What are Yoga Props and How Can They be Used?
Hey Readers! In this blog post I go over some of the more commonly used yoga props and my favorite ways to use them. Yoga props are EXCELLENT additions to any yoga practice (vigorous, gentle or restorative). There is a common misconception that yoga props only make a pose easier, and that if you use a yoga prop, you are somehow "cheating." This is completely untrue for several reasons. First, yoga props can be used in ways that might make a pose "seem" easier, but in reality, the prop is simply making the pose more accessible to your body on that day - for example, using a block in lizard lunge can allow you to sink a little deeper into your hips, allowing your hips to open up more. Second, yoga props can add buku challenge to your practice, making any pose way more difficult than without the prop - for example, using a blanket for dynamic high lunge slides. Third, sometimes yoga props are used to add variety to a yoga pose - for example, doing downward facing dog with each of your hands on a block. And fourth, props are sometimes used in a completely supportive role because the goal in this scenario is to be able to let go and release into your support - for example, using a bolster under your back in supta baddha konasana (reclined cobbler's pose) can help your chest to open up more as you settle into the support of the bolster.
And listen, I'll be totally honest. When I first starting practicing yoga at a studio, I thought I was "too cool" for props, so I never used props in my practice. But after taking hundreds of classes, I was exposed to new and different ways of using yoga props. And, on top of that, a knee injury forced me to use blocks in my practice, so I could keep my injured knee safe. Now, I am a total yoga prop believer. I keep a variety of yoga props in my home practice space and my car, so I always have props available to use.
The possibilities for prop usage are numerous, far more than I can describe in this blog post. Thus, in this blog post, I will go over some of my favorite ways of using common yoga props. The props discussed in this post include: blocks, bolsters, straps, eye pillows, and blankets.
Blocks are a very commonly used yoga prop, and they can be used in so many different ways. Blocks come in a lightweight foam material or a heavier cork material. The cork blocks are nice if you prefer something heavier in your practice, but for me, I prefer the foam blocks.
Blocks can be used to make a pose more accessible to your body. For instance, I like using a block in revolved triangle (as seen in picture 1 below) because it helps to bring the floor closer to my body, which allows me to access this pose in a deeper, and safer, way. I sometimes use a block in lizard lunge (as seen in picture 2 below) so I can safely deepen the hip flexor stretch on my beg leg. If there is a yoga pose that you are struggling to go deeper in, try using a block and see if that helps you.
Picture 1. Revolved triangle with a block
Picture 2. Lizard lunge with block
Blocks can be used to support your body in a yoga pose. For example, I like to place a block under my sacrum (picture 3 below) for supported bridge pose, especially if my yoga flow involved a lot of hip flexion (bridge pose puts your hips into extension, which is a good counter position for hip flexion). You can also use a block to support your pelvis in seated postures, such as sukhasna (easy seated pose) and virasana (hero's pose - see picture 4 below). Blocks are also used regularly in restorative yoga poses to support various parts of the body.
Picture 3. Supported bridge with block
Picture 4. Hero's pose on a block
Blocks can be used to increase the challenge of a pose. For example, I like to place a block between my arm and thigh, while lying supine, for "block crunches" (picture 5 below). I also like to do standing balance poses on a block. For example, tree pose on a block is a fun variation to traditional tree pose (click here to see my blog post on tree pose variations). Also, sometimes I like to add challenge to various poses (e.g. balance poses, locust) by passing the block behind me and then back around to the front (picture 6 below).
Picture 5. Block crunches
Picture 6. Locust pose with block pass
Bolsters are generally rectangular-shaped, firm pillows. They typically come in two sizes - small or large. Bolsters are often used as a supportive role in yoga poses, especially restorative yoga poses. I like to lie supine (i.e. chest facing upwards) on a bolster to help stretch and open my chest muscles (picture 7, top image), which is absolutely fabulous after a day of sitting at my computer. I also like using a bolster under my knees for a mild inversion pose (picture 7, bottom image).
Picture 7. Chest opener on bolster (top) and mild inversion (bottom) on large bolster, with an eye pillow
A yoga strap is basically a long strip of nonelastic material (usually cotton or nylon) that can be used in a variety of ways.
Straps can help make poses more accessible to your body. For example, I like using a yoga strap around the foot of my lifted leg in dancer's pose to help me lift the leg even higher (picture 8 below).
Picture 8. Dancer's pose with strap
Straps are great for stretching. I love doing supine hip opening stretches with my strap, where the strap is placed under the arch of my lifted foot (picture 9 below). Also, a strap looped around the bottom of both feet in a seated forward fold can help you fold with better biomechanical alignment in your spine and pelvis (picture 10 below).
Picture 9. Supine hip stretches with strap
Picture 10. Seated forward fold with strap
Straps can be used to provide support. Straps can also be tied around the legs to prevent the legs from falling outward, such as in bridge pose or legs up the wall (picture 11 below).
Picture 11. Legs up the wall with strap
The primary use of an eye pillow is exactly as the name sounds - it is a gently weighted rectangular bag that lays over your eyes. I LOVE having an eye pillow for savasana, and definitely for restorative yoga. I always keep an eye pillow in my home yoga space. After a long day of work, a quiet savasana with an eye pillow is just what my body and mind need. Eye pillows can also be used as a gentle weight for various body parts in restorative yoga poses. You can purchase scented eye pillows (e.g. lavender) if you prefer an aromatic experience. Refer to the bottom image in picture 7 to see how to use an eye pillow.
A yoga blanket is usually a thick, sturdy blanket with fringed edges. Blankets can be used to cushion knees or other bony parts in various poses. For example, I always use a blanket when my knee, or knees, come flat to the mat, as in hamstring stretch (picture 12 below) or low lunge (picture 13 below). Other people like to use blankets to sit on during seated meditation or centering at the beginning of practice. Still others find that a blanket is super helpful under the pelvis when doing prone poses, such as locust or bow pose. Blankets can also be used to "up the ante" in a pose, such as using a blanket under your back foot for dynamic lunge slides (you will need a hard floor for this as well).
Picture 12. Hamstring stretch on blanket
Picture 13. Low lunge on blanket
The more commonly used yoga props include blocks, bolsters, straps, eye pillows, and blankets. Yoga props are wonderful tools that can enhance your yoga practice in so many ways. It is untrue that yoga props always make poses easier. Yoga props can be used to make poses more accessible to your body, increase the challenge in a pose, add variety to common poses, support your body, and/or to improve your biomechanical alignment. Yoga props can be purchased at so many different places, including: your local yoga studio, generic online sellers (e.g. Amazon), certain health and recreation stores (e.g. REI, Academy, Dick's), fitness fashion apparel stores (e.g. Athleta, lululemon, etc.), yoga supply stores (e.g. Manduka), and other generic stores (e.g. Target). I highly recommend that you invest in some of these yoga props and begin to use them in your personal yoga practice, if you do not already. Remember, it is NOT cheating to use a yoga prop. Props simply help you to access poses, or parts of poses, in a way that allows you to go deeper, with better alignment.
As always, the information presented in this blog post is derived from my own study of neuroscience, human movement, and anatomy, and yoga. If you have specific questions about the best ways to use yoga props for your body, please consult with your physician, personal trainer, physical therapist, or private yoga teacher. If you are interested in private yoga sessions with me, Jackie, you can book services on my website ("Book Online" from the menu at the top of the page), or you can email me at email@example.com for more information about my services. Also, please subscribe to my website so you can receive my weekly newsletters (scroll to the bottom of the page where you can submit your email address). This will help keep you "in-the-know" about my latest blog releases and other helpful yoga and wellness information. Thanks for reading!
~Namaste, Jackie Allen, M.S., M.Ed., CCC-SLP, RYT-200, RCYT