Whether you are just starting to practice yoga or you have been practicing for years, yoga props can enhance your practice in many ways. If you have perfectionist or “I don’t need help” tendencies, you may resist using props. However, you are doing yourself a disservice as they are can help you find more ease and less struggle and strain when you practice. In a general overview, yoga blocks make the floor closer, yoga straps make your arms longer or give you stability, and yoga blankets make the floor softer. There are, of course, other ways to use these props, but these are the most common. Here are 5 reasons that you should consider using props when you practice yoga:
1. Find more ease and less struggle in Standing Poses
Yoga blocks can come in handy when touching the floor is challenging. Sometimes we struggle to balance or lose our form in poses like Revolved Triangle (Parivrtta Trikonasana), Side Angle (Parsvakonasana), and Wide Legged Forward Fold (Prasarita Padottanasana), especially when we can’t get our hand or hands to the floor. Yoga blocks, in this case, can make the floor closer and allow you to find the pose with less strain or grasping. Placing your hand(s) on the block gives you the same support you would get from the floor, but it’s easier to reach.
Your hamstring mobility determines whether you can reach the floor in these poses. In Side Angle, you can always bring your elbow to your knee instead of your hand to the floor. But, if you are moving toward getting your hand on the floor, a yoga block can be a helpful in between stage. Having your hand on a block for Revolved Triangle will help you keep your spine straight as you revolve, while enabling you to keep the weight even on your feet. In Wide Legged Forward Fold, if you can’t reach the floor with your hands, blocks bring the floor closer so that you can focus on the hamstring and adductor stretch with more ease.
2. Find more ease and less struggle in Stretching Poses
We can benefit from all sorts of yoga props when it comes to stretching. Blankets, blocks, and straps will all support our ability to find a more comfortable position for stretching and there are many ways to use them. When you sit on blankets or blocks, it raises your hips which can make certain stretches more attainable. Raising your hips in poses like Head to Knee Pose (Janu Sirsasana) and Bound Angle Pose (Baddha Konasana), will make these poses a little more comfortable. This creates a little more space for you to tip the pelvis. It’s the tip of the pelvis that creates the stretch in these poses. Raising the hips in Half-Seated Spinal Twist (Ardha Matsyendrasana) will take the pressure off the hamstrings of the straight leg, allowing you to get your pelvis and spine more vertical.
Blocks and blankets can also take the pressure off of the hip flexors in forward bends, such as Bound Angle and Head to Knee Pose. When you place a block or blanket under the bent knee(s), the leg can relax as you are no longer resisting gravity. This allows you to relax into the pose, and get a more significant stretch. When you can let go of the struggle and strain, you find more ease in the body and mind.
Yoga straps allow you to reach your feet when your hands don’t. Hooking the strap over the ball of your foot can make it easier to stretch the hamstrings in poses like Seated Forward Bend (Paschimottanasana), or Reclining Hand to Big Toe Pose (Supta Padangusthasana). Holding the strap, rather than forcing the foot/feet hold, will allow you to keep a neutral pelvis. Keeping the pelvis neutral will create more stretch in the hamstrings without allowing the lower back to compensate. When we round the spine, it takes us out of the hamstring stretch, which is typically the stretch we need more.
3. Find more ease and less struggle in Balance Poses
Certain balance poses have a more horizontal alignment which is idea for using props. Poses like Half Moon (Ardha Chandrasana) and Standing Pigeon/#4 (Tada Kapotasana) both bring the torso parallel(ish) to the floor. In Half Moon, placing the bottom hand on a block can give you more stability if your hamstrings don’t allow you to reach the floor. While you can also balance with no hands on the floor, (and it’s fun to play with) it’s more challenging from a stability standpoint. When you are newer to yoga, having the block for support can help you build strength in your standing leg to improve your balance. Same with Standing Pigeon Pose. Placing your hands on blocks if you can’t reach the floor allows you to feel the stretch in your hip without worrying about tipping over. Eventually you want to just balance on one foot, but again, we’re trying to remove the struggle to find more ease. It’s difficult to relax into the stretch if you are unstable on your foot.
Using a strap for Standing Hand to Foot Pose 1 and 2 (Eka Pada Padangusthasana 1 and 2) can help you work with a straight leg when you can’t reach your foot comfortably. It allows you to focus on your standing leg stability and pelvic alignment which will improve your balance. You can also keep the lifted leg bent and hold under the thigh, but then you lose the hamstring stretch opportunity.
4. Yoga Props as Visual Guidance as well as Support
Props are also useful as a Dristi (Gaze) when there is only a blank wall in front of you. You can place the block against the wall so you have something to look at. Having something specific to look at gives you better balance.
If you struggle with poses such as Crow Pose (Bakasana) or Low Plank/4 Pointed Staff Pose (Chaturanga Dandasana), blocks can guide you into the right spot. With Crow Pose, you can place a block under your head about a foot in front of your hands to give you more confidence when lifting your feet off the floor. It puts you into a more forward position to allow you to lift your feet. Once you feel comfortable with that alignment, placing a blanket in front of you can act as a “crash pad” if you are worried about falling on your face.
With Chaturanga, placing a block 6-10″ in front of your palms helps you find the forward movement. Aim your chest for the block to bring your shoulder joint forward of your elbow joint. You can even place your chest on the block if it’s in the 2nd position, giving you support as you build strength. Blocks can also go under your triceps for support so that you can feel your shoulder blades moving toward your waist. It’s a challenging pose to hold, so using props can help you work on your alignment as you build strength to hold the pose.
Placing a block between your hands for Dolphin Pose (Ardha Pincha Mayurasana), and eventually Scorpion Pose (Pincha Mayurasana) keeps your hands from sliding toward each other. Your forearms should be parallel in both of these poses. Looping a strap around your upper arms, just above the elbows, can prevent your elbow from going wide. This keeps you connected to your upper back without allowing you to shrug your shoulders. A strap around the upper arms can also help with Chaturanga by allowing your ribs to rest on the strap so that you can play with your shoulder blade alignment.
5. Support to Work with the Body That You Have
Yoga is a practice for all bodies, but the poses might not look the same for everybody. We only have one body, and we need to work with what we have. If certain parts of our body are tight or won’t yet support us in the poses, props help us build strength and mobility without added struggle. The goal, when practicing yoga, is to find the balance between strength and ease, finding our Steady, Comfortable Seat (Sthira Sukham Asanam, from Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras). When you can get into a pose without the body struggling, it allows our mind to settle down too. Breathing with ease while practicing reduces our stress and anxiety. It’s why you usually feel better after practicing yoga. Using props removes some of the struggle so that we can get the most out of our yoga practice.
You may eventually get to the point where you no longer need to use props, or you may use them forever. It doesn’t make you a better or worse practitioner one way or the other. Yoga props don’t judge you, they only offer support. Please use them, your mind and body will thank you.
Join the Purple Room Yoga community and stay up to date with classes, workshops, courses, and retreats, by subscribing to my weekly newsletter! Click here to subscribe!