What, Why, Try: 4 Yoga Props to Deepen Your Practice

Image Credit:  Rachel A. K.


Look around any yoga studio, and you’ll find an arsenal of blocks, straps, blankets, bolsters and more. Just like us, yoga props come in all shapes, sizes, colors and forms. Figuring out how, why and when to use them can be a daunting task. Use the guide below to kick start propping your practice.

The Story behind Props

Props make yoga accessible and more achievable to beginners, and give well-seasoned practitioners’ that extra umph needed to take poses to the next level. Props aid us in keeping our practice safe; props allow us to refine our alignment, help us balance, and create space, length and support for us to deepen into poses. We use props to set ourselves up for success in our practice, to lend support while we build strength and flexibility, and to give us the confidence to take our poses to the next level.

1.  YOGA MAT

What it is:

A yoga mat is oftentimes the very first prop we encounter in yoga practice. A mat is a flat piece of non-slip textile, is generally rectangular in shape and is available in a variety of colors, designs, materials, and sizes.

Why We Use it:

We use a mat to keep our hands and feet from slipping out from underneath us as we move through practice. A good yoga mat offers plenty of grip to help keep us in postures until we build enough strength to hold poses without aid.

Try it:

Experiment with a matless practice by taking downward facing dog for a walk. Pop your mat down on a wooden, tile or firm surface of any kind. Settle into downdog in the center of your mat and spend five breaths here.

Walk your dog toward the back of the mat and position toes on back edge. Firm core and thighs, push down through hands, and step both feet off the back of the mat onto the floor. Hold for five breaths, and come to downdog in the center of your mat once more. Now walk your dog toward the top of your mat. Find strength in your shoulders, anchor through legs, firm your belly and place hands in front of mat on bare floor. Hold for five breaths, and release.

Notice what happened? Without a mat under your hands or feet, it might have been much more challenging to hold downdog. You may have noticed new muscles firing up to keep your hands and feet in position. Once you’ve aced hands and feet off your mat, you’re ready to try downward dog with no mat at all!

 2.  BLOCK

What it is:

A yoga block is a high-density cube (usually 9 inch x 6 inch x 4 inch or 3 inch, but more sizes are available) typically made of cork, foam, bamboo or wood.

Why We Use it:

Anytime our hands can’t comfortably touch the ground in lunges or folds is a great time to bring a block into the picture. We use blocks to refine alignment and help us maintain balance.

Try it:

There are a million and one different ways to use blocks. Here are two we’re sure you’ll love:

-Place a block under each hand in forward fold to bear the weight of arms and shoulders.

-Place a block just inside front foot in Triangle. Place bottom hand on block to stabilize your balance and maintain length in both side bodies.

In any pose we feel the need to bring the floor up to meet our hands (since we can’t always make our hands reach the floor), recruit a block or two to lend support. 

3.  STRAP

What it is:

A yoga strap is long, belt-like length of nylon, cotton or blend that has some type of buckle or cinch attached to the end.

Why We Use it:

Use a strap to deepen poses and achieve proper alignment.

Try it:

Hand to foot pose (standing, seated or reclined) is prime candidate for strapping. Practice using a strap in seated with one leg extended. Use buckle at the end of strap to create a loop just big enough to slide over toes. Position the strap on the ball of your extended foot. Firm top of extended thigh, find length in the spine, and gently pull on the long end of the strap to draw toes toward knee. Try in reclined and standing as well, and feel how the strap aids in straightening the spine.

Superhero Warrior II pose by positioning loop around the upper front thigh, tail of strap facing out. Create tension in strap with front hand. Guide strap toward butt to use as leverage to exaggerate external rotation in thigh bone, and feel a deepening into your lunge.

 

4.  BLANKET

What it is:

A yoga blanket is a woven 88 inch x 65 inch blanket made of a variety of materials (typically cotton, wool or synthetics) and is available in a variety of colors and patterns.

Why We Use it:

Yoga blankets are no one-trick ponies. Blankets are used to give us extra padding (think kneeling poses), to relieve pressure on joints, and help us deepen into our poses.

Try it:

Blankets can be folded and rolled nearly every which way. Enjoy blankets in one of three ways during Savasana:

-roll blanket up entirely from shoulder-stand height and place under knees for support,

-fold blanket in three (keep the folded edge long) to place under shoulder blades to create opening in the chest,

-or open blanket up entirely to stay toasty warm by covering your body completely.

Yoga props exist all around us. Walls, chairs, even other people can and are used as props in getting the most from our practice. A well-trained teacher, like the ones you’ll find on Yoga Travel Tree retreats and teacher trainings, can help guide you through the many uses and applications of props. By incorporating props into practice, we can safely support, deepen and refine poses while building strength and flexibility along the way.

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