Here in Ottawa, Canada we are going through a serious heat wave. I am also nursing a calf strain (geez those things hang on forever). These things combined have put me full on into “restorative yoga mode.”
When I first started yoga, I shunned the gentler styles. And props? No thank you. I didn’t need them… That was many years ago and my take onyoga has changed a lot. Now I love a gentle restorative or quiet Yin practice. And bring on the props please!!
Yoga props are plentiful. There are blocks and straps, bolsters, cushions, eye pillows, chairs and even the wall! You can use things you have around your house, anything that might help you move into a posture more fully. This includes books, bed pillows, rolled up towels, facecloths, ties and scarves or perhaps a willing pet 😉
Some yoga practitioners take a minimalist approach. They prefer using nothing, not even a sticky mat. Some styles (e.g., Iyengar) make frequent use of props. I fall in the middle. If you don’t have props handy, practice anyway. If you do, take advantage of them. If you have access to something that can help you deepen and explore a posture, then it only makes sense to use it. You don’t need to rely on props but it can be interesting to see where they take you.
Three benefits of using props yoga
Here are some of my favourite things about props. Props can help you:
1. Find Comfort
Listen to your body and its signals. How can you use a prop to enhance your practice? For example, if you notice your neck getting tired in a forward fold, reach for a block or a cushion. Place it under your forehead for some sweet support. I love doing this in Butterfly (Baddha Konasana).This is not cheating! It is listening to your own wisdom. Plus finding comfort in a posture allows you to hold it for longer.
2. Find Increased Depth
You may not be able to create the desired level of stress or stretch in a particular pose. So you can choose to do another pose to target an area. Or you may be able to use props to help you get there. For example, in Seated Forward Bend (Paschimottanasana), place a block against your feet. Hold the block and use it to pull yourself in deeper.
3. Find New Possibilities
Props may also make a pose that is normally inaccessible, suddenly accessible. A few months ago, an instructor suggested I try going in to Wheel (Urdhva Dhanurasana) with my hands on blocks that were pushed up against a wall. To my surprise I was able to get up into wheel, a posture I had not done on years. You will still get all the benefits of a pose when you are using a prop. Plus the added thrill of doing something new that you may not have thought possible.
The Wall is you Friend
These days I’ve been making good use of the wall. Frog on the wall(Mandukasana) is one of my new favourites. I love the groin and hip stretch. And I love that I don’t feel any stress on my knees as I do in regular Frog.
Another great pose on the wall is Figure Four. It is a gentler variation that allows you to relax more and hold the pose longer. And even though it’s gentler on the spine and knees, I think you get a more intense stretch in the target areas – buttocks, thighs, low back and hips.
To do Figure Four on the Wall:
Lie on your back with your butt close to the wall. Extend your legs up the wall. Bend your knees and walk your feet down. Use your arms to lift your pelvis. Cross one ankle over the opposite knee. Slowly lower your hips to the floor.
The closer your butt is to the wall, the more intense the stretch. Experiment! Relax your arms by your side. Hold the pose for 3 minutes before switching to the other side.
I think this one’s easier to get when you see it in action. Have a look at this video demo to get a better idea of what Figure Four on the Wall looks like.
What do you think of props? Do you use them in your practice? Just leave a comment below to share your thoughts!