When I first started practising yoga I did classes in gyms and props were never offered. This meant I got used to practising yoga without props part from when I did the odd class online that was restorative. My attitude to props is that they were to make the poses easier, make them more restorative and the aim of yoga was to do the poses without the use of props. How wrong was I?
Having tried a wide range of different yoga styles they all have different approaches to props but one of the things i have realised is they are vital and can add so much to your practise. They can be used to allow you to deepen a pose like a forward bend, to activate a muscle that you would normally under use, they can be a great tool for getting the correct alignment in a pose or they can just increase a state of relaxation as well as a multitude of other benefits.
If you are offered a prop in a class, my advice is don’t think “”No, I can manage without it”” instead start thinking “How will this prop change the way I practise this pose today?”. You might find that it completely alters the way you work into a pose and I am a big advocate for challenging the body as this is the only real way that we progress and develop. I personally could not imagine doing a yoga class without using one sort of prop or another and it can actually be good fun working out ways to adapt poses to use a prop.
I have put together a guide of my top 6 props and ones that I could not do without:
1. Brick – This simple little prop is probably my favourite and I regularly use one or two in my yoga practise. I have tight hips that are less tight than when I started yoga but I do still need to sit on a brick when I sit cross legged. This allows my knees to come down and me to get the correct spinal alignment. I also incorporate it into a number of core strengthening and restorative techniques.
2. Block – This is very similar to a Brick but a slightly different size. You can use blocks in very much the same way as you do bricks but you have a different height and thickness so they may be better for different poses. For example if you are doing a standing forward bend you may want to bring your hands to a brick so you have greater height and can bring the hips into correct alignment however if you are doing bridge and squeezing a block between your legs you might be more comfortable with a brick (especially if you are male).
3. Theraband – This is a prop widely seen in the sporting arena and in Pilates but is rarely used in yoga and I don’t know why as it is so useful. If you are looking to work into a seated forward bend or a reclining hamstring stretch then you cannot go wrong with a theraband. It is also something that can be used to work into and open the shoulders in pretty much the same was as a strap can be used but with more flexibility. The trick here is to get the right balance of tension and give in the theraband you select. I have found that using a medium theraband is ideal for me, you might want to up it to heavy but I would not go any lighter than medium otherwise you will not be able to get the benefits.
4. Bolster – These come in all sorts of shapes and sizes and can be used in a wide variety of ways. My personal favourite are the round ones that are filled with buckwheat which will give them a good level go firmness. I find that a bolster is best used for restorative poses and can be a tool to really allow the body to relax. One of my favourite ways is when practising Legs Up The Wall and placing the bolster under the hips to slightly raise them. This will give you many of the benefits of shoulder stand without putting pressure on the neck and upper body.
5. Ball – I actually use a tennis ball, sometimes a football and often Pilates exercise balls. They all have different benefits and can be used in different ways, for example a tennis ball can be used in balances and for foot massages. I actually keep one under my desk so I can have afoot massage while writing these blog posts. In terms of the Pilates balls you use the large ones for a number of exercises but I particularly like the small 10in balls as a rest for my hips in bridge pose. They challenge your balance and can allow you to take the pose further by lifting your legs and working on hip stability.
6. Blanket – This is a useful thing to have on hand incase you need a bit of padding or support. You might want to put one under your knees if you are going to be doing a lot of kneeling poses. You could also roll one up and put it under the ankles when kneeling, especially if you have difficulty with plantar flexion. Of course they are also useful in final relaxation and restorative poses to keep you warm.
Next time you are in the yoga studio, stock up on props and use them liberally they are definitely not cheating but in fact the best way to ensure you get the most out of your practise. If you are in a class and what to use props but unsure how they can be worked into poses ask your teacher to guide you, we are generally a helpful bunch and will be happy to accommodate you. If you would like more information on props and how to use them please do not hesitate to contact me.