A prop is, by definition, a support or an aid. We are encouraged from an early age to be independent but sometimes this independence tips into not asking for help when we need it. Your yoga class is somewhere you can get this support from a simple prop and you don’t even have to ask for its help!
Aisling Conn, who teaches in The Yoga Room and My Yoga Body, has the most comprehensive anatomy and alignment knowledge. I frequently leave after her class intrigued with new ways to look at well-worn asana. She also manages to mix the perfect balance of this knowledge with little gems of ‘the bigger picture’ of yoga too, a skill that takes years of practice.
Aisling is writing a series of posts with lots of suggestions on ways to get the most from your props, which will help you to open up into some lovely asana, and to feel the difference a prop can bring to your practice. Each post will cover a different prop, starting with yoga bricks. She has also given a guide to yoga blocks and yoga belts, which will follow with blankets & bolsters and the often forgotten wall!
AISLING'S GUIDE TO YOGA PROPS
With the vast array of props out there it’s no surprise that there are many ways to use them. It also depends on each person’s individual anatomical characteristics as to what prop suits best for certain asana.
I’ve had varying relationships with props throughout my yoga life. Starting with Iyengar classes where I would struggle along to class with 4 foam blocks, 2 bricks, a mat and a belt, only to find out the essential props for that day’s practice were 4 cotton blankets and a couple of sandbags!
My next love was Ashtanga where props were rarely, if ever, used and I was fully on board with that at the time too.
My own classes nowadays will always call for one or two blocks, at the very least, and this is regardless of hamstring, hip or shoulder muscles. For the vast majority of people in the class, the props will assist them to either better understand the alignment instructions, or fine-tune my ‘one size fits all’ class to suit each person’s individual needs.
One of the huge benefits of a regular yoga practice is that we can develop a great ability to notice the subtleties of our bodies, attain a better sense of proprioception and ultimately become our own principal teacher.
BENEFITS OF PROPS
The use of props should not be seen as just a way of creating more ease in a pose, but of working more deeply and efficiently towards better, safer alignment and refining our awareness of our own bodies in the spirit of Svadhyaya (self-study).
Some props are great for support, like blankets, bolsters and blocks and some are used for extending the reach or range of movement, like belts or bricks, .
So which prop will work best for your yoga practice? Here I have looked at the yoga brick and given some examples of how to put it to use.
Yoga bricks are the props I use most often in my classes and in my home practice, because they can be used in so many ways. They are also useable in 3 different heights, making them great for different body heights and for progressing from high side to low side (or vice versa) as needed during a practice.
In standing forward folding poses, like Trikonasana and Parsvakonasana and their Revolved or Twisted versions, in balancing forward folding poses, like Half Moon and Revolved Half Moon, the block provides a steady, height-adjustable surface for the hand to press into.
Even if it is possible for the hand to reach the floor in these poses, what you gain in hamstring-stretch, you may lose in opening and expansion. The extra space and security that the block gives allows for better pelvic and shoulder alignment, allowing you to stay longer in a pose with a better ability to be present body and mind.
Parsvottanasana is a huge stretch for the whole body, done correctly it can strengthen and tone the legs, back and abdomen, correct alignment is key in this pose. For most of us, regardless of yoga experience, having a block under each hand to teach a level pelvis, lengthening spine and open shoulders, will lay down a really beneficial alignment pattern in the body.
Even if you don’t have particularly tight hamstrings or hip-flexors, Hanumanasana is beyond the reach of many of us. If it is something you’re working on in your practice, having a yoga brick under each hand to support you on the way down is pretty essential. It’s not just safer, but it allows you to keep your spine upright over your pelvis, heart lifting and breath steady and deep.
Another way I regularly use a yoga brick in classes is in Supported Bridge Pose. Positioning a brick on mid or high side under the boney sacrum, allows the body to relax and give the student the option of lifting the legs into a supported inversion. As with the previous poses when bones feel supported muscles relax!
Squats like Malasana are not always easy for every body. Sitting on a block lets strong hip muscles loosen their grip, allowing the inner groins to stretch, the knees to avoid injury and the feet to stay active. In this way the mind gets to stay attentive to the breath instead of being distracted by discomfort.
I use bricks all the time in both my personal and teaching practices. I find them an invaluable resource. I hope this article gives you some new ideas of ways to support your own practice with a brick, in studio classes or at home.
Aisling teaches yoga on Tuesdays, 9.45am in The Yoga Room, Sundays, 10am & 11.30 in My Yoga Body, and pilates on Mondays & Wednesdays, 9.30am in My Yoga Body. She is also available for private and small group classes by arrangement. To contact Aisling email at firstname.lastname@example.org or send a message on Facebook