Category Archives: Props
Today I would like to share with you a site and video from a wonderful yoga teacher who is one of the leaders of the body inclusivity movement in the yoga world: Body Positive Yoga from Amber Karnes. Karnes gives thought-provoking and norm shattering insight on how the language and approach to poses we often use can be limiting to people living in larger bodies. Many of her principles apply to those of us (myself included) who live in less flexible bodies.
In a video she recently shared, Karnes breaks down some modifications for virasana (hero’s pose) that also could be used for vajrasana (thunderbolt pose). Too often yoga teachers (myself included) assume that what is easy for us is easy for everyone in the class. I’ve been to many classes in which students were asked to sit in one or the other of these poses without discussion of how to make them accessible for those with joint pain or other discomfort.
Yoga can be a great way to challenge the body but pain in a pose is the body telling us something is wrong. Modification of poses is not about weakness or inability, it is a way for us to find the balance between effort (Sthira) and ease (Sukham) in poses and create a sustainable practice. As yoga teachers, it’s important to know ways to help our students achieve that balance. As students, it’s important to let our teachers know when we experience pain in a pose.
In peace and light,
I often have students ask me for recommendations for props to buy and use in their practices. I am an advocate for using props in yoga. Whether used to make a difficult pose less so or deepen awareness of alignment in familiar poses, props are useful tools for any level of yoga practice.
Like any multi-million dollar industry, if you want a specialty item you can find it. There are a LOT of props on the market that I’ve never used. Below is a list of some of the props I am most familiar with and some brief thoughts on each. Although not all are essential, these are the props I would suggest purchasing for a home practice. Also, I’m not paid to endorse any of these products.
Yoga mats: An essential for most folks, a yoga mat provides padding and a (mostly) non-skid surface for poses. Options range from cheap open-cell mats to high-end cork mats. The frequency and style of your practice should be the determining factor on what you buy. The mat I use most is my Jade.
Blocks: Yoga blocks are used to bring the floor up to meet our body. Typically they are used under the hands in forward folds, but can also be used to support the hip and other parts of the body depending on the pose. I tend to like the smaller 3-inch blocks because they fit my hands better but most studios have 4-inch blocks.
Strap: Straps are typically used to extend the arms to reach the feet (think seated forward fold or hand-to-big-toe pose). Most straps you can pick up at sporting good or big-box stores are 6 feet long, but 8- and 10-foot options can be more useful.
Blankets: Blankets can be used to support the hips in seated poses, pad the knees in kneeling poses, and cover up during savasana. They are also a lot cheaper than bolsters, which have many of the same uses. Wool blankets offer firmer support than cotton, but I prefer cotton because I am sensitive to wool (who wants to be itchy when they’re trying to relax).
Bolsters: Bolsters tend to be pricey but are super useful, especially for sitting for long periods or if you want to practice restorative poses. Bolsters can vary a lot by shape – round versus rectangular – and size. I would suggest trying out different bolsters before buying.
This is a brief overview and I’ll try to write more on each prop in the future.
National Worship of Tools Day is March 11. While it’s a day meant to celebrate tools like screwdrivers, wrenches, and hammers, I’m going to take a moment talk a bit about some of the tools we use in yoga – specifically yoga props.
I’ll never forget the time as a fairly new teacher, I had planned what I thought was a fun sequence where we would use chairs and blocks to practice and transition from half moon pose (ardha chandrasana) to warrior III (virbhadrasana III) to reverse half moon (parivrtta ardha chandrasana). I wanted to take everyone through the poses first with the chairs and then the blocks before going through the sequence without props. The intent was to build confidence and awareness of alignment with the props before letting students play with the full poses and transitions without them.
But there was this one student. “I don’t use props,” he said, and closed his eyes. End of discussion. I was totally thrown (did I mention I was fairly new to teaching?). I threw my plan out the window and the class was not what I hoped it would be. I was disappointed and felt like I didn’t give my students their best experience.
As a more experienced and confident teacher, I would now suggest that the student try using the props to see what insights he would gain; then I would teach the class I intended, whether he chose to use the props or not. The Ms. Sassy Pants in me might also say this: Get over yourself. Seriously. Your mat is a prop, so if you “don’t use props“, you best roll that bad boy up.
Clearly in the debate of whether to prop or not, I’m in the prop usage camp. Props are not just for the inflexible, but they can also be used as learning tools for more experienced and/or flexible practitioners. I’ve been practicing yoga for 20 years this year (yay!) and I still have a-ha moments when I try things new ways.
So check your ego, explore some new ways to get into poses, and let yourself have a little fun along the way!