All propped up

To prop or not to prop? It's a question that may often cross a yoga teacher or student's mind. On the one hand, props offer many benefits in terms of alignment, comfort and safety in a pose. On the other hand, they are bulky to carry with you to class, and some of them (like the rather abused yoga strap) might actually prompt behaviour that works against you instead of with you (like tugging hard on the strap to pull yourself further into a forward bend).

Traditionally in Ashtanga yoga, no props are used. Instead, poses are modified to suit the needs of the individual, and the student can gradually progress towards the full pose. A ready example is extended angle pose: instead of bringing the hand to the ground beside the forward foot, the student can place their elbow on their knee. This allows them to keep the chest revolved open and still stretch the other arm out over their ear. This modification is so useful for getting people to stay in alignment that I actually teach it in all my classes, with the full pose as an option only!

However, in other forms of yoga like Iyengar, props are used a lot, to help students find the correct alignment in a pose and also to protect them from injury. Examples are placing a block under your hand in triangle pose, or blankets under the shoulders in shoulderstand (although to be fair, most Ashtanga-trained teachers learn this one as well).

As a teacher, I generally don't use props in group classes. Partly this is an availability issue - not enough to go around!, but in big part it's because I teach vinyasa yoga, and props interrupt the flow and pace of the classes, plus take up space in a packed classroom. I choose instead to teach modified poses, and offer variations for students of different levels. I do however have a few students who bring their own props to class, which is great!

In private classes on the other hand, I'm a big fan of using props, depending on individual needs. I find the props give more confidence to some students to explore poses more deeply than they otherwise would. Mostly I use blocks: under the hands in low lunge (helps open up the chest), triangle, parsvottanasana, ardha chandrasana and the like. I also use blankets under the sitting bones for forward bends, and under the shoulders for shoulderstand. As you may have gathered from the first paragraph I'm not a fan of using straps in forward bends, but I do use them occasionally to help someone bind in a tricky twist, or as supports in restorative baddha konasana and supta baddha konasana. I have also occasionally used a strap to help me play with deep backbends like pigeon pose, which I have found rewarding but intense.

And then of course there is therapeutic, prenatal and restorative yoga, for which props are a must!

One of my absolute favourite therapeutic uses for a yoga block is also as a back-massage tool! Lying in various positions with a block placed under different areas of your back is like getting a deep-tissue massage. Try it! With your knees bent as if you were going into bridge pose, lift up your hips and place the block under your lower back, middle back, along your spine, or (my favourite!) the buttocks. Slowly release your weight onto the block and enjoy!

What about you, bloggers and blogettes? Have you used props? When or how have they been helpful to you?