It was 2007 and I was partaking in one of my first yoga classes ever. I was a freshman in college taking advantage of free classes provided by the on-campus recreation center. I had been trying out yoga the last several weeks and was enjoying it so far. I was a few breaths into Revolved Triangle Pose and the teacher prompted the class to use yoga blocks to “bring the floor to us.” I was a stubborn 18 year-old former competitive gymnast. Props were for weaklings! I was flexible and strong. I didn’t need such things.
What I was too proud to realize was that I wasn’t as flexible or strong as I used to be. I also never did Revolved Triangle before - a very challenging pose - so my body didn’t know the feel of it or how to balance myself in that kind of twist. In gymnastics, we never held poses for as long as in yoga. I was used to swiftly moving on to the next position. Basically, there were a LOT of new and challenging things happening with my body. Yet I continued to pretend like I knew what I was doing and didn’t reach for the block the teacher placed beside everyone’s mat at the beginning of the class.
We went through a vinyasa flow and came to the pose on the opposite side, the left side. It was even more challenging over there. I kept struggling and, to my dismay, the teacher noticed. She walked over and gently placed the block on it’s tallest height just inside of my front leg. She directed me to put my lower hand on top of the block and because my people-pleasing stumps my stubbornness, I did as she said. My whole body instantly felt lighter. I felt in alignment with my spine not straining at such a weird angle. My torso was parallel to the floor. My hips weren't craning out to the side. I could anchor to the block and actually go even deeper into the twist without hurting my neck. It all made sense!
Over the years, I battled with my stubbornness and letting go of the perfectionism ingrained in me from gymnastics. This showed up in many ways in my life, including in my evolving yoga practice. Thankfully, now many years later, I’m at a point where I never practice without a prop. Not just blocks, but straps, bolsters, blankets, and more! Yoga doesn’t have to be painful, straining, or hard on the body. Yoga is not about suffering. In fact, it’s about soothing your body so you can be as physically comfortable as possible for long meditation afterward (at least, that’s what the ancient teaching of yoga is about).
Props allow us to have a deeper physical and spiritual practice. Maybe they provide support so we can build muscle in a part of the body and eventually go without the prop. Maybe we always use the prop because it’s actually safer than going without it. Maybe we’re doing restorative or yin yoga and the prop(s) makes those resting poses feel so much more yummy.
Because I find props to be so amazing, I want to share with you the ones I actively use in my practice on a daily basis. Their uses are endless and so are their benefits!
It’s likely you’ve seen or even used these at your local yoga studio or gym. They’re usually made of foam or cork and have the dimensions of 4x6x9 inches (there are different sized ones, but these are the most common). These are great for stabilizing yourself in balancing poses by placing your hands or feet on them. They can also be used as mentioned above in the example from my freshman yoga class where they “bring the floor” to you. They’re wonderful for restorative and yin yoga to support parts of the body when you’re in a deep relaxation or stretching pose. These are the blocks I use, but I encourage you to look around and find ones that are most appropriate for you and your practice!
There is no "type" of blanket that is required or specific to yoga. Generally, you want one that’s not too thick or fluffy because the bigger they are, the less practical they are to fold, roll, and work with. Blankets are used for softening, support, and warmth. So whether you use it to pad your knees in a lunge, rolled up under your bum in Child’s Pose, or laid over your body in Shavasana, you’ll be loving the addition of a blanket to your practice! Check out these blankets, which are what I highly recommend and use for my personal practice.
Ah, straps. It was years before I heard a strap being cued for use in a yoga class, which is too bad because they're wonderful! They may not be as commonly used, but straps are the "extenders" to our limbs. They make our arms or legs "longer" to aid in balancing, stretching, and twisting. Ever seen Dancer Pose where the super flexible yogi is reaching over their head and grabbing their foot? It's likely they practiced with a strap for awhile before being flexible enough to reach their foot. What's fun about straps, too, is they can be folded and looped in many ways so they're truly multipurpose. This is the one I choose to practice with and find it to be very safe and sturdy.
Bolsters are a recent discovery for me. I've known about them for awhile, but only purchased one a few months ago. I didn't think it was worth the space they take up, but I was so wrong - they're totally worth it! I can't believe I went all those years without using one. Bolsters are mostly used in restorative and yin yoga, although I'm sure there are ways they can be used in vinyasa and other flow-based practices. They do exactly as they suggest: they bolster. They provide a delicious, firm cushioning for those longer-held poses in a restorative or yin practice. They're like blocks in that they "bring the floor" to you, but they're also like blankets in that they soften and comfort. You could seriously fall asleep using a bolster in Caterpillar Pose! Here's the one I bought for myself and absolutely love. It's a little flatter than others and doubles as a meditation seat.
These are only a few of the props out there. With all of these, take some time to shop around and find what works for you, your body, and your practice. Just as there is no right way to practice yoga, there is no "right" prop...or even right way to use a prop! Heck, my clients see me sitting on my blocks as a mini stool during our sessions. My bolster is stored on my bed and often used as a pillow. My dog happens to think my blanket is her sleeping prop! Their uses are endless and their addition to a yoga practice is absolutely transformative.
Before I conclude, I want to pause and ask what you think about yoga props after reading this. Do they bring up resistance and feel almost threatening, like they did for me initially? Do you already love 'em and use 'em without fail? I wonder what the suggestion of yoga props means to you. I also wonder how this is connected to your overall relationship to receiving help, if at all. For me, deep down they represented taking support that was hard to receive at first. This is very common and if this is how you feel, show yourself some understanding and compassion. Maybe you're not ready to use a prop. If and when you are ready though, start with one and slowly integrate it into your practice. Take it with time and, most importantly, have fun exploring this new object as part of your practice! (P.S. I would recommend this approach to receiving support in your life in general, if that's hard for you!)
Stay tuned for my upcoming blog posts as I will go into detail about each prop, providing more specific examples on how to use them as well as alternatives for if you don't have space or money to own them in your home!