Developing a Home Practice: Preparation
Yoga props have become increasingly easy to obtain, even showing up in bookstores and supermarkets. The internet is a further resource for any number of yoga accessories of varying degrees of usefulness. Here are the basic props, all developed by BKS Iyengar. Though essential for a balanced and supportive asana practice, household objects can often be found as adequate substitutes. When Mr. Iyengar started in the 1930’s he was using bricks and planks of wood to support him. When you get skilled enough in the use of props, no solid object will be safe from your practical gaze. Any table or piece of furniture can suddenly become a yoga prop.
Mat – Useful for two reasons: to provide cushioning underneath you when you are lying on the floor and to provide traction for your feet in standing poses. Some mats now come with lines printed on them to help with the alignment of the body. You could also draw the lines yourself with a permanent marker and a long piece of wood as a ruler.
Block - The block is perhaps the most versatile of yoga props, for under hands and feet, to act as spacers or supports for the trunk or head. Books can often be used as substitutes. Old phone books are particularly useful. Tape them up with packing tape or gaffer’s tape to make them sturdier.
Belt – Another useful prop, especially if the backs of the legs are tight and you need to reach your feet in poses such as those where the legs are raised and in forward extensions. A sturdy buckle will mean you can make a loop out of the belt to keep the various limbs together.
Blanket – Firm blankets are best. It is important to fold blankets well, making clean edges and even surfaces. Unevenness in the blanket underneath you will lead to unevenness in your body.
Chair – A sturdy metal folding chair with the back knocked out is the most ideal. Such chairs come cheap if you want to do the work yourself. As long as you are able to fit your legs comfortably through the back of the chair, however, you are in business.
Bolster – It is possible to fake a bolster by rolling up several blankets and tying them off with a belt. A good, sturdy bolster filled with cotton batting, however, can provide a lot of support for restorative poses.
Sandbag – any form of weight can be useful, even free weights and ankle weights.
Props are an essential part of a yoga practice. Rather than an impediment, or even an admission of failure, props are there to help you achieve opening and balance in your poses. What good is getting your hand to the floor in Utthita Trikonasana (Triangle Pose) if you strain the back of your leg, crunch into your neck and push into your lower back? Doing a pose in this manner is worse than not doing it at all. You will merely damage yourself, either in the moment or over a period of time, and you will certainly not be able to achieve any form of meditative insight in your poses.
Here are some situations in which to use props to modify poses:
- • In standing poses, when you are unable to place your hand on the floor, put it on a block, or even a chair.
• In any pose where you are unable to grab your foot where required, such as a forward extension, loop a belt around the foot and hold onto the ends of the belt.
• In any pose where you need to stabilize the legs and prevent them from coming apart, such is in a backward extension to protect the lower back, bind the legs with a belt.
• In any seated pose when you are unable to elongate up out of the pelvis and there is pressure on the lower back, sit up on folded blankets, a block, or even a bolster.
Think of the props as extensions of your body. Even better, think of them as your teachers. You don’t have to use every prop and do every variation. I would encourage you to experiment and discover, to practice and play. Eventually the props will become invisible to you. They will be no more inconvenient than the air around you and the floor beneath you. All you will be aware of is your inner state of being: physical, mental and spiritual all in one.