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Yoga Props: Do you really need them?

When, how, and why to use yoga props.

There are a TON of yoga products on the market in this post I'm going to go over some common uses of the props you are likely to see in your next yoga class. There are multiple uses for all of these props and if the prop helps to give you better alignment you are using it correctly. Please remember when doing yoga that it is your practice and you know your body. Listen to what your body is telling you, the teacher is there to help guide you through the practice not force you into poses that are causing pain or making you feel unsafe. If you do not feel comfortable for whatever reason doing a pose with or without props do not use that pose in your practice.

Again, there are multiple uses for each of these props and I will only go over some common uses for them.

Prop 1: The Yoga Mat

This one seems like a no brainer but it is a prop and it can be the most important prop you have in your bag. Depending on the style of yoga you are practicing you may want a different mat or a blanket/rug instead of a sticky mat. Your mat should be comfortable, stable, and grippy so you do not slide around. Some mats require a breaking in period before they are really grippy/sticky so make sure you look at the care instructions for your mat.

Really think about what your practice involves and do a little research before you buy your next mat. For those of you new to your practice if you are at a gym/studio that has mats for public use grab one and practice on that for a bit. Ask other people in class if they like their mat and why/why not, talk to your yoga teacher, or even the studio owner. Most people I've encountered in class (including online classes) are friendly and always willing to offer tips and talk about their gear. If you tend to travel with your mat keep the weight in mind, no one wants to lug a heavy mat back and forth to the gym or studio 3 times a week, but for your home practice if you have dedicated spot to keep it the weight isn't such a big deal.

I love my mat for many reasons but during vinyasa I cover it with a yoga rug/towel because it is more absorbent and I tend to sweat during my practice which can make my mat a hazard to my practice.

Prop 2: The Yoga Block/Brick

Yoga blocks are a super common prop. They help with alignment and are most often used to "bring the floor to you". Most of the time you are going to see blocks used for hand placement in a forward bend or lunge. Poses like Triangle, Half Moon, Runner's Lunge, and Standing Split use blocks a lot to help with balance or alignment. They are also great for resting your feet on for many reclined poses like Reclined Pigeon or placing under/between your knees in twist that has you laying on your mat.

A block can also intensify a stretch by raising the floor for someone that is extra flexible and cannot feel the stretch otherwise. My sister is a great example of this she is hyper flexible in her hips and is often looking for the "next step" in a pose take Lizard Pose for example this can be stepped up by placing her foot on a block.

I know for a long time when my head was below my hips my balance was off and I felt unstable. So there was always a block at each end of mat. Sometimes it's still there and when I am teaching if I know any of the above poses are part of class that day I bring out the blocks and just place them next to my students so they have them if they choose to use them.

“It is through the alignment of the body that I discovered the alignment of my mind, self, and intelligence.” B.K.S. Iyengar

Prop 3: The Yoga Strap

The yoga strap is another very versatile prop with many uses. In most classes you'll see them used to assist with binds, leg, and arm stretches. Poses like Cow Face, Dancer, Lord of the Dance, Half Plough, Camel, and Seated Forward Fold are a great time to use the yoga strap. It's perfect for those instances when you can't reach that bind. For Half Plough and other leg stretches it helps target your hamstrings and can allow them to release tension it will also help compensate while you are building up your core strength.

Please remember to not over do it just because you have that prop. If you feel the stretch is too intense lighten up the intensity a bit only go as far as your body will allow.

* I have seen them used to force the body into a bind and with proper supervision I can see the usefulness of that though I do not use them in that way for my practice. I do not force my body to do something it is not ready or willing to do.

Prop 4: The Yoga Bolster

This is a staple for those of us that have a Restorative practice. It's basically a firm pillow typically filled with cotton or buckwheat and used to help with alignment and comfort during Restorative. That is not it's only use however. Bolsters can be used as a cushion in seated poses and come in especially handy for those that have lower back pain or hip pain. I love placing one under my hips during an inversion like Half Plough, it takes away some of the discomfort during that pose. It's also great placed under the knees during Savasana to alleviate lower back pain and make for a more pleasant final rest/meditation.

I will occasionally use it to rest my knees on during a Supine Twist pose for those days when my back isn't as mobile as I would like it to be. It's also wonderful in Reclined Bound Angle to be placed under the knees to alleviate hip discomfort. My mom and my baby sister both use a bolster during Savasana most of the time.

Prop 5: The Yoga Blanket

Yep those Mexican Blankets you see in class do have a purpose other than just keeping you warm and cozy. They (or any firm blanket) can be used in place of a bolster, strap, or a block. You can fold them, roll them, and bunch them up to serve many purposes.

I've used a blanket in just about every style class. We've folded it thin and sat on it for hip/lower back pain, placed a folded blanket under knees or hands for some softness when those joints need a little less pressure on them. We've rolled them up nice and fat then used them in place of a bolster, rolled into a thin long tube and placed it down the spine as a chest opener, took that tube and stood on it to give our feet a nice stretch along with our lower legs front and back. Folded up thick they can be used in place of blocks for some poses.

Really the blanket is so versatile it can replace other props when space is limited. Laid flat it can even be your yoga mat for Restorative, Meditation, or outside (NEVER do this on a slippery surface like a wood or tile floor please). I think it is the wonder prop. Of course my favorite use of the blanket is as a blanket in Savasana. It makes me feel very safe and secure in such a vulnerable pose.

In closing I would like to say props are not only for beginners or people that are weak or injured. Often it takes someone really in tune with their body to know they need a prop.

Props are wonderful but not always necessary for every person or class. There are days I am reaching for a block on poses I practices daily and there are days I leave them on floor for poses I typically would use props. They are nice to have but it is your practice and you can practice however you would like.

Remember injury will have a greater impact on your life than pridefully not using props when you should have used one. So if you are against the use of them try asking yourself why. They have helped my get into poses I never thought I would be able to do and now some of them I am doing without the prop or the fear.

I hope you have enjoyed this post and I hope you are able to enhance your practice.


Sarah T.

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