One of the plusses of practicing yoga is that all you need is your body. But if your body needs a little help, there are props that can help offset tight muscles and restricted ranges of motion.
While it is true that you need nothing but your body and breath to practice yoga, yoga props are extremely useful in helping to create sthira (steadiness) and sukha (comfort) in your yoga practice. By no means limited to beginners, props help to accommodate anatomical differences, tight muscles/joints, and limited ranges of motion. If you’ve ever wondered how to efficiently use props in your home or studio practice, here is your introduction to the accoutrements that could bring your asana practice from blah to aah.
Function: Blocks help bring the floor closer to you.
How many to have: 2
Why: To account for different proportions and flexibility
How to use them: Bring the blocks under your hands in such a way that you create a vertical line from your shoulders to your fingertips. You can use blocks under your hands in lunges, half-splits, or straight-legged poses where you are trying to touch the ground. Blocks have three different heights, so use the height that feels the best with your body. [Fig. 1 and 2 (blocks are flat), Fig. 3 (block is at medium height), Fig. 4 (block is tall)]
Fig. 1: Lunge 1
Fig. 2: Lunge 2
Fig. 3: Ardha Chandrasana
Fig. 4: Triangle
Bonus use: Place the block between your thighs to create strength and spatial awareness. By squeezing the block and simultaneously keeping your feet parallel, you develop the muscle memory to find alignment on your own. [Fig. 5 and 6]
Fig. 5: Tadasana
Fig. 6: Bridge
Function: Blankets provide comfort and padding.
How many to have: 1-3
Why: Blankets are versatile because they can be folded and unfolded to provide the perfect support and padding for use under different parts of your body. Whether accommodating tightness in a joint space or cushioning for your bones, blankets are a key component to any hatha yoga style.
How to use them: Sitting on blankets helps to soften tightness in the low back and hips during seated poses and meditation. Fold one, two, or three blankets with the rounded edge facing the front. Sit toward the front of the blankets, and roll forward onto your sitting bones. The higher you sit, the more likely your pelvis can come into a neutral position. [Fig. 7, 8, and 9]
Fig. 7: Sukkhasana
Fig. 8: Pashschimo
Fig. 9: Baddha Konasana
Bonus use: Blankets can also be used as padding under the knees for kneeling poses. Anytime you feel discomfort in your kneecaps, slide a blanket beneath them. [Fig. 10 and 11]
Fig. 10: Anjaneyasana
Fig. 11: Camel
Function: A strap aids in stretching tight hamstrings and shoulders.
How many to have: 1
Why: While blocks help to bring the floor closer to you in vertical and standing poses, a strap allows you to “reach” your feet when in seated and reclining poses.
How to use it: Loop a strap around your feet in seated forward bends, or enjoy a single leg stretch while lying on your back. [Fig. 12, 13, and 14]
Fig. 12: Paschimo 2
Fig. 13: Singe Leg Stretch 1
Fig. 14: Single Leg Stretch 2
Bonus use: You can also use a strap for shoulder and chest stretches. Hold the strap with your two hands wider than shoulder width. Keeping the strap taut, take it up, over, and behind you. Your core should remain firm, and your ribs should draw in toward one another. [Fig. 15] Alternatively, you can accommodate tight shoulders by holding the strap behind you when attempting to interlace your fingers in Prasarita Padottanasa C or Humble Warrior. [Fig. 16 and 17]
Fig. 15: Shoulder Stretch
Fig. 16: Prasarita C
Fig. 17: Humble Warrior
Function: Bolsters add support for seated and restorative poses.
How many to have: Depending on the shape and desired use, 1-2
Why: Restorative poses calm the nervous system while allowing the body to experience deep rest and relaxation. Bolsters come in different sizes and shapes, and can be used in myriad ways for sitting, padding, and being propped up.
How to use it: A bolster can be used as a meditation cushion when blankets don’t provide enough lift. [Fig. 18] They can also be used under the spine for a supported heart opener. [Fig. 19]
Fig. 18: Meditation Seat
Fig. 19: Supta Baddha Konasana
Bonus use: A properly placed bolster under the knees in seated forward folds or savasana can provide relief to the low back. [Fig. 20 and 21].
Fig. 20: Paschimo 3
Fig. 21: Savasana
Once you get a feel for the props, use as many as you like in each pose. Combining blocks with blankets or a bolster with a strap has the potential to transform your enjoyment of the poses. Remember that the most important part of your practice is that you are breathing mindfully and are anchored in the moment. If you strain your body in such a way that you can’t breathe smoothly, then you’ve lost the most transformative part of the practice. Using props can create more ease in the body so you are able to embrace the moment instead of resist it.
It is also important to remember that props are not limited to the four mentioned above. In fact, just about anything that helps you find your center and bring more ease and space to your practice can be considered a prop. A stack of books can take the place of blocks. A bed pillow or couch cushion can stand in for a bolster. The kitchen counter or seat of a chair can also help provide steady surfaces on which to balance. Don’t have a strap? Try the belt of your robe or a necktie. Be creative and open to the possibilities—nothing is off limits. If your dog or young child is willing to let you lean on them, he or she can become props too!
Enjoy your practice!
*Editor’s Note: The information in this article is intended for your educational use only; does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Chopra Center's Mind-Body Medical Group; and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health providers with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition and before undertaking any diet, supplement, fitness, or other health program.
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