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To Prop or Not To Prop

Carrying the crown of Yoga Props Queen was heavy work when I began teaching in the 1980’s. There were various styles of yoga around but unless you were an Iyengar-trained teacher, you were likely to do your poses unpropped.

Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga stood out as one of the styles which only required a willing body/mind and a non-skid mat. As this style became more popular and spin-offs were spawned, there was a period of time when yoga instructors looked down their noses at the use of props. Yoga tools were viewed as crutches for students who couldn’t achieve the ‘proper’ pose.

As it happens, in the irrepressible way that yoga keeps evolving, attitudes toward props changed. Props started infiltrating all but the most purist studios. The long, thick cushions called bolsters were appearing in antenatal classes. Monthly ‘restorative’ workshops required masses of props. Special needs classes were a new development; they demanded that the yoga teacher use a variety of props to tailor yoga practice to an individual’s needs.

What Are They?

Just in case you’re not familiar with yoga props, they are basically any tool that will help you attain a pose. Some of the more common ones are: rectangular blocks, two or three metre straps, bolsters, and backless, flat-seated chairs. Other props include foam wedges, meditation pillows, whale-shaped backbenders, and sandbags. Even a wall can be used as a prop.

Benefits 

Here’s some of the reasons I like to use props.

  1. They provide access to greater flexibility and stamina for students who are stiff or out of condition.
  2. They help a student breathe with more ease.
  3. They give time for a student to create the body/mind connection.
  4. They can reduce the tendency to be pushy.
  5. They remind students where their limits are and to work within them, and, as a result…
  6. Props can help a student be less ego-driven and perhaps cultivate more humility.

Simply put, the main thing that props do is create more ease and control in doing yoga practice.

Here’s a particularly beautiful handmade prop that’s come to my attention. It’s called ‘The Wave’ from Waves of Yoga:

The Wave

The Wave

The Wave, when compared to The Whale (below), is a miracle of compact, portable equipment. Unlike The Whale, it takes up hardly any room at all if your space is limited. It’s built sturdily, and, at the same time, it looks like a handcrafted piece of art (which it is). 

The Whale

The Whale

The image at the top of this page shows one way The Wave can be used to counteract a rounded back. For anyone who sits for long hours at the computer, The Wave will reduce tension in the upper back and the tendency towards kyphosis. If you are less flexible, you may want to place blocks under your head to reduce the arch of your back.

I’ve been playing with The Wave this week and these are just a few ways it can be put to good use.

Savasana

Savasana

Viparita Karani

Viparita Karani

Setubandhasana

Setubandhasana

Lying over this arch, using it for legs-up-the wall, or as a support for the bridge will allow your chest to open.  Stretching and opening this vital area has a salutary effect on the heart, lungs and thyroid. When these organs work efficiently, energy levels rise.

Finally, used in various ways, ‘The Wave’ can help release the sacrum, lumbar and cervical spine.