A key takeaway from the yoga teacher training I attended was normalizing the use of props in our regular, physical yoga practice. We learned how to effectively use props depending on the pose. It was drilled into us that we should use props regularly in our classes because they will help to make yoga better accessible for people of all shape, sizes, and mobility. Yoga props come in the form of blocks, straps, cushions, bolsters, a chair or even the wall.
Prior to the training, I only enjoyed the use of a block for maybe some core work. I’m not afraid to admit I was one of those people who thought yoga props were more for beginners. I never watched a YouTube video titled “Yoga With Blocks” or “How to Use a Strap in Yoga”. Whenever a teacher offered a modification in class, I rarely ever took the suggestion. I guess I believed that to push my body into an uncomfortable imitation of the ideal pose, either by cranking the neck or overly rounding my back, served to advance my practice some how.
The teacher training helped me to view the use of props in a more constructive way. First and foremost, all yoga practitioners, advanced or beginner, should use props to some degree, or you’re most likely fooling yourself. Most of our bodies, no matter how flexible or strong, can benefit from support and comfort. And that’s exactly what a prop does. It supports the body to arrive into the expression of a pose that feels good.
It was one day in the yoga teacher training that students were practicing cuing each other into half moon pose. I lifted one arm, opened my hips and reached my foot back with the toes spread wide, and entered into my normal expression. The teacher said to me, “Take a block under the balancing hand if that feels good.” I didn’t reach for the block, so she handed it to me. Because this wasn’t an actual class and I wasn’t mid-flow, I figured, “why not breathe a few breaths with the block?” As I stood balancing on one foot with a block beneath my hand, a steadiness I didn’t normally feel flooded through my body. In that moment, I made a commitment to explore props more and how they could benefit my personal practice.
Props, like a block especially, bring the ground up. This sensation, of feeling supported I realized is so important to cultivate during yoga. It gives you a sense of security and grounding. When you feel support and at ease, your body is in a state of healing. If you move through postures by pressuring yourself to reach, stretch or crank into positions you can barely breath or hardly focus in, it can cause unnecessary stress to build in areas of the body. Yoga is meant to bring release, calm and awareness to the self, not to increase tension or strain.
As a yoga teacher, the regular use of props in classes sends the message that there is no perfect expression of every pose. Each posture should look different depending on the person and their body. The most important thing being how the student feels and how is the posture serving them in the moment. For example, is the pose’s purpose for a gentle warm up or to detox the digestive system? Could placing a block beneath the knees feel better or would it prevent a deeper twist? In this example, I’m thinking of the classic favorite, supine spinal twist.
Consistently demonstrating advanced postures with props, using them in the warm up and cool down, and speaking about them not as a lower level option but as a key tool to explore how a pose can feel differently, is an amazing approach. It can encourage all yogis to treat their bodies in loving and curious ways, rather than to force our limbs into uncomfortable positions simply to achieve the textbook expression of a pose.
“You can’t win yoga.” Repeated one of the yoga teachers at my YTT. This expression means so many things, but in the context of props, I think it demands the question, “what is the intention of the pose?” If you’re well warmed up and ready to see how deep you can get into that back bend/heart opener, use a strap the first few times and then have a go without. But do so with loving curiosity and not just for a picture. Put a block or cushion under your bum if pigeon feels too deep one day and relax into the release. Consider how over stretching the hamstring would serve your body.
To realize the posture’s intention and then follow through with the best serving expression is the perfect practice of yoga.
If you would like to learn more about props in the yoga practice, there are so many resources. I would say begin by bringing props into your personal practice, and as you get comfortable, share them with your friends or classes.
Here are some resources I found on the web just from a few minutes of Googling. Feel free to share your thoughts or if you have a recommendation for further information.
Remember to encourage intention, love and curiosity as we move through the asana practice and into the world.
Please comment on this post and share about your yoga journey, and if regular use of props is in your practice or not. I’d love to hear from you below, on Instagram or on Facebook. I’m curious to know how others approach this.
XO + OM