Get friendly with props to improve & diversify your yoga experience
I can wholeheartedly say props are so worthwhile embracing to improve and offer more variation to your yoga practice.
Recently, I've been embracing more restorative yoga in my own practice, and I cannot tell you how much I am enjoying it. Coming from a history mostly focused around a very active self practice and an ongoing love for strong physical movements, I've really come around to this concept of doing less and embracing stillness!
For example - one of my favourite practices of the moment is after a run or some other leg-intensive cardiovascular exercise - taking legs up the wall (viparita karani) pose for 10 minutes. It's a glorious way to let my legs and hips rest and also to recuperate my whole body after the effort of exercising!
I've also using restorative poses more on a day-to-day level. For an afternoon pick me up, it can be really invigorating to take a 15-30 minute break for a couple of restorative poses.
But this blog post is not just about restorative yoga practices.
I'd like to share with you many of the ways props can bring you benefit with your yoga and therefore in your life!
To prepare for this - I really encourage you to acquire some good quality blocks and a bolster. For a strap you can substitute in a regular belt or a tie, and a couple of blankets are also really useful.
Props can help you progress into new postures and variations
As you have more time and experience in your physical practice there are some intermediate to advanced yoga movements that at first might seem almost impossible, but...
Props can help you access the feeling of the poses and movements without having to do them in their conventional (perhaps somewhat scary) form.
< < < One of my favourite versions of headstand.
A delicious and risk free option as there is no worry of bearing too much weight on your neck!
The blocks support you, so your arms don't have to work quite so hard.
To set up you should find the right amount of blocks, so your head is not touching the ground but your palms can plant fully on the ground.
If you don't have access to so many blocks, try two chairs, where your shoulders rest of each side.
Then if your hands can't touch down put blocks/books under your hands!
Dolphin / forearm balance preparation pose > > > > > > > > >
Having a belt just above your elbows helps pin your elbows in so they are able to stay more optimally aligned shoulder width apart.
This helps you build the combination of openness and strength in the shoulders to support yourself in the pose.
Props can help you find more comfort & encourage you into an experience of calm and simplicity within
There are lots of ways and benefits from using one or two pieces of yoga equipment for restorative effect in your practice.
Without going into mega-prop-restorative-yoga mode, props can offer you support in the places of the body that most need it.
They allow you to take a position without having to use muscular effort to sustain it…you can therefore stay for longer to experience more of the yoga benefits of a particular posture.
They can also be very useful to make some general poses a little more cosy and comfortable, and you can adjust the level of support you need to suit your body!
I consider these more restorative practices essential for our daily wellbeing. In an era of non-stop activity and stimulation we often experience overload and a build up of tension.
I consider these more restorative, supported yoga practices a real gift. It's that making of time for you that is such an important step in recognising the need to look after oneself.
And once I get into the depth of stillness it's actually so enjoyable and settling that it's a struggle to pull myself up again and move onto other activities. But when I do, I feel much clearer in my mind and restored in my body, and that is a big deal!
Virasana/hero pose with a bolster and a belt > > > > > > > > > > > >
You can adjust the height of the bolster with more blocks or cushions underneath so you can find the height that you need. Working with an angle on the bolster is great too (upwards at your head end).
And I also suggest sitting on a block between your feet, so there is a more smooth graduation for the lower back up onto the bolster. You can't see it very well in this pic, but there is actually a block beneath my hips.
A belt gently around the legs can help keep the knees from drifting too wide as well.
This is a wonderful pose for releasing tension across the front of your body, particularly around the front of your hips and down into your thighs. Very beneficial if you run or cycle a lot.
Props can help you find better alignment
Most of us can benefit from bringing in some props to guide us towards a more balanced alignment in certain poses. This helps avoid over-exertion in one particular part of the body and instead to discover a more evenly distributed effort.
They can also help you find the benefit and strength within a particular pose. Sometimes we miss out on the real opportunities to build strength or to experience the main stretch sensation if we’re not aligned optimally, so props can be really useful.
Here’s a couple of examples that I like.
Lunging with blocks for padding and balance > > > > > > > > > > > >
I commonly see students struggling with balance when getting into this posture.
If that sounds like you: try this tip of settling your front hand on a block about 20cm or so to the side of your front leg. It helps give you a broader foundation and so it's easier balance and then you can concentrate on the stretch for the back thigh more.
A block under the back knees is useful to make your kneecap more comfortable also!
< < < < < Uttanasana supported with blocks.
Most of us would benefit from finding more length in our spine during forward bends.
Blocks under the hands lifts you up so you have the space to find that length and the support to maintain it.
I wrote another post about forward bends, so check that out to learn more about these postures generally.
Props can support you when recovering from an injury
If you’re injured, especially in a commonly used area such as wrists or shoulders, it can be tricky to find a safe version of the practice that won’t exacerbate your injury.
By using props you can gradually build up strength again allowing you to heal as quickly as possible.
This is a vast subject area, so I won’t go into specifics too much, but here's an idea for a downward dog variation.
L-shape/downward dog at the wall
< < < < < <
This is a helpful variation if you're working with a wrist, shoulder or spinal injury - you can still experience the shoulder opening, without bearing weight on the hands and shoulders.
And also with out having to support so much of your own body weight, which definitely helps with back injuries too.
It's also a great yoga pose for beginners, especially if the traditional version of downward dog doesn't feel great in your body to start with!
So I hope you'll give some of these a try and embrace the wisdom of using various props and equipment in your practice. Let me know how you get on! And for more info: