The general consensus on yoga props is “Use them!” They’re there for a reason, and that is to make your practice more comfortable, allow you to get into or hold a pose that might otherwise be too challenging and to prevent injury.
As yoga has become more widely practiced, it has become more acceptable to worry a little less about perfect alignment and a little more about how the pose feels in YOUR body. Our bodies are all unique and different. Instead of stressing about holding a post "just right", get over your ego and use props!
While alignment is something to work toward, props can create space in the body so we can comfortably hold a pose encouraging better alignment over time, as we gain strength and flexibility. It is important to realize that even the most advanced yogis like the use of props!
We broke down the typical props you will find in yoga. And since we’re an app that you usually use in the home, we are detailing alternative “props” that you may have on hand, when you do not have access to traditional ones.
1. The yoga block (or “brick”)
Blocks bring the floor closer to you. They help you create space. They can also be used to strengthen or target certain areas of the body, that benefit from squeezing a block to engage, such as the inner thighs.
How to use
Blocks have three different heights, so use the height that feels the best with your body.
Bring the blocks under your hands in such a way that you create a vertical line from your shoulders to your fingertips. You can use blocks under your hands in lunges, half-splits, or straight-legged poses where you are trying to touch the ground.
You may also place a block between the thighs in “bridge” or “wheel”, which allows you to keep the knees from splaying out. Blocks in this case are a great way to build strength and get to know your body on a deeper level.
TIP: Don’t have a block handy? You can substitute a firm pillow or a folded blanket.
Blankets provide comfort and padding. If you practice on a hard surface or you’re doing a pose that requires sitting on your knees, a blanket can be a welcomed prop for you! Blankets are versatile because they can be folded and unfolded to provide the perfect support and padding for use under different parts of your body. Whether accommodating tightness in a joint space or cushioning for your bones, blankets are a key component to any hatha yoga style.
How to use
Sitting on blankets helps to soften tightness in the low back and hips during seated poses and meditation. Fold one, two, or three blankets with the rounded edge facing the front. Sit toward the front of the blankets, and roll forward onto your sitting bones. The higher you sit, the more likely your pelvis can come into a neutral position.
If lying down in savasana, a blanket can feel nice rolled up under the knees or folded a resting on top of the pelvis like a comforting weight.
3. The Strap
A strap aids in stretching tight hamstrings and shoulders. While blocks help to bring the floor closer to you in vertical and standing poses, a strap allows you to “reach” your feet when in seated and reclining poses.
How to use
Loop a strap around your feet in seated forward bends, or enjoy a single leg stretch while lying on your back.
You can also use a strap for shoulder and chest stretches. Hold the strap with your two hands wider than shoulder width. Keeping the strap taut, take it up, over, and behind you. Your core should remain firm, and your ribs should draw in toward one another. Alternatively, you can accommodate tight shoulders by holding the strap behind you as an alternative to reverse prayer.
TIP: No strap at home? No problem. You can use a towel or a pillowcase instead.
Bolsters, which look and feel like a firm pillow, add support for seated and restorative poses. Restorative poses calm the nervous system while allowing the body to experience deep rest and relaxation. Bolsters come in different sizes and shapes, and can be used in myriad ways for sitting, padding, and being propped up.
How to use
A bolster can be used as a meditation cushion when blankets don’t provide enough lift. They can also be used under the spine for a supported heart opener or under the knees to relieve the low back while lying in savasana (or resting).
As so much of the content in the Yoga Wake Up app is restorative, a bolster can really come in handy and is a nice investment if you’re looking to practice more yoga at home. That said, a firm pillow is an excellent alternative to a bolster.
Once you get a feel for the props, use as many as you like in each pose. Combining blocks with blankets or a bolster with a strap has the potential to transform your enjoyment of the poses. Remember that the most important part of your practice is that you are breathing mindfully and are anchored in the moment. If you strain your body in such a way that you can’t breathe smoothly, then you’ve lost the most transformative part of the practice. Using props can create more ease in the body so you are able to embrace the moment instead of resist it.