Supporting Your Yoga Practice
"The ancient yogis used logs of wood, stones, and ropes to help them practice asanas effectively." ~Excerpt from Yoga The Path to Holistic Health, BKS Iyengar
As we move into the New Year, we have so many opportunities and ways we can practice yoga. In the West we have so many different styles of yoga to choose from that it might even be overwhelming. You may have even gone into a yoga class for one reason, say shoulder tension relief, and you came out sweating and in even more pain or discomfort. That was me in my first public class as an adult. I thought, "Oh yeah I want to take traditional yoga, get fierce and fit." After I left that 1.5hr Astanga yoga class, I felt like I just did CrossFit or something. My arms hurt so much that it was difficult to lift the phone to my ear. Yes as a dancer we don't have very strong arms, but I also knew, that was not MY yoga class. After a few trials and errors I found my teacher and what she offered. In her class she offered many different ways to use the props. She says it is their dharma to support us in our yoga practice, why not use them. Why not???
After I left that 1.5hr Astanga yoga class, I felt like I just did CrossFit or something.
Well in my case I felt if you didn't work hard and "no pain, no gain". Oh you've heard that too? Yes in our culture we tend to push ourselves into a place of pain to maybe feel something, feel like we're working, or maybe it is out of a lack of not knowing. Not knowing that in fact there is another way. In the Yoga Sutras of Pantanjali he says that there are 7 causes to our pain and suffering (or Klesas), one of them being the lack of knowledge.
So here I am to tell you there is another way, a way without pain.
Yoga is a way to connect the mind, body and soul towards liberation from the pain and suffering from the life of a human. So why go into your yoga practice with himsa (harmfulness) to get "the pose"? In the Yoga Sutras of Pantanjali, he talks about the 8 limbs of yoga (Astanga). In the first limb, the Yama's (Observances), there is Ahimsa (compassion/non-harmfulness). So treat yourself, and your body/temple/vessel, with care and compassion.
Treat yourself, and your body/temple/vessel, with care and compassion.
The props were given to us through years of many people with many different body types and capabilities needing more support in the practice. Today Mr. B.K.S. Iyengar is the teacher who is credited with giving us a more therapeutic approach to yoga. Mr. Iyengar is one of the two main teachers who were blessed to bring yoga to the west. The other blessed yogi was Sri Pattabi Jois, who gave us the lineage of Astanga yoga. Neither man is wrong in their approach or style of yoga (if you are interested in knowing more about either man, please do investigate for yourself), they are simply different yet they are the same.
What are the props in yoga?
There are many. In the beginning of my serious practice (as I made my decision to become a certified yoga instructor) I thought all you really needed was a mat. Well sure in comparison to some other healing modalities that use giant machines, you sort of really just need a mat. So now we have one prop accounted for (if you consider that a prop). What are the rest?
Blocks are either made out of wood, cork, or foam. Blocks allow the student to bring the floor to them. Wether they are in a forward fold or low lunge, blocks are great for extending the arms, so the student may find more length and width in the waist and shoulders.
Blankets can be made out of wool, cotton or poly-blend. Some blankets might be super giant (ready to cover your mat twice hot-dog style) for a more restorative practice. Or they come with a little fringe that gives us an easier visual to fold and place on our mats. Blankets are a great tool for those who might need a bit more cushioning under sensitive wrists or knees in certain poses like all fours or low lung.
Straps come in different lengths and with different buckle like attachments. Straps are wonderful to help the arms open and reach to places they might not be able to when we first begin our practice. You can use the straps to wrap around your feet to find proper alignment in your spine in a forward fold. You may also find them useful to hold onto your foot in a backbend or thigh stretch.
Bolsters also come in different shapes, usually either a rectangle or more rounded. Bolsters are great to aide in sitting postures that is required for meditation and pranayama (breathwork).
The use of props are here to support our practice by giving us length, balance and more gentle approach to our asana (pose) practice.
Interested in learning more?
I will be hosting a workshop on January 20th at Square One Yoga Collective in El Cerrito. Link to sign up here.
Can't make it due to distance? Do you practice yoga? Want to start?
You can sign up on my website for a yoga private to help support your yoga practice. Link is here.