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Yoga Practice

8 Transformational Yoga Self-Assists & How to Do Them

If you use props innovatively, you can give yourself the same kind of adjustment at home that you’d get in class.

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Think of props as your own personal assistants. Here, Carrie Owerko, a senior intermediate Iyengar teacher in New York City, and Angela Clark and Steph Creaturo, founders of Mala Yoga in Brooklyn, share some of their favorite ideas for using props to give yourself an adjustment.

Virabhadrasana I (Warrior Pose I)

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Jeff Nelson

THE GOAL: To find more space between your front thigh and the hip point of your front leg.

TO DO: Place a block just below your front kneecap and push it into the wall with your shin.

THE BENEFIT: This will stabilize your pelvis, helping lift the front hip point away from your front thigh bone, says Creaturo.

See also 3 Ways to Modify Warrior I

Virabhadrasana II, Warrior Pose II

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Jeff Nelson

THE GOAL: To figure out the correct hip position, without sinking too deeply into your hips.

TO DO: Practice this pose with your front thigh resting on the seat of a yoga chair (you can add other props if you need more height).

THE BENEFIT: Support from the chair will help press the outer edge of your back foot down into the mat, which creates a solid foundation for the strong muscular action of lifting up through the legs and engaging the glutes, says Clark. It also takes out a lot
of activation from the front leg’s quadriceps so that the student can access other
muscle groups like the glutes.

See also Watch + Learn: Warrior II Pose

Pasasana (Noose Pose)

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Jeff Nelson

THE GOAL: To twist more deeply.

TO DO: Place a yoga block 3 feet or so from the wall, and with your feet together, place your heels on the block. Then, bend your knees deeply to come into a squat. Place your right hand to the wall, and root through your heels. On an inhalation, raise your left arm; on an exhalation, place your left elbow or forearm on your outer right knee. Elongate your spine, spread your right sternum and collarbone toward the wall, and drop your right shoulder blade.

THE BENEFIT: Not only does this help practitioners twist more deeply, but it’s also
a great way to stretch the plantar fascia (which runs through the soles of your feet) and Achilles tendons (at the backs of your ankles), says Clark.

See also Alexandria Crow’s Pretty Twisted Practice

Vrksasana (Tree Pose)

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Jeff Nelson

THE GOAL: To stabilize your pelvis and find greater strength in your standing-leg hip.

TO DO: Place a block between a knee and the wall, and work to isolate the external rotation of your thigh at the hip joint, clamping the block to the wall. Engage the muscles of your standing leg’s hip.

THE BENEFIT: This work will allow practitioners to hold the pose longer, says Clark.

See also 8 Steps to Master and Refine Tree Pose

Salabhasana (Locust Pose)

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Jeff Nelson

THE GOAL: To increase awareness in your upper back and shoulders—and relieve the excess tension that tends to accumulate there.

TO DO: Take a long yoga belt and make a small loop for your feet. Press your legs down into the floor and engage your leg muscles, hips, buttocks, and lower abdomen, pressing your pubic bone down toward the floor. Bend your elbows, and walk your hands up the strap as you lift your chest and upper back away from the floor. Roll your shoulders back
and down, away from your ears. Let the lift of your chest precede the lift of your head.

THE BENEFIT: Students often report feelings of spaciousness after doing this, says Owerko.

See also Master Locust Pose in 5 Steps

Ardha Chandrasana (Half Moon Pose)

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Jeff Nelson

THE GOAL: To align your shoulders and back body.

TO DO: Face a wall and place your bottom hand on a chair to facilitate a deeper opening in the torso. Slowly walk the fingertips of your top hand up the wall. Actively press your fingertips into the wall and chair to better understand where your shoulders are in space, so you can make adjustments from there.

THE BENEFIT: The feedback from the chair and wall helps you to lengthen the underside of your torso and stack your upper torso above your lower torso, says Creaturo. It also helps stabilize the hip of your standing leg.

See also Balance Mind & Body: Half Moon

Eka Pada Rajakapotasana (One-Legged King Pigeon Pose)

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Jeff Nelson

THE GOAL: To get deeper into both shoulders and hips.

TO DO: Kneel in front of a chair. Place one ankle or lower leg against the front of the chair seat, and step your other foot forward to come into an upright lunge. Reach one arm backward, extending it from the shoulder as you externally rotate your upper arm. Once you have positioned your hand on the chair, with your palm facing up, lift your elbow and chest. Then take your head back and reach your opposite arm to the chair as well. If possible, walk your hands farther down the chair. Maintain stability in your pelvic region as you lift through your sides. Then, take your head back to (or toward) your back foot.

THE BENEFIT: This variation helps maintain stability in the pelvic region and an upward lift through your sides, says Owerko.

See also 3 Prep Poses for One-Legged King Pigeon Pose II

Parivrtta Janu Sirsasana (Revolved Head-of-the-Knee Pose)

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Jeff Nelson

THE GOAL: To help root the extended leg and lengthen the sides.

TO DO: Place a blanket over the top of your extended leg. Position the top of a folding chair into the very top of that thigh, near your hip. The weight of the chair will help the top of your leg to settle toward the floor. Hold the legs of the chair with both hands, then externally rotate your bottom arm and bring it forward to hold the front leg of the chair. Reach your top arm overhead to hold the back leg of the chair. As you fold over your right leg, the chair will help lengthen and traction the sides of your trunk­—away from your hips and toward your the foot or your extended leg. Once you lower the chair close to your straight leg, tilt the front portion of the chair down to touch the floor. Let go of the chair momentarily so that you can place a block on the seat of the chair to support your head. Take hold of the chair legs once again. Pull the top of the chair deeper into your right hip as you lengthen both sides of your trunk and roll your chest and head up toward the ceiling.

THE BENEFIT: The traction created by the chair will help practitioners feel grounded and expansive in this pose, says Owerko.

See also Challenge Pose: Twist into Revolved Head-to-Knee Pose

About Our Pros
Author Jen Murphy is a writer, editor, and yogi in Boulder, Colorado. Model Steph Schwartz is a yoga teacher in Boulder, Colorado, who discovered Ashtanga Yoga in 1999 while training for ultramarathons. Schwartz believes the use of props in class empowers students. “Props can help students support the breath, build confidence, and evolve their edge,” she says. Learn more at mandalamonkey.com.