The prop cabinet can seem like a cabinet of mysteries. What’s the difference between a block and a brick? Why do I need them? What do I do with a strap (at least in polite company)? We often fail to explain how to use yoga props and how they can help improve your experience of practice and more efficiently distribute your energy. How to use yoga props as a beginner can be boiled down to these essential reminders:
Props are there to help you go deeper
Many beginners struggle with the flexibility, balance and strength required in numerous yoga postures and try to move too quickly into deeper variations without props or help. Proving a point to no one, it is tempting to force through and do whatever it takes to make some semblance of the shape being instructed. Spines gets contorted and bodies collapse into sad triangle poses and other demanding postures for beginners. Props wait unused in the corner, saying “don’t use me fool, i’m for the aged and infirm.”
Obviously, this is not the case. Using a prop may actually help you go deeper into the pose, allow you to work more efficiently, and yield more opening and strengthening potential. As a teacher I prioritise spinal posture and breath above all else in any given shape and often they are the first to be sacrificed in stubborn quests to achieve poses that practitioners shouldn’t be doing without props.
For standing poses like side angle, triangle, revolved triangle and more, test your need for props with the following questions:
- Does my spine feel long and energised?
- Can I breathe?
- Am I at a level of intensity that is strong but sustainable?
If you’re missing out on one or more of the above, then you probably need a prop. When adding the prop you’ll most likely find deeper breath, more length, and a manageable level of intensity. This translates into a longer stay, a longer practice, and more of the benefits to body and mind that the practice yields. Furthermore, you’ll take more responsibility for experimenting with the pose and testing your boundaries and learn more about your body through the process.
Other teachers have their own logic about not using props, but I find this to be the path of least resistance. If there are tools that help you – why not use them? Here’s how.
Props extend your arm or raise the floor up
Props like blocks,bricks, and straps are “arm-extenders” or “floor raiser-uppers.” Props navigate the middle ground between limbs and floor and are particularly helpful in standing poses, binds, reclined leg stretches, and seated forward folds and twists.
Here are some examples:
Helpful prop alignment follows from remembering that props extend the length of the arm and/or raise the height of the floor. Keep a straight line from arm into hand into brick and ground into it like you would ground into the floor if your hand could reach. As a strap lengthens the arms, keep it taut and in line with the line of the arms. Be specific and clear with your placement and usage. When confused, ask your teacher for guidance.
Props are only a crutch if you hold on to them past their usefulness
Props get vilified as participants in some nefarious plot to hold back your practice. I believe the opposite: props bring intelligence and efficiency to your postures (with possible expiration dates). If your hamstring flexibility has dramatically increased and you’re still clinging on to a brick in triangle pose, perhaps it’s time to move on and push your edges a bit. Every so often see how it feels to change the height of your support or the length of your strap. Return to the three question test from above on spine length, breath, and intensity and choose how to proceed in a way that energises, challenges, and helps build your physical and emotional resilience in the face of stress.
Photos by Ho Sui-Jim