Props can be a major bonus for your practice.
When all you really need for yoga is yourself, props may seem extraneous but they could be a major bonus for your practice. Besides a mat, yoga props include blocks, blankets, and straps. Even the wall, floor, and chairs count as pose-boosters. It’s common to feel like you’re copping out when you use props, but our expert Sam Chase, a certified Professional Level Kripalu Yoga Teacher with a private yoga practice in New York who leads corporate programs for the United Nations and Equinox gym, will convince you that prop-using is yoga-boosting.
Props are not cheating
“It’s easy to get hooked on the idea that a pose is better, and perhaps that we ourselves are better, if we don’t need a prop to help,” says Chase. When you watch an expert yogi, they usually don’t use props to get into a Forearm Balance or stay stable in Half Moon. Don’t feel inferior-they’ve got years of practice (or circus training) so their bodies are primed for peak performance. You, on the other hand, might need a little boost. In fact, Chase says it’s better to think about a yoga pose as an action in time rather than a picture-perfect shape. So use what you see your teacher do as a base–watch where her legs are positioned and how she opens up her chest, but make the pose work for you.
Props make you a better yogi and a better person
“A good use of props allows ANY body to create the sensations associated with almost ANY pose,” says Chase. “However you modify a pose, that is the pose, and what ever shape it takes and whatever tools you use should be whatever supports you.” Think about it, would you rather use a block in Side Angle, get a deep opening, and feel revitalized, or cram your body into a bind and hobble away in agony? Having a strong yoga practice isn’t about doing the poses perfectly by the book; it’s about making the poses perfect for your body. It’s easy to have the same perfection-driven mentality in life. We think we have to cram into size 4 jeans and make six figures, when the reality is that our weight is healthy and we aren’t bound to an office 24/7. The key in both yoga and life is to find that balance and accept your abilities and limitations.
Props will expand your practice
Instead of avoiding Cow Face pose because you can’t reach your fingers, grab a strap in each hand and open those shoulders up. “If your practice is about exploring the range of possibilities in your body, then expect that range to change frequently. You’ll need props in some poses, but not in others,” says Chase. He sees students who use blocks and straps achieve poses they would’ve never tried (see below), and feel self-adjustments they can’t get enough of (like using a strap to keep your elbows aligned in Shoulderstand).
Strap: The Sling
This pose works with gravity so all you have to do is hang out. The weight of your legs allows you to release the tension in your neck (and upper back) while the weight of your head opens your hamstrings.
Create a large loop with your strap (about 3 feet). Sitting with your legs in front of you, place the strap so it’s around the arch of your right foot. The buckle should be on the right side of the strap, halfway between your foot and the opposite end. Loop the opposite end of the strap around the back of your head. It should be in the same position as where you’d wear a baseball hat- above the ears around the back of the head, not at the neck. Slowly lean back so that your body makes a “V.” You can use your arms to support you in any way that’s comfortable. Stay there for at least 2 minutes, for as long as you are comfortable. Repeat for the left leg.
Look for an 8-ft-long strap with a good buckle that does and undoes itself easily.
Block: The Pendulum
This pose feels like no work at all, but you’re opening your hips to help you stand a little taller!
Standing next to a wall, place the block on the floor about a foot from the wall. The block can be positioned at any height. Stand on the block with your right foot and rest your left hand on the wall for support. Slowly and gently swing your left leg back and forth. After a while, you’ll notice your foot begin to brush closer to the floor. If you want, bring the block to the next highest height and continue swinging your leg. Continue for at least 1-2 minutes, for as long as you are comfortable. Repeat for the right foot.
Find a block with a little heft to it that won’t squish under your hand.
Blanket: Mountain Brook
This chest opener will help you relax and improve your breathing. Plus, it’s so comfortable you could even do a Savasana! It requires 3 blankets (or thick towels), but it’s well worth the set up.
Preparing to lay down on your back, roll a blanket into a thick tube and place it under your knees. The second blanket also rolls into a tube placed across the middle of the thoracic spine, above the lower back but below the shoulders. The last blanket is used as a pillow, with a few folds rolled into a very small tube to support the back of the neck. There should be “valleys” between the blankets where your hips and shoulders rest. Stay at least 5 minutes..and enjoy.
Look for a thick, foldable blanket made of wool.
If you practice at a local studio, there’s no need to buy your own, but consider the basics for your home practice. Our recommendations are only suggestions, in a pinch you can use a towel, belt, and phonebook.