Fitness Magazine

Yoga Props: An Introduction

By Ninazolotow @Yoga4HealthyAge
by Nina
Just the other day, I got this interesting request for information on using props.
Another local yoga instructor and I live in a remote/rural area, and attending high quality trainings is difficult at best. We've been looking for a training that focuses on the use of props, but we've had no luck. We are wondering if you could address in your blog, or recommend a good book, about the use of props for seniors. We are looking to create a more supportive class for seniors without taking them straight to a chair.
Well, dear reader, you’re in luck. Because it just so happens that I was trained in the Iyengar style of yoga, and, in fact, the use of props is a modern invention generally credited to B.K.S. Iyengar himself! As the story goes, at the age of 18 (1937), Iyengar was sent by his guru, Krishnamacharya, to Pune to spread the teaching of yoga to “householders .” Observing that his new students—typically older and stiffer than the boys Iyengar had been training with at the Mysore Palace—were often  unable to find a healthy and comfortable alignment in the yoga asanas, Iyengar came up with the idea of using props, including blocks (called “bricks” in India), blankets, straps, bolsters, chairs and others, to help support the students in their poses. Ideally using a prop helps you achieve correct alignment in the pose when your body is not open enough or strong enough to do the pose without the prop. Here’s a photo of Baxter doing Triangle pose with his hand on a block instead of the floor. (To be completely honest, Baxter has tight hamstrings and these prevent him—along with a lot of other folks out there—from being able to do Triangle pose with his hand touching the floor.)

Yoga Props: An Introduction

Triangle Pose with Block (on highest height)

I’m telling you all this because your best bet for learning how to use props from a teacher is to find an Iyengar yoga teacher (either official certified Iyengar or Iyengar-style), though I expect by now a lot of other types of teachers have adopted them, too. For those of you who don’t have access to a teacher who is an expert at using props, we do have some information on using props on the blog. Our restorative yoga poses, supported inverted poses, and supported forward bends all use them.
I also wrote a post Making Your Own Yoga Props that provides tips for using simple household items (such as books and sashes and bags of rice) in place of “official props.” And, inspired by this reader’s question, I’ll try to write more about props in the coming weeks.
In the meantime, you can learn from using props from yoga books. I’m going to be very bold and recommend one I co-wrote: Moving Toward Balance, the second yoga book I wrote with Rodney Yee. The reason I’m recommending this one is that we both put a lot of thought into how we presented the information on using props in this book. We included a very thorough overview of the types and purposes of props in the chapter “Preparing to Practice,” which even tells you how to fold yoga blankets! And we systematically provided an easy alternative for every single pose in the book, many of which use props. We also tried to keep the use of props very streamlined and simple because we were concerned that for people practicing at home, needing a large number of props to do a pose could be off-putting. Although these “easy” versions of the poses weren’t designed especially for seniors, I think you’ll find many of them totally appropriate versions that are in between the full version of the pose and doing yoga on a chair. And even the ones that don’t use props (such as the easy version of Warrior 2, which has hands on the hips and an only slightly bent knee) will be very suitable for older beginners.
I’ll also recommend The Woman’s Book of Yoga and Health, my most frequently used yoga book. The last section of the book, which is for older women, has some great examples of yoga poses done with props.
You can see classic Iyengar propping in Iyengar’s book Yoga, The Path to Holistic Health. Some of the propping in this book will be very useful to you, though some, well, may just be too complex and/or elaborate. The elaborate setups tend to be employed in specially equipped yoga studios by Iyengar teachers who are trained in their use.
Once you get into the swing of using props, you may find that you are coming up with your own inventions! My own teacher is constantly coming up with new ideas, which stem out of his personal practice. And I myself have come up with a few nifty ideas….

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