I’ve been doing yoga for yonks. You would think I have enough experience that I don’t have to perform poses ‘propped up’. Doesn’t using props mean that you are relying on crutches?
I don’t think so. Let’s face it. Life serves up all sorts of dilemmas–disease, loss of mobility, injuries, recovery from surgery. Using props has let me keep on doing yoga practice through thick and thin. They were invaluable for me when I underwent hysterectomy surgery years ago and later on when I had double hip surgery. Propped poses helped me rehabilitate quickly and thoroughly after these surgeries.
In other situations, the use of yoga props is a godsend working with tight bodies, ageing or simply being out of condition.
What are yoga props?
If you’re not so familiar with these yoga tools called props, they are any items that will help nudge you along toward getting into a pose. They offer a way of experiencing minimal stress or risk of injury while in a pose. Some of the common props you might run into in yoga classes are foam blocks, straps, long cushions (bolsters), and flat-seated chairs.
You don’t necessarily have to purchase props. In fact, if you want to do yoga at home, you can improvise with props that can be found around the house. A dining chair to sit on for twisting postures, the end of a bed or sofa for stretching over, a soft scarf for your eyes when you’re doing yoga relaxation are all easily accessible.
Props are especially helpful for yoga novices because the poses can then be done with less effort. This in turn builds the student’s confidence. Yoga practice can be more enjoyable right from the start.
An influential yoga teacher, Donna Farhi, in her book Yoga, Mind, Body & Spirit, says, “Just as a runner needs a good pair of running shoes, you need some props to get the most out of your yoga practice.”
One form of yoga that uses a surfeit of props is called restorative yoga. The aim of doing restorative practice is to have you let go completely. Beginners especially can get more of the subtle benefits of yoga practice this way. The props contribute to you feeling calmer and more relaxed.
What results might you expect to get out of using props?
Like everything, it depends. I’ve seen yoga students learn more about their bodies from using props.
If you have misaligned posture, there’s always the risk of taking poor alignment into your yoga practice. But a wall can be be used as a prop to give you postural feedback. Just standing with your back straight against a wall in mountain pose, tadasana, gives immediate feedback about stooped or crooked posture.
You can use a chair for a standing forward bend if you are out of condition and/or stiff. Placing your hands on the chair seat saves you straining your back and lets you work intelligently into increasing your flexibility in stages.
One of the main aims of yoga is to encourage effortless breathing. The supports you use will let you do just this. With props, because you can do a pose while you’re in your comfort zone, you can hold a pose longer. You can take in the teacher’s instructions and make the necessary adjustments.
The use of props reduces any tendency to be aggressive because these tools help you work within your limits. Instead of going straight to the hardest version of a pose, you can pull back a little. This will give you a more balanced pose. An additional benefit is that when you stay within your limits, you’re more likely to work more sensitively and be less ego-driven.
An unexpected benefit that I’ve derived personally from using props is humility. They are truly supportive and remind me that I don’t have to it all myself. I can yield to a ‘helper’, and this sort of surrender teaches me to let go physically. That has a knock-on effect for letting go emotionally and mentally, and releasing the tight grip of ego.
Here’s a photo from the first month of my recovery from bi-lateral hip replacements. I couldn’t get up or down from the floor, so my dining table proved a worthy prop when needed! I’ve moved on from lying on a table, but even six years later I still a great chest opening from doing this pose.