PROPS: Who Needs Them and Why Use Them?
PROPS: WHO NEEDS THEM AND WHY USE THEM?
(adapted from Yoga At Home: Inspiration for Creating Your Own Home Practice, by Linda Sparrowe)
For a lot of students, having to use props is a sign of being less able, less flexible, and less cool than the others around them. And, sadly, we as teachers can inadvertently encourage prop shaming by the language we use during class: “If you can’t reach the floor, use a block…” “If you’re not flexible/strong/advanced enough, you’ll need to use a strap…” Instead, we should be encouraging ALL students, from time to time, to add props to their practice as part of their self-inquiry. Suggestions like “What would it feel like to place a block under your hand in Triangle this morning? How does it change the expression of this pose? Can you feel a little more length in the bottom ribs?” Or “If your hamstrings are complaining a little bit today, try giving them a break by bending your knees and placing your hands on blocks…”
1. Props take the struggle away. For newcomers to yoga (or those coming back to it after a time away), some poses may seem confusing or even foreign. Props can help by decreasing the number of things their body (and mind) have to worry about so they can focus on the mechanics of the pose — where to put their feet, how to extend their arm — and create length, space, and ease in the body that come with proper alignment. Using conventional props, or even a willing partner, will help students stay in a pose long enough to notice the stretch in a back leg or the external rotation of an arm and, equally important, the rhythm of the breath and the state of the mind. Once students gain a little confidence, they can experiment with extending more, bending deeper, and breathing more evenly.
Teaching Suggestion: For your more seasoned practitioners, invite them to use props as a gentle reminder to lighten up, back off, and slow down. Consider using props in class as a way for them to find more ease in the poses they already do or to work on some they’ve never done before.
2. Props give the body instant feedback. Both beginning students and long-time practitioners benefit when they can feel the pose and understand which muscles need to be activated and which ones can relax. For example, when you put a block between your legs in Utkatasana (Chair Pose),you can tell pretty quickly whether your inner thigh muscles are firing (the block stays in place) or whether they aren’t really engaged in the process (the block slips free). By using props, yoga practice becomes more about listening and less about achieving a goal.
Teaching Suggestion: Have your students experiment with using props in a particular pose, then suggest they put the props aside and try the pose again. Ask these questions: Do you notice anything different? Was the feedback helpful? Do you prefer the lift you get from using a block or a strap?
3. Props extend opportunities for practice. You certainly don’t want your students to feel that they have to limit their practice to those days when the mind is willing and the body feels strong and capable. What happens when someone’s tired or anxious, injured or coming down with a cold? Do they have to shelve their practice until they feel better? Not if they use props. Props allow students (and teachers) to modify and organize poses and sequences to better respond to their physical and emotional needs. By draping oneself over a bolster, for example, one can still benefit from energizing backbends without having to expend a lot of muscular effort.
4. Props help activate the body’s own intelligence. Do you ever feel like you’re just going through the motions in your own practice, mindlessly doing your Surya Namaskars, standing poses, arm balances, backbends, and twists? Take a break, mix things up, and reach for a few props. Props can move us from autopilot to discrimination, according to BKS Iyengar, and the more we learn to discriminate — to hear and feel what our body is telling us — the more we can discard what contracts or harms and embrace what expands and enlivens.