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To Prop or Not to Prop

Are props a helpful supplement to your practice, or do they just get in the way? Here's how to decide when to use—and not use—these tools.

By Claudia Cummins

forward fold

The original yogis didn't practice with foam blocks, D-ring straps, or purple sticky mats. But as yoga evolved, many practitioners discovered that props could help deepen their explorations.

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

Be clear about why you're using them. Mindlessly using a block to support your hand in a standing pose just because your teacher told you to won't deepen your practice. Ask yourself what purpose the extra support is serving and let that answer guide 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.

Be Your Own Teacher: Use your body's signals to devise new and effective ways of using props to enhance your practice. When you sense a certain part of your body crying out for extra support in a resting pose, for example, wedge a towel or shirt 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 might be surprised by the ingenious solutions you unearth.

Explore New Territory: If a rolled-up blanket is supporting your back during a restorative pose, you might like to explore how varying the size and position of it alters your experience. Or if you're using a strap to help you understand a particular action or direction in a posture you know well, you may choose to repeat that same pose without props from time to time to explore the differences.

Be Creative: Yoga basics include 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 widen considerably. Walls, tables, balls, books, socks, neckties, even the helping hands of a friend can all be used to deepen your exploration.

Practice Nonattachment: 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, challenge yourself every once in a while 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 every now and then just to explore how they might be helpful. You might be surprised by what you learn. Remember, the best yoga prop is always an open mind.


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Reader Comments

Miguel Latronica ERYT

Greetings fellow yogins,
Just like you... I have my views. I would love to shed a little light on the subject at hand: Props.
First, we most be awake enough in our discernments as to what it is we are trying to achieve in the debate of this very discussion? Are we wanting to be right or wrong in our opinions and views on the subject of using props as it relates to ourself or others? What is the difference between this debate and the debate of religion or politics? Do we like to impose our beliefs onto others' as it will "enlighten their practice ? NO!
When one works to achieve a "more auspicious pose or practice" it is somewhat akin to what is called Tapta Marga. Tapta Marga, (which can more easily be stated as the process of creating heat or fire to help obliterate the essence of affliction or ignorance. By and by, yoga leads to self-realization. and that self-realization is always on becoming renewed. People figure things out for themselves-- on their own terms. The prop battle is not only in the field but in our heads!
Props help some people, some of the time, for whatever reason it does. Now, I postulate that many of the reasons people use props are known and not known-- by teachers and students alike!
When we use props are we doing it to remain stable in a pose so that the nervous system is not in some form of shock; subtle or gross. Our we using props to help bring a more sustainable approach to the symmetry of muscular balance?
Are we working through a specific injury-- past or present? Perhaps, if we are lucky enough to understand the specific role(s) fascia plays in our physical, emotional and mental understanding of health and wellness we use these props.
Use see, our limited understanding of how the body, the mind, the universe and perhaps chance interact is everything and nothing all wrapped up together in the matrisome of our conditioning.
We all have the opportunity to transcend our limitations-- with or without props!
Thank You,
Miguel J. Latronica, ERYT

Andrea

Im pretty sure that BKS Iyengar, and TKS Deskichar, both student of Krishnamachariya, are firm believers in using props, and blocks. Both lineages understand that all bodies are different, and that many face certain physical restraints . Therefore, practicing with blocks, straps, and bolsters can be more therapeutic & healing, yet it is still YOGA. Deskichar's 'ViniYoga' is based on the needs of the individual. It is still a Vinyasa type with breath led movements, yet using props to always inhance your asana practice.

Allie

I don' thtink there's anything wrong with using props, especially for beginners, so long as it doesn't become a habit. I live in France and, and where I practice, they're not big on using props (the center is run by Hindis, so it may have something to do with it) and on those days when I feel a little tired and less flexible, then I do feel props could be useful. Not that I feel I'm personally missing much, as the instructors to insists on "only going as deep as your body allows you today," but it still.

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