Kim Zeitler graduated from our 2021-22 Yoga Teacher Training Program, and wrote this blog post as one assignment. Kim loves preaching the word of yoga props near and far. Hear hear!
Google “Yoga”. You will see (mostly slender) bodies in beautiful poses – all unassisted by means of any aid, just the power and alignment required of the pose. This may be an actual representation of these people, and many other seasoned yogis and “advanced” students. The quotations around “advanced” is intentional, because very often the props used in yoga may have little to do with skill or ability level. But, let me backtrack because sometimes, they do.
When level of experience matters
Teaching a yoga class to beginners should always include the use of props. It is unrealistic for a someone new to yoga try and follow their seasoned instructor without the use of props in a multitude of poses. Any pose where balance is at play, or arms come towards the floor when feet are the foundation, props will be a necessary extension of a given limb to provide the length needed to get in the right alignment. If you are in a low lunge position, and you are having trouble engaging your core, keeping your balance and reaching the floor without a hunchback – you may need some props. Check your ego at the door because, if you’re in that yoga-hunchback pose – you’re not getting anything good out of it and in fact, you may be aggravating other parts that are compensating for the missing support.
If you’ve ever been to a yoga class where there are not a lot of props out and about, it can feel defeating to need a prop, again, as if there were some award for being prop-less. Do yourself a favor and maybe even inspire or lead others to join suit by grabbing yourself a block, a strap, a blanket, or maybe a bolster.
I read this cool post by a therapist (Brittney Cobb) about there being no awards for handling things alone, having the least needs, working yourself to death and other such learnt but nevertheless continually self inflicted behaviours. It was a very honest and clear reminder about overdoing it and trying to be a hero. I would say similarly in yoga, there are no awards for overloading your joints, distressing your body tissues, tensing up to keep balance or compromising the integrity of your tissues to contort yourself into a position.
Here’s how props can be your very best friends – and can really help you get the most out of every yoga practice and help you lengthen, strengthen and feel supported:
As an extension of yourself
Use a prop, such as
- a block as an extension of your arms to the floor in forward fold
- a bolster under your belly to help open chest and arms in bow pose
- use a chair and two blocks to help with arm balances like crow
- a nice block under your sacrum (low back) to support you in bridge
- a chair or two blocks behind you in camel pose.
- a chair can help you in any balance pose. A little effort wobbling is sometimes great, but other times when you are working on a certain aspect and balance is throwing you off, it can be a great help
- use a strap to increase flexibilty in a hamstring stretch, stabilize joints
- Blocks on either side of your knees in reclined butterfly can lessen pull on the joints.
Body size, proportions, ability
Everybody has a different body. Sometimes props are needed to wedge into the space between your hip and the floor in pigeon pose, where a gap can leave you gripping in the unsupported hip. Or the ways in which you have used (or not used) your body in life have left you with limited range, mobility or capacity for load. Blocks can help you with spinal rotations in standing postures, straps can help increase your flexibility and range, and blocks, chair and walls can get you started safely up in headstand!
Comfort and lift
In yoga, people are on their knees an awful lot at times. Blankets are our best friends, for under knees in table pose, under our bum in pigeon and easy pose, under our bum or ankles in child’s pose. Put your heels on a blanket to get a better feeling malasana on. Sitting in easy pose is often never easy in fact, and a blanket (or bolster) under your bum can create enough lift to take the tension and struggle out of the equation, so you can just be in that position.
When relaxing and resetting in savasana, the weight and softness of a blanket can really help get your nervous system into a calm state.
Use a block between your legs in chair pose – see what you notice! The muscular energy needed to keep that block there fires up those muscles in a way that engages the legs from feet entirely to hip. This applies to many poses where legs are hip distance apart – tadasana, bridge, boat pose, legs up, cat/cow, side plank and more.
Use a strap to engage all the muscles in your arms when raising them in either flexion or extension.
Use blocks in prone position (face down) to raise straight arms up and over to work on your shoulder stability. Use blocks in a straight wide legged sitting position by lifting your legs over one block at a time and work on your hip joints.
This is not an exhaustive or complete list – in fact – restorative yoga is a prop-centered practice, and the variations of (many) props used for each pose are nearly unlimited!
In fact, the ease using props will bring to your practice (unless you resist it for years only to cringe at your younger stubborn struggling self when you finally do cave) and others who follow in suit may actually win you more tangible benefits than may have ever imagined possible.