Let’s take a minute here to give a shout-out to props. Props, including bolsters, blocks and straps are a simple way of taking yourasana practice to the level, or just to try something new. There are even some styles of yoga, like the Iyengar tradition and restorative yoga that require the use of props in most postures. Props can lengthen your limbs, bring the floor closer to where you need it and wake up new muscles creating a new awareness.
Inner Fire Luminary and yoga teacher Tara Koenig recounted what she described as an awakening experience when herself and the other students were invited to hold a block and use it as adrishti (focal point) for an entire 90-minute class. In Tara’s story, and in many other classes, props are used as tools to empower and enhance a practice. That being said, there is still a bit of a stigma attached to using props in class. We can become attached to the mentality that props are only for beginners or to be used a crutch. This is totally untrue!
The lovely Tara shared another experience when she had broken her arm and was instructed by her doctor to lay off yoga for a few weeks. Being the yoga junkie that she is, she knew there was a way around this injury; that she would be able to make some adjustments to her practice so she could still doasana and be safe. She started to use props to replace her hand that was wrapped in a cast. She was able to modify the practice to meet her needs by embracing props and using them to my advantage. Yoga is a beautiful practice that is meant for everybody withany body –the key is to take what you have available and use it to your advantage.
Here are some of Tara’s favourite ways to incorporate props into a practice:
- Squeeze a block between your upper thighs during sun salutations. The placement of the block reminds the legs to hug in towards a centre line. It’s a great foundation to set up at the beginning of class, and something to practice during the rest of the class.
- Use a block under your standing foot for balancing work. A safe place to start is in tree pose. Using the block to balance really wakes up the underside of the foot and fires up the tiny stabilizer muscles we may not normally notice whilst balancing on the ground. Check in to see if you are relying on gripping the block with your toes and really connect to the four corners of your feet. In this case the softer the block, the more fire you will feel. (Fire is a good thing!).
- Straps are very helpful for backbends, such as dancer’s pose and bow pose, where we are working to connect the foot and hand. Using a strap for the bind helps to safely open the shoulders and chest. Try strapping up your foot and finding a grip on the strap that allows enough room for you to work on opening the front body whilst lifting the back leg.
- Blocks are great to use to bring the floor closer to your hands during balancing and inverted postures. Think of the block as an extension of your arm. Rather than lose our foundation in a pose by trying to get closer to the ground, pushing our muscles in unwanted ways, use a block to create some new space that you can move into. The great thing about blocks is that they have multiple levels so you can find the right fit for you. Slip a block under your hand and you can discover more length in the pose to assist you in deepening a twist, revolved pose, or inverted balance posture.
- An eye pillow is an excellent compliment to savasana. The new-found darkness and slight pressure on the eyes will help us to calm down and find relaxation at the end of class. If you don’t have an eye pillow, you can always use a blanket or place an extra t-shirt over your eyes. Eye pillows are also very simple to sew together – just stitch together a few rectangular pieces of fabric and fill with mung beans or barley. Voila!
These are just some suggestions for how you can use props. Of course, there are lots of other options for how to use props as a way to enhance your practice. Don’t be afraid to grab a few new toys before your next class and ask your teacher if you have any questions about placement or use. Happy practicing!