Props? I don’t need props! Props are for beginners, right? Nope. Props are for everyone and can benefit any level of yoga practice. As yogis, we strive to make mindful decisions, so why do we shy away from props?
The most common examples of yoga props are blocks, straps and bolsters. As a yoga teacher, I sometimes include props as part of the class. Occasionally, when I ask participants to get their props prior to the start of class there is someone who doesn’t. I will usually request it again and explain we are all going to use them. If I attempt to deliver props to someone already on their mat, I am sometimes shooed away. Whether they come out and say it or not, the message is clear – “I don’t need props.” There is a stigma associated with the NEED for props. However, there are many benefits of yoga props.
Don’t believe anyone who tells you using yoga props is cheating! I have never found anyone who could not benefit from the use of a prop for one or more poses, myself included.
A strategically placed yoga prop can provide increased confidence in the pose and most importantly, assist in breathing and alignment to prevent injury. Furthermore, if you want to get creative with your practice, props will do the trick! If you feel “stuck” with a pose or bored with your practice, I encourage you to give props a try. I’ve been known to add a block for core work, borrowing movements typically used in Pilates with a small ball.
I’ll provide brief descriptions of the three most common yoga props and an overview of what they can be used for, the options are endless! Please note, this does not include specific details for each pose but a general overview.
Blocks bring the floor closer to you! Poses that might not have otherwise been available to you can become available with blocks.
There are three heights (I sometimes refer to them as levels) to a yoga block. You can place the block flat (lowest height), on its side (medium height), or on its end (tallest height). Flat provides the most stability and on end offers the least. Stop and think about the concept for a moment, the tallest height will bring the floor closest to you but it will be less stable in terms of balancing on it. The blocks in the photo above are on their side (medium level). Examples of standing poses to add blocks to are triangle, extended side angle, and half moon. Instead of reaching for the floor, you are reaching for the block.
A block can help tremendously with proper alignment in pigeon pose. Not allowing the hip (attached to the bent leg) to sag towards the mat is important for alignment. Sliding a block between your hip and the floor can prevent sagging and allow you to feel the benefits of the pose. The block is also good for wide legged seated forward fold (as well as wide legged standing forward fold), you can experiment with the levels of the block and it can been placed under palms, forearms or forehead. If you are interested in more of a stretch up the back of the legs (primarily hamstrings) in seated forward fold (legs out long and together), place the block at the end of your feet and reach for the block. A block on the outside of each ankle in camel pose allows you to deepen your backbend softly.
I recommend using blocks in practicing seated splits, one on each side of the outside of your hips. Blocks compliment arm balance poses. They can assist in crow pose either as a perch for your feet or at your forehead (especially if you have a fear of falling forward). They can also be used to bring the floor closer to you in shoulder pressing pose and butterfly pose. They are especially helpful if you are transitioning from one arm balance pose to another. The list goes on and on!
Strap (or Belt):
A strap acts as an extension of your arms! A common pose for a strap is a seated forward fold. If your fingers/hands don’t reach your toes/feet you might like a strap around the soles of your feet to hold on to. The strap is also a great tool for warming up the upper body and vital when practicing cow face pose.
If you are interested in improving your posture, there are actually techniques to wrap the straps around your body to build memory for proper posture. The strap is helpful for poses that have variations reaching back for your foot such as pigeon, either reaching back same arm same leg or opposites. If you are practicing binding in any pose and straining to make contact, I urge you to practice with a strap. I sometimes include the strap for stretches at the end of class such as reclined hand to big toe pose. Don’t get discouraged when using a strap, it can take time to get it situated and get familiar with using it. It takes patience to use the strap, especially in class.
Bolsters bring the floor closer to your body for support! Bolsters come in different shapes and sizes and tend to be firmer than a regular pillow. I don’t have a bolster for my home practice but instead use a regular size pillow.
I’ve also experimented with rolling up a blanket. Its primary purpose is to create relaxation in the body. You will typically see bolsters used in a restorative yoga class. Some of my favorite poses to include a bolster are supported child’s pose (bolster between your front body and the floor), reclined hero’s pose (bolster between your back body and the floor), and legs up the wall (bolster at head and/or low back). A bolster is likely the prop most mistakenly thought of as a beginners tool. There are numerous poses that are not typically considered restorative that are complimented by a bolster. For example, it can be used to create relaxation in poses such as seated wide legged forward fold by draping your body over the top or explore bow pose with the bolster under your stomach and pelvis.
I hope reading this encourages you to add props to your yoga practice or at least not be traumatized if your yoga teacher offers them to you. Props can only enhance your practice and are not just for beginners. Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions regarding yoga props.
Julie Christy, LCSW, RYT 200
Julie has twenty years experience as a mental health professional combined and expertise as a yoga teacher, and meshes them together. She is known for her detailed descriptions while teaching yoga and recently transferred those skills to writing.
Connect with Julie on her website or send her an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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