To Yoga Prop or Not

By Laura Hansen.

I started practicing yoga before sticky mats were available. We used towels, rugs, and in some cases crib liners. Thirty years ago I had never heard of straps or blocks. When props started to appear, I was very suspicious of them. Several old-school yoga teachers taught that props were not part of traditional yoga and were part of the commercialization of yoga. Other old-school teachers believed props were dangerous, allowing students to move further than their bodies allowed.

yoga prop

Still others suggested that props reduced the workload on muscles resulting in stunted growth. For example, sticky mats make it easier for your feet to grip the mat and reduced the amount of strength required to hold a posture. Practicing yoga on a wood floor, without a sticky mat, builds greater muscular strength. For these reasons and more, I refused to use props for many years. I still do not own a block, strap, yoga mat bag, or any other yoga merchandise. I mostly use cotton rugs for my practice.

One of the things a long-term consistent yoga practice eventually teaches, even to the most stubborn, is mental flexibility. At long last I have come to the conclusion that props are not necessarily evil. I now believe that there is a place for props in yoga practice and that the specific place for props in yoga practice varies according to the practitioner. Different people may want to use props in different ways. While I still would not encourage props simply to make a posture easier, I do see how they can benefit practitioners.

Currently I use some props in my home practice. While I attend classes at a studio about three to four times a week, I also practice every day at home. My home practice varies based on where I am tight and what I have time to do. The following postures I generally do with props:

I have a poof (see attached) which is a sort of flexible chair/ottoman. I did not buy this for yoga and you could also use a pile of quilts, couch cushions or other materials. I use this poof for introductory back bends. I generally listen to a song or two and lay on the poof trying to get both my knees and shoulders on the floor.

After a song or two, I then hold child’s pose for a song or two. It is important to follow every back bend with a forward bend.

After the poof warms me up, I use a backless chair for a deeper backward bend. My goal is always to get knees and elbows to the floor although this has never happened. Using the chair to support me allows me to hold the back bend longer and to achieve greater flexibility. Note: I follow this with a plow held for the same amount of time.

I have found that furniture can be very helpful in terms of opening up my back. More traditional deep backward bends such as the wheel or camel require strength as well as flexibility and I am unable to hold them for the time needed to really increase my flexibility.

Different students have different challenges and props can help with many of these. I think the decision to use or not to use props in any practice is up to the student. If props allow you to go deeper into the posture, to lengthen your flexibility, or to work despite injuries then by all means use them. On the other hand, students do not need to go out and buy a block and strap as these are not required in order to practice. The only requirement for practice is an open mind.

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