Give Props, Their "Proper Respect"

The goal of a prop is to help you when you haven't yet gained the strength or flexibility to do certain poses; the thought being that it is better to do a pose the right way, with the use of a prop, than to get in the habit of doing it incorrectly. It also protects us from injury or over straining our bodies.

B.K.S. Iyengar,* pioneered the use of "props" such as cushions, blankets, benches, blocks, straps, and even sand bags. These props function as aids allowing the beginner to the experienced to do an asana more easily and fully than might otherwise be possible without several years of practice.

When I started practicing yoga I felt props were for the weak, for the beginners who could not do a pose without help. I could not do the poses without help, but I refused to use them! Boy was I an idiot. I’m so glad I am not that person anymore. This has been part of my growth as a yogi. Part of my (our) yoga practice has been to leave the ego at the door of the yoga studio. I had to learn to practice nonattachment, to the results of the asana and my appearance doing the posture. Now I enjoy using props.

I don’t like to think of props like “prop you up” but rather proper: like “strictly accurate”. Props help us achieve a pose, and they allow us to achieve a pose correctly. Yes as we are in the earlier stages of our practice, props can allow us to access poses we might not be able to do at all without the use of a block or strap. But this is only temporary.

For me seated forward bend (Paschimottanasana) is a great example. When I first attempted this pose I could not reach my feet. So after some prodding from my teacher I used a strap and sat on a blanket, it allowed me to enjoy the pose correctly. As I continue to practice and gain flexibility, I can now reach my feet. Occasionally I still like to use a strap in Paschimottanasana so that I might concentrate on elongating my spine and keep my shoulders down away from my ears. Props can deepen the pose, putting a block at the bottom of your feet to extend the stretch, as if we had longer legs.

We must also acknowledge that all bodies our not made the same. And not all poses work for all bodies. Your body may simply not be made for a pose. Our bones, ligaments and joints might simply not do what is required to do a pose. Maybe never. Therefore there is no shame in using a prop if you have tight hamstrings or short arms.

I have read many times that B.K.S. Iyengar struggled with his health and his body throughout his life. And yet he has emerged as one of the great modern day masters of yoga. One of his many contributions to yoga was his recognizing human diversity requires options in the asana practice in order for it to be equally accessible and enjoyable to all students.

So it is clear that the use of modifications and the use of props adapt the position of the asana to make it more accessible to students who would otherwise be unable to enjoy its benefits.

Which Props.

B.K.S. Iyengar defined a prop “as any object that helps stretch, strengthen, relax, or improve the alignment of the body”.

The basics include mats, blankets, straps, and blocks. Anything can serve as a prop. Listen to your body and be creative. You might use chairs, walls, tables, towels, books, old belts or neckties. I recently read an article by Claudia Cummins, she wrote “the best yoga prop is always an open mind”.

I always like to have a mat (yes that’s a prop), two blocks of equal size and a blanket.
A strap can be helpful if you have tight hamstrings or shoulders. For a long time I always got a spot in the room near a wall. The wall is a great prop.

When To Use A Prop.

Props like straps, blankets and blocks help you obtain proper alignment when you would be unable to obtain it on your own. So use a prop:

  • Anytime you need to bring something closer to you. Like using a strap to bring your foot closer to hands in Head-to-Knee Forward Bend (Janu Sirsasana). Use blocks to bring the floor closer to you like in Triangle pose (Utthita Trikonasana).
  • Basically anytime that a pose needs to be made more comfortable: a block under your head in Child’s pose (Balasana), if your head does not rest comfortably on the floor, a blanket under your knees in Camel pose (Ustrasana) or under your shoulders in Supported Shoulder stand pose (Salamba Sarvangasana).
  • I particularly love using props for restorative poses. A towel under the head in Corpse Pose (Savasana). A Blanket under each knee during Reclining Bound Angle Pose (Supta Baddha Konasana). And I must admit I still use a block under my seat in Hero’s pose (Virasana).

Be mindful of why you are using the prop, if you don’t understand what the goal of the support is, ask. A Dhyana Yoga staff member can always guide you or answer your questions.

As you become more comfortable experiment. Use different sides of the block or fold the blanket diffidently. You may choose to repeat that same pose without a prop from time to time to explore the differences. This may be the first step to leaving them on the side of your mat.

Use the wisdom of your own body. If you feel your body crying out for support, in a posture, add a block, blanket or even a towel and then observe what happens. Remember: the self is the greatest teacher.

* B.K.S. Iyengar, creater of Iyengar Yoga, a form of yoga known for its use of props, such as belts and blocks, as aids in performing asanas (postures). B. K. S. Iyengar is considered one of the foremost yoga teachers in the world and has been practicing and teaching yoga for more than 75 years.

He has written many books on yogic practice and philosophy, and is best known for his books Light on Yoga, Light on Pranayama, and Light on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. He has also written several definitive yoga texts. Iyengar yoga centers are located throughout the world, and it is believed that millions of students practice Iyengar Yoga.
Ramamani Iyengar Memorial Yoga Institute (RIMYI) is the

heart and soul B.K.S. Iyengar and is located in Pune, Maharashtra. The institute was established on January 19, 1975 and students from all over the world come here to receive the essence of yoga and learn the values of life.

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Bruno Circolo © 2013