Props – Friend, Not Foe
There seems to be different camps of thought when it comes to props in Yoga. There are people who love it and people who would absolutely not want to be seen using one as it suggests inability.
I belong to the first camp – I think props can be very useful. Props can be used to:
Increase or decrease intensity depending on the objective and condition of the practitioner
Create length and space
Make positions accessible
Provide support and greater comfort
Feel subtle sensations and engagements
While props can be used when one is new, they aren’t a sign of weakness or inability. They can be used by both beginner and experienced practitioners alike. Props can certainly make the practice more accessible and comfortable but those are not the only ways they can contribute to the practice. We’ll explore a few of the other ways below.
We have different body proportions
We all have different body proportions and length of limbs. Longer limbs may help in some poses and create more challenge in others. One isn’t better than the other and props can make a difference.
For instance, if one has long legs in proportion to the torso, trying to touch the floor with the bottom hand in a pose like Ardha Chandrasana (Half Moon Pose) could actually be stifling the expansive expression of the pose. It isn’t that the practitioner isn't flexible or strong enough. Placing a prop such as a block or water bottle allows the practitioner to lift out of the pose and find more space to breathe and expand.
For some people, binding can come easily, especially if they have long limbs. For others, it doesn’t quite happen even after plenty of warm up. A strap would be very handy in situations like this instead of forcing the bind and setting up for potential injury.
Props can help direct awareness
Subtle muscle engagements can make a huge difference in how a pose feels. They can throw a new perspective into familiar poses and make you realize muscles you never knew you had. The placement of a prop highlights one’s attention to an area and can switch on parts of the body that we may be less familiar with.
For example, a teacher may ask you to engage your inner thighs but a quick way to understand how that feels could be to squeeze a block in between the thighs. Placing a light block on the lower back in bird-dog can remind one not to dump the weight to one side and keep the hips relatively level instead. The overall amount of movement may be smaller but become more targeted as a result. Have you tried holding a block between your hands in Utkatasana (Chair Pose)? I assure you that you will soon see how this can be a pose that works the whole body.
It isn’t just physical awareness as well. Using a strap in a pose like Utthita Parsvakonasana (Extended Side Angle Pose) can help direct the energetic awareness of the pose. This allows the practitioner to feel the pose more organically and do it with less muscular effort.
Props can also provide a landmark when one is trying to understand relationship of the body relative to space. A key component of Bakasana (Crane pose) is leaning forward but how much to lean forward can be confusing and scary. Props like blocks and bolsters can support the practitioner in developing a sense of where to go and build confidence while working on it progressively.
The objective matters
Props are used quite extensively in some practices like Restorative and Yin. This isn’t necessarily to make the pose easier. This is because the objective of the practice calls for it.
In Restorative yoga, one is fully supported so that the body can come to a state of deep relaxation to do work that occurs on a much deeper level. Props are used with great purpose for this advanced practice.
For the Yin practice, props are also used for several different reasons but it can be pretty boiled down to: what is the objective? Using a prop to support an area so that the right amount of sensation can be felt there or another target area is encouraged because that fulfils the objective of the practice.
In summary, my take on props is: if you have it and it serves your practice, why not use it?
One unfortunate side effect of the current Covid situation is that studios are largely unable to provide props. For those of us practicing at home, we may not always have the usual yoga props handy. The next entry will look at some simple ways we can creatively prop ourselves with things around the house. Stay tuned!