There are many reasons why props are used in yoga. Their use was pioneered by B.K.S Iyengar whose in-depth work with props, people of all ages and health conditions made yoga accessible to all. Props are an aid to be used according to the needs of the moment, the asana (posture) and the student.
Some main reasons we use props:
To be able to access a pose otherwise difficult to perform.
For students with limitations or ailments (could be simple inflexibility) a block, belt or bolster will allow the student to do the pose correctly and safely. Take, for instance, supta padangusthasana (a pose where you hold your big toe with your index, middle finger and thumb). For many students it is difficult to hold the toe while maintaining proper alignment of the hips and keeping the leg straight. So we take a strap and place it around the foot. This allows us to keep the leg straight so we stretch the entire back of the leg and the muscles, rather than putting strain on the tendons or ligaments. Working in this way keeps you healthy, prevents injury like a pull or tear of your hamstring, and helps you work in an intelligent way with less effort and risk. Other poses, like urdhva dhanurasana (upward bow pose) or viparitta dandasana (inverted staff pose) are very challenging to do without support. So we may use a chair or bolsters so you can perform the pose and receive the benefits of the pose.
Arielle relaxing in Viparitta Dandasana.
To stay longer in the pose.
In order to work on the subtleties of your alignment, and fully receive the benefits of the pose, you need to stay in it. In our alignment classes, it’s common to repeat the same asana many times, or to hold them for longer periods. The use of props can remove the amount of muscular effort required to stay in the pose longer, thus allowing you to work in a deep and intelligent manner.
They provide stability.
For poses that may be difficult to balance in, we may ask you to do the pose at the wall, or use the yoga wall ropes or a chair. That doesn’t mean you will always use the prop, but sometimes we are shaky or unstable and require the help of props. Props are your friends! If we want our mind to be stable and tranquil, we need our body to be stable. After all, the definition of yoga (as given to us by Sage Patanjali) is:
“Yoga is the cessation of the fluctuations of consciousness” (in sanskrit ‘yogah citta vritti nirodhah’)
In other words, yoga is a process through which we become involved in what’s happening with our body, and through our physical practice and awareness we bring stillness to the mind. Props are just one of the tools we use to bring stillness through stability.
They provide awareness.
We love getting creative with props, as the possibilities are endless! You might take a block underneath the shoulder blades to feel what it is to move the shoulder blades into the body to open your chest. Or we may use a chair in virabhadrasana II to understand how it feels to have the front leg parallel with the floor. Taking a strap around the wrists while in urdhva hastasana (upward hand pose) allows you to sense whether your arms are taken back in line with the ears evenly and whether they’re straight. The props are there to guide us in sensing and feeling the correct actions and alignment of our bones, muscles, skin and even to feel the movement of the breath in our bodies. They are indispensable to a precision alignment yoga practice.