoy. We must begin again to see it as our duty to donate generously to all spiritual institutions and seekers.