De-Mystifiing Props / by Hope Amico

reposted from July 2015

don’t know when I started to love using props in my yoga practice, but I do. Maybe it was when I could not quite reach the floor with my fingers some days.Or maybe when I realized it made Varasana a very comfortable pose for me.  No matter. I offer props in my classes and I want to talk about why.

Props are not what you use when you are not good enough, they are not training wheels or a crutch. Props allow you access to a pose in a way that does not work for your body otherwise. I like to teach poses a few different ways, breaking down the pose into smaller variations. One of those might include a prop. And we all use it.  All the students in class lift the strap,holding it in one hand while reaching for the other end of it with the other behind their backs in Gomukasana . Some students may regularly reach their arms behind their backs in such a way, fingers locking. However, by using the strap, you can isolate the muscles used, perhaps having a different experience.  Sometimes we are straining and reaching so much in a pose we are not able to find the ease of the pose, and we might mistake the straining for the pose.  As a teacher, having everyone try the pose with a prop means not making any one person feel like they their practice is not good enough. And for anyone who has been struggling, it might help with the realization of how the pose could feel. If we are all in this together, we all have the opportunity to learn.  The next time you try the pose, you can choose, prop or no prop, but you are making an informed decision.

All that said, there is plenty you can do without props and you don’t need to buy fancy cork blocks or special straps and bolsters. You can, if you like, but you don’t have to. Not having fancy props should not keep you from a home practice.  I use lots of props because I teach in a studio with plenty of options, Students have paid for these props with their memberships.  So we use them.  

Here are some tips for using props at home.

  • Bolster–a bolster can be a great support in restorative poses or if you have less flexibility in your hips.  They may cost about $30 if you buy it through a yoga supply website.  Or you can use a couch cushion or a very firm couch pillow.  Find something that suits your needs. Maybe you want something to support you in supta baddha konesana, so a wider flat cushion. Use your couch cushions! Also try folding up a towel. This may be enough support as a small bolster or maybe even to replace a block.
  • Block–the very supportive blocks. Foam ones can be cheap but maybe you don’t to buy a pair. Maybe you have a better place to spent $14. You can use a firm small pillow to support you in seated poses, or where you need support under your sacrum. Sometimes your couch cushion bolster will work. Sometimes you need something firm.  Shoe boxes are the right size but are not that sturdy–you could rest your finger tips on one but not really support your weight.  Find something that suits your needs for the prop.
  • Blanket–any blanket will do. Really. It is best to find something that you can fold evenly, not a lumpy quilt. Fleece blankets are small and plentiful. And you can fold it up to be roughly the size of a small bolster. And if you are lucky, your cat will love it too and will leave your mat alone.
  • Strap–a cotton woven belt, a long sturdy scrap of fabric, even a long towel.  I have used a falling apart, fake leather grommeted belt. I don’t suggest it, but it will work in a pinch.
  • Chair–I don’t use chairs a lot but you don’t need an Iyengar certified backless chair.   They are nice. A cheap folding chair will do. Or any sturdy unpadded chair that supports you. Again, it depends on what you are doing, whether supported your raised legs or sitting on it for seated poses.   Try out what you have.
  • Mat–that’s right, the secret is revealed–you can practice without a mat. Jade yoga doesn’t want you to know that. You might prefer one to keep your feet from sliding. You might like the extra padding.  But know you can try it without. If you are on a slippery hard wood floor, use caution.  But if you have a little traction you might find you even like it.

That’s all I have for tonight.  I will now reveal that I do have cork blocks and a Jade yoga mat that I got at a discount. I started practicing often and found I prefer the heavier sturdier blocks and I use them often to support my sacrum in a few poses.  I wanted something that would hold my weight. .  When I graduated teacher training, I bought a few blankets and a strap. I was teaching private lessons out of my home and wanted to have slightly more professional props.  I fully support discovering your preferences and most importantly, doing whatever you need to keep practicing.  If you like a cushy mat, invest in a mat you will love and use every day. But don’t get caught up on gear and things.  Find ways to make the poses work for you.  And then let others practice in their own way.