“To use or Not to use”- that is the question.
To answer the question, let’s take a peek into the world of yoga props.
Many of us (me too at first) think that using props means that we cannot do a pose or we are somehow cheating. This is an obstacle the ego puts before us. In class, we notice a few students not using the props. If they can do it without a prop, we can too, is our motto. Or seeing others using a block or a strap incorrectly, we decide that we are not going to be caught dead using these props.
A yoga prop is simply an object that is used to assist in the practice of yoga poses. The props make the practice accessible to everyone as there is no one-size-fits-all type of practice. People from the ages 8 to 80 should be able to practice yoga-asana as long as the poses are assisted and modified, to reduce the risk of injury.
Age of electronics has led to a sedentary lifestyle. Both children and adults seem unable to touch their toes or sit with their backs erect. Utilizing props helps them to understand that flexibility is needed to succeed in sports and that posture is important. Many seniors make good use of the props which allows them to do their activities of daily living with strength and flexibility. Therefore, age aside, I believe finding your modifications is both positive and empowering. Most importantly, it will keep you injury free.
You may already be aware of a few props like the blocks, straps, blankets and bolsters. B.K.S. Iyengar founder of the style, Iyengar Yoga refined the use of props so everyone can receive the benefits of the postures regardless of physical condition, age, or length of study. Leann Carey gives us an idea of how to use these simple props.
Depending on where you take a class; in a well equipped studio or at the YMCA/gyms, you may find all or a few essentials to add to your practice. However, as you get acquainted with each of these props, you can carry with you what you personally need to make your practice a fulfilling one.
There are few other props worth mentioning – towels, chairs, walls, sandbags and eye pillows. Aside from using a towel to wipe your perspiration in a vinyasa (poses in sequence or flow) class, a rolled-up towel can also be used for supporting the head or neck when lying on the mat. It can also be used under you feet in Vajrasana, thunderbolt pose.
A chair can help with support and balance in standing poses or backbends, and if you are pregnant or a senior. A popular new style of yoga, called Chair Yoga is built around use of a chair.
Walls provide a solid structure for balance and support during certain standing poses such as Virabhadrasana (warrior pose), Adho Mukha Shvanasana (downward-facing dog), Vrikshasana (tree pose) and Viparita Karani (legs up the wall). Using the wall can help you hold some poses longer and eventually allows you to balance without it.
Using a yoga sandbag (different weights) for its weight can help you achieve a deeper stretch. A sandbag on your lower back during Balasana, Child’s Pose is soothing or on top of your feet in Viparita Karani, Legs Up the Wall, can stabilize the legs.
Eye pillows are small sandbags that can be placed over your eyes during lying poses such as Shavasana, Corpse Pose. The little bit of extra weight helps to deepen the feeling of relaxation by keeping your eyes closed with ease.
A few Benefits of using props
- To learn the skill involved in maintaining alignment
- To take unwanted struggle out and cultivate a calming practice
- To make a pose more accessible now, and also as we age
- To help old injuries to heal and prevent new injuries
- To lengthen the spine and support the joints
- To achieve a deeper release to stay longer in a pose comfortably
- To promote balance by encouraging weak parts to strengthen and less flexible areas to lengthen
- To increase stress where there is too little or none (adding sandbags)
- To decrease stress (using blocks or blanket) if there is too much
The inner dialog of “I can do this pose without a prop”, can hinder your practice. The intention is not to ‘look’ a particular way in a pose; it is not to get into a pose with a competitiveness: the intention is to feel a certain way; to notice the release or stability. If a little extra support is needed to get the sensation in the ‘right’ area to give your body what it needs – please use them. Over time you can try other props or discontinue their use completely.
Having these props may not mean you know their diverse benefits or how to use them correctly. Please make the time to ask your instructor, read other articles (Yoga Journal) and watch a few you-tube videos to educate yourself on how to use yoga props effectively. I have only briefly summarized here what the experts have expressed eloquently on their websites.
Today, I am comfortable with my practice because of a few props. A blanket on a couple of blocks helps release my hips in Ardha Padmasana, half lotus so I can practice “sitting” for a longer time. On cold days, a spine-roll helps to support my stiff lower back. For a deeper back bend, I use a chair. Yesterday, to come into a bandha, a bind, in a seated twist, I used a strap.
However, it is essential to remember that each day the practice changes based on the health of your body. Training yourself to honor the body by practicing non-harming (Ahimsa) is the first and most important ethic (Yama – 1st Limb) in Raja Yoga .
Therefore, deciding to use or not to use props is a question of respecting your body.
May you have a joyful, injury-free practice in your sacred space.