Yoga props include mats, blankets, bolsters, chairs, blocks, mats, belts, other people, household furniture or any imaginable contraption. They provide interest as they offer support, variety, education, direction, relaxation, playfulness and entertainment in yoga practice.
Props help create moments of steadiness and focus where one can settle and be still. They can provide sensory feedback with the object enabling one to explore and experiment on oneself in the asanas, thus leading to an understanding of how your body moves in space. They help increase awareness about muscle imbalances and compensations subconsciously made. With the support of props, one can refine the execution of yoga asanas.
Alignment and stability
Each yoga asana invites the entire body to participate, no part of the self is neglected. With the aid of props, movements are encouraged to be done with awareness and Intelligence. Alignment is cultivated in relation to body parts, from muscles to bones, joints, skin, breath and mind.
Developing precision in the foundations of sitting and standing postures leads to stability. With the stability props provide, poses can be held for a time to observe and sense the shapes and sensations. Alignment and stability engender further awareness in the asanas, which in turn create refinement that lead to a form of meditation in action.
Props are especially valuable for restoration. You can determine when you need them, especially when fatigued, they are an excellent way to practice yoga without strain. They can enhance energy as you can tailor and personalise practice.
Throughout history yogis have used props. Ashrams, Indian temples and yogic iconography reveal images of yogis hanging in ropes with objects attached to tree branches in forested regions. All manner of things have been used to challenge the body for ascetic purposes.
For BKS Iyengar, the early years of demanding and rigid practice taught to him by Krishnamacharya wasn’t suitable for the large range of students he taught. While he had faith in the healing power of yoga, he adapted poses to the ability of his students. Inspired by his experience teaching young and old and the spectrum of issues presented all through the life cycle, he adapted household objects for support, then went on to refine and develop specifically constructed pieces.
Iyengar adjusted poses during pregnancy, to reduce fatigue and to support mother and baby in order to go deeper into practice. His props enabled the injured and the disabled to be supported and experience specific therapeutics. The therapeutic benefits of props are now used for those suffering from all manner of health concerns, from acute and chronic health matters to drug addiction and mental health issues.
Some of the first innovations in props. Mats offer safety as they help prevent slide and slip. They can offer softness and act as knee pads for lunges and kneeling positions.
Blocks serve as a means to lift the floor up, reducing the reach. For example, in half moon pose, a block raises to floor to allow feedback through the arm, legs and spine. Blocks can help reduce the descent in forward bending poses. In addition, squeezing a block between your legs while doing certain poses, lets you work your inner thigh, adductor muscles when you otherwise wouldn't, such as in Setubandha. Blocks allow the chest to expand while resting.
A belt provides an understanding of how specific parts of the body move in space, against resistance and in relation to other parts, such as from sole of foot to heel, to Achilles tendon and back of leg, etc. What happens to the sole of your foot when you use a belt? What reaction to you have? When used as leg support, belts help stabilise the back, lengthen the front and distinguish what is felt where.
Blankets provide cushioning and enable improved posture in sitting poses, stability and postural enhancement for aching backs. If there is tight rounded lumbar spine, blankets further elevate the hips and provide valuable support for the neck in shoulder stand. When placed under the knees and neck in Shavasana offer support for the head and neck, quietening of the mind and warmth.
Chairs offer valuable assistance in all poses as they provide feedback for better understanding of how to be in a particular asana. Useful for seniors in challenging poses like warrior poses and lunges where they enable one to open up, while reducing pressure. They can be used to add more stretch while simultaneously stabilising your footings.
Finally. After you get acquainted with using props, you can experiment with dispensing with them, or having them on call. Props enable you to personalise and enhance practice. When your energy is high, try without props, when your energy is low. Use them. Falling over can be particularly beneficial too.