Originally published in the Summer + Fall 2018 issue.
As I walked into yoga class, I grabbed my standard props (two blocks and a blanket) and found my spot. I then heard the instructor say, “If you feel like cheating today, grab some blocks.”
There I sat, the only one in class with props feeling a mix of indignation and shame. And then I practiced as I always do — with the support of props to give my body space to open, move and flow.
Props have received a bad rap, yet these amazing tools can exponentially grow and broaden any asana practice. Not only do props support the asana practice, they help our bodies find space and flexibility with a deeper ease. Additionally, in some cases, props can allow a body to stay longer in a pose thereby creating strength, muscle memory and stamina.
Props were first introduced by legendary yoga teacher, B.K.S. Iyengar. As he increasingly taught yoga to a broad population he realized that by using simple objects he could help students find the therapeutic benefits of asana and achieve deeper connections to the poses. From this quest to support students in deepening their practice, Iyengar innovated what we know today as yoga props.
Here are a few ways to incorporate props into your practice.
- Alignment: A safe practice is an aligned practice yet every body is built differently. While broad alignment will serve most bodies (for example “arms over head”) more subtle cues show up differently depending on flexibility, shape and anatomy. Trikonasana (Triangle Pose) is the easiest example of how this might arise. A body with tightness or restriction in the hips and hamstrings will see rounding in the lateral body in this pose. A hyperflexible body might miss length in the spine. The simple act of bring the lower hand to a block is revealing for both body types.
- Strength: The secret many don’t know is that props can build an ultra-fierce practice and create strength. We all fall into habits in our practice that can create a pattern in how our muscles engage. Props allow us to use the full spectrum of our body by reminding the lesser used muscles to engage. For example, a block placed between the inner thighs for Bhujangasana (Cobra Pose) will develop awareness and strength in the inner thighs thereby taking some stress out of the lower back. Take it a step further and play with the block between the inner thighs and flow from Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward Facing Dog) to Kumbhakasana (Plank) toBhujangasana and you’ll feel a new way to engage lesser-used muscles in profound ways.
- Ease: While props can be used to offer fierce strength, they can also offer deep ease. Shaking and struggling in a pose takes us away from the breath (and prana) and can stress the body in ways that may create injury. Add a prop to a struggling pose and the body will drop in from a place of connection to the breath. It’s the difference between practicing with short, tight breaths and shaky, panicked muscles rather than even, smooth breathing and engaged, nourished muscles.
Props can deeply inform and grow any active asana practice, yet it’s important to note that props are also a foundation for slower, restful practices like yin and restorative yoga. The uses are wide and far. Next time you practice, grab a few props and play. Your practice and your body will thank you.