As yogis, we quickly learn the importance and value in honoring our bodies and what they’re telling us. We have yoga teachers there to guide us into proper alignment, and we continue cultivating the ability to listen to our own bodies.
These are valuable tools in our yoga practice, but there’s another way to support, strengthen, and continue to advance in your practice: yoga props.
Blocks tend to be flatter with one long edge, one medium edge and a short edge – imagine a big book shape. Bricks tend to be smaller blocks with one long side and 2 pretty much equal length sides – a bit like a brick… Blocks and bricks can be made of dense foam, wood or cork.
Yoga belts are usually woven cotton or webbing and can be a single length with a buckle at one end or can be sewn into a loop or figure of eight.
Meditation cushions come in a variety of shapes and sizes with all sorts of fillings from spelt to foam. Bolsters are similar but tend to be long, round and sausage-like.
Then there are yoga wheels, head up stools, eye masks, weights, blankets… All sorts of things that yogis use in their practice. I guess the modern yoga mat is a prop too, really.
WHY USE THEM?
Props can be used to improve alignment in a pose when a yogi has yet to develop sufficient range of movement to achieve the full expression of that pose.
An example would be using a brick under the hand in trikonāsana (triangle) when a student can’t reach the floor without folding the trunk forwards. Placing a brick under the hand at a height where the trunk remains rotated upwards gives great alignment for that student and teaches a good movement pattern that can be maintained as the pose deepens with practice. Using a block like this usually makes the pose safer for the yogi, too, as it prevents over stretch and uncontrolled movement.
Props can also be used to teach specific muscle activation in a pose. Think about placing a block between the knees in Setu Bandhasāna (bridge). By squeezing the block as you lift the pelvis, the inner thigh muscles activate to prevent the knees rolling outwards. Learning to activate these muscles with the block is the first step to being able to activate them in the pose automatically in future.
Another really useful prop is the belt. This is saviour in Paścimottānāsana when your feet seem to be just too far away. Here, the belt is basically an arm extension – loop it round the feet and pull to fold. Another way to use a belt is to encourage one element of a pose that is often hard to achieve. Think about Prasaritta Padotanāsana (wide legged forward fold with hands on hips), with the belt looped round the elbows. This encourages the elbows to stay drawn together to open the chest.
Sitting is another time where many yogis gain much from using a block or cushion under the seat. This lifts the hips above the knees and allows the pelvis to roll into anterior tilt. Without this movement of the pelvis the spine is often unable to lengthen and opening the hips and chest are a real struggle. Sukāsana (easy pose) is anything but easy for most of us without that prop!
IMPROVISED PROPS FOR EVERY OCCASION
With just a little imagination, most of the common props you find in a yoga studio can be very effectively improvised from normal household items.
1. MEDITATION CUSHIONS
So many options for this one… Try a normal sofa cushion. Or maybe 2 piled up. Or fold a pillow and place the folded end under the buttocks with the free ends supporting the thighs. Folded blankets or towels piled up can work well too.
2. BLOCKS AND BRICKS
If going under buttocks, then folded towels and blankets work well as a block. If needed for under hands to support weight, then positioning yourself near a step or low stool might work. In the Trikonāsana example above, placing your hand on your own lower leg gives a point of fixation but it does make balancing more of a challenge, so it doesn’t suit everyone.
The easiest way to improvise a yoga belt is with the one out of your trousers! As long as it is not stretchy, any normal belt will do. Alternatively roll up a towel to tea towel length-ways and use that for looping round feet on Paścimottānāsana.
4. HEAD REST IN BALĀSANA
If you usually need to rest your head on a block in Balāsana (child pose) then try making fists and place one on top of the other with the thumb side uppermost. Resting the forehead on this platform can be just as good as a purpose made block and SO much easier to move out of the way as you transition into the next pose of a flow sequence.
5. PARTNER BALANCES
Practising alone when the online teacher says ‘reach for a partner to balance’? Never fear – go to the nearest windowsill or kitchen units. These make perfect stable partners for any home practice. I love to use a windowsill to support my hands in a modified Virabhadrāsana 3 (warrior) as it lets me really focus on activating my legs in the balance.
Try 3 or 4 towels or blankets rolled up into a sausage to make a bolster. If you have a foam roller to hand, you could try that – though I do recommend wrapping it in some padding or putting a pillow over it if you are going to spend any amount of time resting on it. They can be hard and uncomfortable.
Finally, I love the idea of connecting to our yoga roots and practising more simply using what is to hand. It opens up the possibility of yoga any place, any time, anywhere. It brings freedom and simplicity for me. I hope it does for you too.
Written by Sally Schofield and published on yogalondon.net/