The formal definition of the word prop, when used as a noun is: "A person or thing that is a major source of support or assistance." When used as a verb, to prop is defined as: "Positioning something underneath (someone or something) for support."
Me? I like to define props as: "tools for accessibility and inclusion."
When used in the context of everyday life, the word 'prop' has a positive or neutral definition. But in the context of a yoga class, the word prop is often used to denounce or criticize. Oftentimes, reaching for a block in a public yoga class is viewed as an admission of being "lesser than."
If you’re using a prop, it’s assumed that you’re not a good enough yoga practitioner on your own, or that your asana isn’t advanced enough to keep up with the rest of the students.
The Attitude Towards Props in the Yoga World
In my 20+ years of teaching yoga, and over 40 years of practising myself, I’ve watched numerous teachers and students avoid using props because they feel that they’re somehow less of a practitioner for requiring support, resistance or assistance in their asana practice. I’ve even had famous yoga teachers try to remove a prop from my practice, insinuating that I was better off without the tool.
It’s ironic to think that props have adopted such a negative connotation in public yoga classes, when one of the main aims of practicing yoga is to develop the ability to compassionately and skillfully listen to one’s own body.
Mr. B.K.S. Iyengar was the first yoga teacher to introduce props to our modern day practice. Iyengar understood the importance of adapting the yoga practice to different body proportions, and therefore, he integrated the use of props as a source of support, stability, and resistance.
How Yoga Props Can Help Your Practice
Props, or yoga tools, can be a great equaliser for differing body proportions, sizes and abilities within our public yoga classes. As a yogini in an abundant body, props allow me to access poses that smaller bodies can sometimes do with ease. The size of my belly, butt, and breasts - or the three B’s as I like to affectionately call them - often add additional challenges to my asana practice that make certain poses more difficult to experience.
Introducing props allows me to find space and freedom in my movements on my mat. I use props to support my weight in more challenging strengthening postures, as well as to explore greater depth by expanding my range of motion in long held stretches.
For example, I love to use a prop in my supported version of ‘One-Legged Sage pose’ or Eka Pada Koundinyāsana II. Using a block and the wall allows me to experience this pose from a place of success, rather than succumbing to the frustration that I may not be strong enough to do it on my own.
The Curvy Yogi's Guide to Using Yoga Props
As an abundant bodied yoga student and as a Yoga For All teacher, I’ve adopted many unique ways of integrating props in my practice. To experience greater freedom and ease within your own practice, try incorporating some of the suggestions below.
1. Invest in Your Own Set of Yoga Tools
Start with two blocks, a strap, a towel and a meditation cushion. These four yoga tools are highly versatile, which makes them the ideal starting pieces for any yoga toolkit. Not all public yoga class will offer props or tools, so it's good to have your own set ready and accessible at any time.
2. Set Up Your Tools at the Top of Your Mat Before the Class Begins
This ensures that your tools are easily accessible and within reach at all times. By the time you need a yoga prop, it’s often too late to walk to the back of the class to grab one. Having your props nearby also eliminates the need to ask for one in the middle of class, which can be an intimidating experience for most people.
Keeping your props close is an empowering way to reach for that extra support, without any distractions.
3. Set Your Ego Aside and Just Go For It
Reframe your thoughts on props, and start to see them as tools that enhance your practice, rather than detriments to your success. Often times, being the first person to reach for a prop encourages other students in the room to use props as well. Normalizing the use of props creates a sense of community and removes the unnecessary stigma of ‘not enoughness’.
4. Experiment With Different Sizes, Shapes and Styles
Yoga blocks or bricks come in many different sizes, shapes and styles. I suggest playing around with different sizes to see what fits best for your body. Blocks also come in different textures and materials. As a bigger person, I prefer working with thicker, denser blocks, as opposed to the softer and more malleable blocks.
Blocks made out of cork or wood support my weight without collapsing, buckling or getting soft and squishy. That being said, soft foam blocks are great for restorative poses like Butterfly or under the knees in Savasana.
Blocks are not only great for support, but are also helpful in lengthening your limbs by bringing the floor closer to you. Try using blocks to find more depth and resistance in poses like Forward Fold.
5. Use Straps to Lengthen Your Reach and Increase Your Range of Motion
I find straps particularly helpful in poses like Threading the Needle or when binding the arms behind your back in a Forward Fold or in Extended Side Angle pose. Straps are especially helpful when trying to create a bind with thicker limbs.
6. Use the Wall for Resistance, Stability and a Sense of Playfulness
As an abundant bodied practitioner, I seek out the corner in a yoga class so that I have two walls for balance and support. Because the wall provides a sense of safety and stability, practicing closer to a wall is also great tip for beginners.
Incorporating the wall into your practice helps to minimize the weight and effort required in getting into a pose, as well as increasing comfort when holding poses for an extended period of time. Try using the wall to maintain proper alignment with greater ease. Like Patanjali says: sthira sukham asanam; the pose is steady and easeful.
7. Seek Out Teachers That are Dedicated to Accessible, Inclusive Yoga Classes
These teachers can educate you on props and how to move more freely in your yoga practice. Accessible yoga teachers aim to help you enjoy yoga in your own body, without judgement or shame.
All bodies are good bodies, and all bodies deserve respect and equal access to yoga. Like snowflakes, our bodies are unique and different. Our bodies are a beautiful manifestation of the divine spirit of life, and sometimes they come with challenges that need a little extra support.
Our asana practice is unique to us, and it is important to celebrate that uniqueness in the spirit of unity.
Yoga tools help us to explore the universality of the yoga practice by reminding us that we are all welcome on the mat. So, try using tools to explore success, steadiness, and ease in your own unique yoga practice.