By: Megan Miller
“Sthira Sukham Asanam”
Patanjali Yoga Sutra 2.46
An Asana should have the dual qualities of stability
and comfort, strength and stillness, steadiness and joy.
Yoga props can profoundly improve your practice. Instructors often incorporate the use of blocks, bolsters, blankets, and straps to help to make postures more accessible, stable, aligned, safe, and comfortable. By providing support, these props enable you to focus on relaxing both the body and the mind. This guide can help you become more familiar with the uses and benefits of yoga props, and enhance your practice.
Blocks are used to open up space, allowing you to go deeper and to stay in postures longer. Using blocks can improve alignment, which brings an ease to many of the postures. These props are especially helpful if you have very tight hamstring muscles during poses such as Uttansana (Standing Forward Fold), Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward Facing Dog), Trikonasana (Triangle), Parsvottanasana (Pyramid), and Ardha Chandrasana (Half Moon).
With a brick-like design, blocks can be used at three levels, offering varying degrees of support. Sitting with a block between the feet in Virasana (Hero) can make the pose safer and more comfortable by eliminating knee strain. Sitting up on a block in seated positions such as Sukhasana (Easy Pose) is a terrific modification if you have tight hamstrings and/or hip flexors (quads). The tighter the muscles are, especially the hips, the more height helps. As your practice progresses, your muscles will begin to lengthen and blocks can then either be lowered or perhaps may no longer be needed.
BOLSTERS AND BLANKETS
Both of these props are utilized to cushion or elevate various body parts for comfort and relaxation. Just like with blocks, they can be used in seated postures such as Sukhasana if your knees are higher than your hips or your low back is tight while legs are crossed. If your hamstrings are very tight, sitting up on the edge of a folded blanket is especially important in seated forward folds (Paschimottanasana/Upavistha Konasana/Janu Sirsasana) to bring the pelvis to a neutral position and protect the low back. Bolsters, which look like cylindrical or rectangular cushions, can be used to help recline in poses such as Supta Virasana (Reclining Hero Pose). Using these props under the hips in Legs up the Wall (Viparita Karani) or under the knees in Savasana softens and relieves tension leading to a more restful pose.
Straps are a fabulous tool to stretch and open areas in the body, including the hamstrings, shoulders, and side bodies. In either Reclining Head to Big Toe Pose (Supta Padangusthasana) or Standing Extended Head to Toe Pose (Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana), straps can safely increase flexibility and provide stability. They bridge the gap between the hands in binding postures like Bound Extended Side Angle Pose (Utthita Parsvakonasana) and create a bigger stretch in the upper back in Natarajasana (King Dancer). Straps can be used between the hands when the arms are extended to take standing side bends, or behind the back for shoulder openers. These props can also be looped and used in many ways to strap arms, legs, and feet together and create stability, teach alignment, or maintain key actions or elements of poses.
Megan Miller is 200 RYT in both Forrest Yoga and Anusara Yoga (through Kathy Simonik and Pulsation Yoga). She is currently completing a 500 RYT Advanced Teacher’s Training at Prairie Yoga, which is influenced by the teachings of Iyengar Yoga. Practice with Megan during her classes on Monday and Friday in the Arlington Heights studio.