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Yoga Basics: Practicing with Props

July 7, 2010
The original yogis didn’t practice with Mexican blankets, foam blocks, D-ring straps or purple sticky mats. But as yoga has evolved over the centuries, many practitioners have discovered that a range of different props, appropriately used, can help deepen one’s exploration of yoga.

Among modern yogis, attitudes toward props range from Zen-like minimalists who shun all but a sticky mat to those who travel with an extra suitcase packed full of yoga accessories. Regardless of
where you fall in this spectrum, a few guidelines can help you make the most of your yoga props.

Be creative. A list of yoga basics includes mats, blankets, straps and blocks. But if you consider a prop to be any aid that helps you access a posture more fully, your world will open considerably. Walls, tables, balls, books, socks, neckties, even the helping hands of a friend can all be used to deepen your exploration. Although purchased props can be a real treat, you probably already have many aids around the house that can be enlisted in your yoga journey.

Be clear about why you’re using them. Mindlessly supporting your hand on a block in a standing pose just because your teacher told you to won’t necessarily deepen your intelligence. Ask yourself what purpose the extra support is serving, and let that answer shape the way you use it.

Are you using the block to move into a posture you aren’t yet supple enough to manage on your own? If so, consider ways to lessen your reliance on that aid over time. Or perhaps a rolled-up blanket is offering your back support during a restorative pose. If so, you may like to explore how varying the size and position of the bolster alters your experience.

Or, maybe you’re using a strap to help you understand a particular action or direction within a posture you know well. If this is the case, you may choose to repeat the same pose without props after exploring it with the extra assistance.

Be your own teacher. Familiar ways of using props likely developed from your own teacher’s creativity (or perhaps even your teacher’s teacher’s explorations). There’s no reason you, too, can’t devise new and effective ways of using props to enhance your practice.

When you sense certain parts of your body crying for a little extra support in a resting pose, wedge a towel or sweatshirt beneath that area and observe what happens. Or if you’re struggling to master a new pose, ask yourself whether any props within arm’s reach might help. You may be surprised by the ingenious solutions you unearth.

Practice non-attachment. Ideally yoga leads us toward greater flexibility and adaptability. So don’t grow so attached to your chest of yoga toys that you can’t practice without them. If you use props regularly, every once in a while challenge yourself to stow them away and practice without any aids at all (that’s right, not even a sticky mat). On the other hand, if you’re a yoga minimalist, incorporate a few props into your practice occasionally, just to explore how they might be helpful. You might be surprised by what you learn.

And, always remember, the best yoga prop is an open mind!

This article was originally published in Yoga Journal (November 2003)