Once upon a time, I was a person that used no props in my practice. Not even a mat. Then one day I ended up on hardwood, so a mat was purchased. Then one day I walked into an aerial studio, and I gave aerial yoga a try. I started spending more times in studios and discovering more uses for props. Blocks and blankets crept into my house, and a couple of bolsters. Then some straps, and a wheel. Eventually a whole aerial rig. Some eggs, some balls, a ridiculous play chest full of yoga props. So why did I go from nothing to so much?
I still maintain one of the best things about yoga is you literally need nothing to do it. No fancy clothes, no mat, no props. Just a willingness to set aside some time and focus on yourself, breathing, moving, and being aware of all that happens within those two simple things.
Props can be a nice enhancement to this breathing and moving, though. A simple prop behind the back can help you breathe more easily, or it can help alleviate tension you might feel as you sit or lay back. I’ll talk more about comfort and ease in another post, but props can help with the quest to find oneself in a comfortable position, so the mind is no longer focused on the discomforts and it is freed up to look at other things. Like what actually lives inside the mind. What thoughts are happening there when “oooh, this feels awful” moves away from the brain.
Sometimes a new prop can breathe life into your practice. If coming to the mat has been getting a little harder, something different like a wheel or an aerial hammock might be just the thing to bring you back into your practice. Even if novelty brings you back, the awareness you derive from the new sensations will enhance your practice even when you remove the prop. Suddenly you remember what it was like to feel lifted by the hammock, or even by the teacher with a strap, in down dog. Or how it felt to soften the body around the wheel and open more into your backbend because you had support. Or the glee you feel in what is essentially a plank pose as you balance on a swing or a wheel.
Some days I want to hold a pose, and I can’t. Whether it’s because I’m tired, because something is fatigued, or I just haven’t been able to find my way into the pose without a prop, I may enjoy the energy lines I feel when I’m in a pose. Props can support us so we feel and discover those lines of energy, so they start to sink into our body’s memory, so we receive some of the benefit of holding the pose even if we can’t derive all of it yet. When I see or hear the mindset that one shouldn’t use a prop because they think they are somehow not doing the pose, or they are doing less of the pose, it reminds me of when a person decides to refuse all help offered to them, all suggestions made to them, because what they really want is to wallow in their discomfort.
Props can also challenge you, bringing new awareness to poses you tend to check out in, whether you start thinking about something else or you’re picking lint off your pants, add a prop, make the pose a little harder, and suddenly the breathing pattern changes. You feel muscles you might not have felt in a while, or ever, in the pose. Challenges like this bring us quickly back to the present moment, quickly back to what’s happening inside as opposed to the outside.
Speaking of checking out, even if you’re using a prop to make something easier or more accessible, make sure you stay present with the moment. Not only is it the point, but it reduces the chance that you become overly reliant on the prop. Over reliance can result in injury if the prop fails – slipping, turning, or even through our own movements.