All of us are guilty of needing a bit of aid sometimes. Humans are imperfect in nature. Though some may believe that yoga props are only for inflexible or beginners, I think it’s important to keep in mind the advantages of having those little buddies by our side. Yoga props help us to reach some poses, while they help deepen others. You may have no use for a prop in a pose that mainly works with the hamstrings but could need them for one that activates the outer hips; when working with props you can decide by trial and error what is right for you, in the meantime I’ll outline some of the ways I choose to use props throughout my own practice.
Yoga Prop Directory (selected)
Chip Foam Yoga Block
Supta Badha Konasana
This pose opens up the chest and heart. In class we lay on the floor with feet together opening the knees to the side. The use of blocks helps deepen the stretch along the front of the shoulders when placed one under the mid range of the upper back and if it helps, one under the head. You can also use a bolster which will reach along the length of your spine. Extremely calming, the pose mimics that of the stretch you do to wake up in the morning and will also help with shoulders that roll forward; compromising your posture. If the intensity is too much in your groin area, simply putting one block under each knee will help relieve any discomfort.
Triangle pose is a wonderful way to open the side body; the muscles attached to the hip flexors and rib cage. We are always instructed in class to open our chest rather than letting it drop towards the ground, while bringing our hips in line with our rib cage. I almost always use a cork block to help at least on one side as I need it to steady my torso while paying attention to my knee as it tends to hyper extend. Though I could technically reach the floor in this pose, I choose not to as the block helps me really push down to rotate open, finding more breath in the side body and better alignment.
Eka Pada Rajakapotasana
Pigeon is a wonderful hip opener! This is another example of a pose that can be just as or more effective with less bending or downwards reach. Many of us reach for our heads to the ground, however if you really want that stretch through the outer hip on the bent leg it can be useful to keep your torso upright and continue rotating the foot towards a ninety degree angle. The foam block can be placed under the rotating hip to support you while you soften into this pose keeping your hip from over extending while allowing the stretch to slowly increase into the softness of the prop. I like to first find this alignment and then extend my back forward to place my forehead onto another cork block in front of me.
Staff Pose is another intense stretch for the hamstrings and is reflected often in how straight your lower back is while your legs are extended. In order to find more support through the lower back, I often sit just on the edge of the soft block in order to reach the muscles that are the tightest. In this case like in many others, the support is not for those that can’t reach the “end result” it is more for emphasis on a new muscle group. As a dancer my teachers used to tell me to sit on a telephone book, so if you have one lying around and are wondering what to do with it you can try using it as an alternative to the foam block!
Halfway Lift is a pose that really works those hamstrings. Most of us aren’t naturally flexible in the hamstrings and if you’re just beginning to stretch these big muscles out, using a cork block under your hands is an amazing way to keep them steady while you look forward in halfway lift. Keep your cork block ready during sun salutations.
Low lunge is often a pose we tend to work deeply into, staying for an extended time to really breathe into those hips and groin. For someone like me who has a tweaky knee, the foam block is my saving grace. By placing either a foam block or a part of your rolled up mat under the supporting knee, you can avoid that uncomfortable pain sometimes associated with putting pressure on the knee cap. Beware! Since the foam block is soft, you want to make sure the knee cap stays in its proper spot and doesn’t get moved out of alignment. Ideally, we would practice towards not having to use the foam block underneath the knee by working on transferring the pressure to the top of the adjoining foot to alleviate any stress on the knee.
Reclining leg stretch helps open the groin, outer and inner thighs and hamstrings. While some prefer to curl their back and shoulders upward while shaking violently to reach that toe seemingly so far away, I suggest using the yoga strap to ease that effort. The strap; while looped over the ball of your foot will allow for your torso to relax into the floor. The shoulders especially, should be pressed against your mat in an effort not to lift them causing tension. The strap extends your reach and allows for your leg to gently pull towards your body whether it is directly above you, opening up to the side or crossing over. The more control you have in this pose, the safer and more effective it is.
There are many more poses that can be modified using props, these are some of my favourites. It’s important to understand that using the prop is not just for beginners or for inflexibility; it can help access a new and more effective means of performing the pose while executing it with more control and ease. We can all use a little more ease in our life and with that comes the grace we yearn for. Committing to the grace of a posture will only allow for an increased capacity for breath; allowing to sink further into your daily practice.