In the years that I have been practicing yoga, I have definitely hopped back and forth between the two camps of thought about using props in your yoga practice.
My early teachers were supporters of props, but encouraged you to try first without them. To be sure you aren’t using them as a crutch, but to have them nearby to expand your pose or practice if necessary.
One teacher in between then and now was adamant – NO PROPS. None. Nada. She reminded often that yoga began in caves without foam blocks, straps, wheels or any of the things. She often said that the point of yoga was to get into your body and become aware. Using props interferes with this ability.
She was so adamant about this (and so scary about it) that I stopped using all props. Cold turkey. I actually got rid of the ones I had at home (big mistake). She seemed so worldy and wise and her words made sense…. until they didn’t.
Fast forward a few years to a new teacher. My teacher. The one who saw me struggling in my body, in the weight that had come from my illness. In the frustration of not being able to achieve what had once been so simple.
Very deftly, without hesitation or even a pause in her teaching, she slid two blocks under my hands during adho mukha svanasana (downward facing dog) and with soft words, verbally adjusted my body. Ahhh…. there was that depth I hadn’t felt for a few years. There was the alignment of my shoulder blades on my back. There was the lift I needed when a moment later we swung our right foot high and brought it forward to step through into a lunge. Something I had not been able to do for almost three years at that point. (that same “no props” teacher had told me I had too much in my middle section to do that pose and showed me how to adjust into something nowhere near a lunge). My psoas screamed at me for a minute, but then relaxed into what has become one of my favorite poses to love hate: Utthan Pristhasana, the Lizard lunge. I decide that I love props. I use them ardently in my practice and am able to achieve many poses I had not previously been able to achieve. Opening space. Opening tograce.
Fast forward a few more years, I am in a different teacher’s studio. One where my props are still in my bag. I had gotten distracted chatting and only managed to roll my mat out before heading into seated meditation to start the class. At the first adho muhka, I realized my error. No blocks to lift me. As we swung our foot high and through, I had no blocks to lift me. As we curled back, I had no blocks to lift me. But what I did have was a brief surge of panic. How was I going to move through this practice without my blocks? What if we did Paschimottanasana (Seated forward bend), how would I reach my feet without my strap?
This is yoga, people.
I dug deep, reached for my breath, and told myself – do the best you can, where you are, with what you have.
And when I looked up, not only was I folded all the way forward in Paschi, my hands were well past my feet (where a block would have been, had I had mine).
Now I understood why that teacher had forbidden props in her studio (though, I suspect finances were also a part of that decision). Without the props, you are forced to explore your body, to do what your body is able to do, or not do, on any given day. You are forced to look inside and not rely on external help.
However, we all need external help from time to time, don’t we? Yes, we do.
With the props, you enable your body to go further, to reach, to achieve. To obtain a pose and know how that pose feels in your body. To remove the force of the struggle and surrender into the peace of the struggle. Props allow you to win.
Rarely will you see me in a class without, at a minimum, two sturdy foam blocks and a strap. Possibly a yoga wheel depending on the class or teacher. But I no longer default to using them. I make the shape first and then decide if I need the prop. It isn’t just automatic to grab and go. They have become the tools they are meant to be.
How do you feel about using props in your practice?