Prop Up Your Practice

By Janna Stanistreet

03/17/2021

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Prop (Verb):    to support something physically, often by leaning it against something

                                    else or putting something under it.

Prop (Noun):   an object used to support something or hold it in position.

                                    - Cambridge Dictionary


            Yoga props are a variety of tools you can use to customize your yoga practice to suit your individual needs. Props can be items specifically designed for use in yoga such as the blocks, straps, bolsters and blankets you commonly see in yoga studios. They can also be whatever you happen to have on hand that does the job. Especially when practicing at home, you can be as creative as you like with your prop selections. You could use various sizes of pillows, cushions, towels, books, or even your folded over yoga mat, whatever suits your needs in the moment.

            The firmness, texture, size and shape of the prop you choose will depend on your personal preferences and what you’re trying to achieve with it. I personally prefer cork blocks for their solidity and firm edges, but you may prefer the gentler give of foam blocks. You might also use both, or one or the other in different circumstances.

            Props can complement your practice in a variety of ways: They can be used to lift or support your body parts, to ease your way into deeper or different variations of postures, to help engage specific muscle groups, to achieve and maintain better alignment, and to modify postures to make them more accessible to you.

            My own prop use has evolved over the years along with my yoga practice. For the first couple of years I didn’t use any props at all. One studio I practiced at didn’t encourage them and another studio had all kinds of props and things that few people used and I didn’t really know what to do with, so I avoided them mostly because I was afraid of “doing it wrong” in front of other people and embarrassing myself. I preferred to do exactly what everyone else was doing. Even though that wasn’t always exactly what was best for me.

            Later, modified yoga poses became part of my physiotherapy when I was recovering from a broken leg and surgery. For a long time I had to modify poses to make any semblance of them. I began using a folded towel under my knees to cushion them when kneeling, a rolled up towel behind my knees for child’s pose, a block under my bum for any seated poses, a block under my hip for pigeon pose and several other modifications. (Continued below).

            To this day, over a decade after that injury, I still regularly use some of those variations, like the hip support in pigeon pose, not necessarily because I need to, but because that bit of extra support works and feels better in my body and keeps me from overstraining my muscles and joints. While I still sometimes do it without, I often feel like I get more benefit out of the posture when I use the block.

            One of my favourite ways to use blocks is in reclining hero pose. With a block between my shoulder blades and one under the back of my head I’m able to settle more deeply into this pose and actually relax into it whereas without the blocks it requires a considerable amount of effort for me to hold this shape.

            Bridge pose has multiple options for modifications. You can try using a block under your sacrum or low back for support in a passive variation of the pose and/or you can try holding a block with your knees to help engage the muscles in your legs and keep your knees aligned with your hips.

            Postures like lizard can be great hip openers, but bringing your elbows all the way down to the floor can be quite intense, or just not doable. If I’m well warmed up and push myself I can get there, but it’s well past my comfort zone as I struggle to maintain this posture and my breath at the same time. Putting a block under my elbows gives me enough space to breathe more easily and reduces strain, making this variation of the pose much more accessible to me.

            Standing half moon is a fun posture to work on and placing a block or bolster under your hand that’s reaching towards the floor can be a simple and helpful tool to give you more stability as well as a point of alignment to stack your shoulders over. You might even only graze the prop with your finger tips, but it can really help give you a greater sense of security in a challenging one-legged balancing posture.

            Finally, to find more comfort and relaxation in child’s pose, try bringing your knees wider than your hips and rest your forehead on a block, bolster, pillow or rolled towel. It always helps me soften my brow and find more ease, so I can just breathe.

            I have learned over the years that using props is a unique practice for every individual. What benefits one person doesn’t always apply to another.  It’s a trial and error process to find what works best for you and your needs can change from day to day, but so can the way you work with props. The best way to get started incorporating props into your practice is to just go ahead and try different things that you feel would provide you support, engagement, alignment, rest and reassurance in the areas you need them as you move through your practice. You can even use props in your practice just for the sake of variety to see how different variations of postures feel for you. Experiment and enjoy the many benefits of props in your practice!



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