I believe in using props for yoga asana practice.
If you are starting a home practice, the supplies I recommend are (in relative order):
Comfortable, clean clothing
A yoga mat
Two yoga blocks (standard size of 4″ by 4″ by 9″), preferably foam
A yoga blanket (or two) – any firm, throw-sized blanket will work
A strap (non-stretch)
A bolster (firm)
If you have the above, you are well on the way to creating a safe, joyful practice!
If you are short on funds and/or time resources, or you cannot find a friend to loan you these items – please know that really, any nonslip surface (including your carpeted floor) will work for yoga.
But I want you to think about something.
By even considering making yoga a part of your life, you are investing your most valuable resource – time.
If you are willing to invest time, finding some funding is a way to respect that commitment. It is worth the time – and saving pennies, even – to invest in a mat and blocks.
You can find both for under $25.
Don’t worry if they’re not “top of the line”. I didn’t start with “top of the line” stuff – and by the way, I still mostly wear t-shirts and sweatpants to practice.
Don’t get too over-worried about props. There are loads of accoutrement for yoga! So if you’ve made a start on the basics above, you’re doing well.
Yoga has been around about 5,000 years! Unfortunately in America, yoga is often looked at as a workout, a fitness regime, or an extreme flexibility practice. Due to the Western colonization of yoga we’ve developed a distinctly white-washed, classist, fatphobic, culturally appropriative, ableist, Capitalist and FITSPO concept of yoga.
I have a lot more to say about the above at some other time!
But for now I will say: all of the above are problems. But when it comes to “I don’t need props” – fitspo is probably the biggest obstacle.
Fitspo transforms the practice of yoga into another workout in which we want to:
demonstrate impressive-looking results to the class (or instructor),
and/or achieve a certain look, physique, or series of abilities,
and/or compete with other students.
Fitspo focusses on results like weight loss, or getting “smaller” – but fitspo may also focus on making your poses (called asana) LOOK good.
And that’s where people will refuse props, telling me they “don’t need them”.
I see this all the time. I’ll help lead a class into their version of a split – hanumanasana. I’ll encourage them to use blocks under their front extended leg – as many blocks as they need to feel stable. I’ll further encourage them to use blocks under their hands as well, so they can “rest” in a split – feeling a wonderful sensation without pain – and let gravity help them find ease and exhilaration in the asana.
Inevitably, the student who told me they “don’t need props” will be struggling to get their pelvis as low to the ground as possible, propping the weight of their body on their arms, and not only looking shaky but risking a very real injury – a hamstring or groin strain or tear.
If you’ve been that student – if you’ve ever hurt yourself while trying to “keep up” or look good –
Well, so have I!
Welcome to the club!
So: no one should feel bad about this!
It can take a long time – sometimes even years! – to start listening to the instructor’s cues, and (far more importantly) to begin listening to our body’s signals.
It can also take a lot of time – and hard work – to feel confident about using props, instead of being worried what other students (or the instructor) will think. It takes courage or self-confidence to stop while the other students are practicing, and walk over to collect more props to assist you in the pose.
But that is exactly what I invite you to do.
Students who behave this way – who listen to their bodies with care – show me they are invested in the journey, and they’re going to learn to love the practice.
One more point:
Props don’t just help you stay safe.
They can help you achieve an alignment, posture, or relaxation which allows you to more fully experience the benefits of the pose.
Here is one example.
If you are not able to comfortably bring your forehead to the mat in child’s pose (balasana), even with your knees apart, the use of props to provide support to your forehead, chest, belly, knees or arms – may make all the difference in the world! Instead of feeling pain, strain or uncertainty – and trying to mask your ragged breath – you’ll relax into this restorative pose and access your pranayama (breath-energy) all the better.
I invite you to stop seeing props as a challenge to your ego.
If nothing else: please trust me that if you make yourself miserable on the mat, you won’t want to come back.
So if you’re planning on making yourself hate practice – well, why start in the first place?
You began your practice of yoga because you believed in it – or at least, you were willing to approach with an open mind.
So let props help your body.
You’ll come to love them as much as I do!
I did not include links in this post for two reasons: I am not trying to sell anything (or get a kickback for link sales), and also – these things are pretty simple to find. If you have any questions, schedule a private session or come to class!
My every aim is to be helpful.
Here’s a pretty good article breaking fitspo down. If the link doesn’t work, let me know and I’ll update this post with a new one!