When I was a new yoga student, I didn't like props. In fact, I would be offended when a teacher would come by with a block or a strap. "I don't need that!" I'd think. It was an ego battle that went on for a while. Luckily, I had one teacher who was particularly adamant that I bring a block, blanket, and strap with me to my mat for each and every class, just in case. She went so far as to walk by and hand me things as I practiced—sometimes even placing my hand onto the block when I ignored her cues.
Finally, it dawned on me. A prop isn't just like training wheels on a bicycle—something you need so you won't fall and crash into the concrete. It's more like using a computer to type up a document instead of writing it out in pencil. It's not always that you need the help because you can't do it on your own, it's that it can help you get to the end result more easily and efficiently than if you were to go it alone.
Here are 5 ways props have enhanced my yoga practice.
1. Let go of ego. When I figured out that the use of props doesn't make me a less "advanced" yoga student, it helped dissolve some ego around all kinds of things pertaining to the practice of yoga. This was a lesson that made me realize that it isn't actually about the poses at all, but the awareness you gain from practicing them mindfully and with precision.
2. Experience a challenging pose with less risk of injury. I might not be ready to balance in the middle of the room in Scorpion Pose yet ... but I can still experience the pose with a few props—a wall for balance, a strap around my arms for stability, a block between my hands to remind me to tone my muscles. With props it becomes possible to experience a pose that you might not be ready for in its purest form for years (or even lifetimes!).
3. Back off to learn the nuances of a pose. For Type A personalities like me, it can be difficult to just back off from a pose because so you can really feel a different muscle engage or change a longstanding habit. Using props has helped me by guiding me to the exact spot that allowed me to discover something new about a pose.
4. Connect to the foundation. If you don't have a solid connection to the floor stability becomes an issue—and stability is not only important for safety, but also for creating the length and space in your body to build an active pose. Props like blocks and bolsters can help bring the floor closer to you so you can safely make that connection and learn from it.
5. Go deeper. There are many times when using a prop can help you to gradually stretch a little deeper. Only you really know your body's limits, so in a lot of ways it's safer for you to use a strap to pull yourself deeper into a forward bend or twist than if a teacher were to give you a manual adjustment.