What are the most common props? Why do I want to use them and where can I buy them?
While the overarching topic of yoga props can be quite broad, this post offers yoga practitioners general insights on what props exist, ways they are used, which props I favor and where they can be purchased.
“The use of simple props to maximize the opening and awareness of the body provides support to the less flexible and extra extension to the more advanced student.” - B.K.S. Iyengar, Indian yoga teacher, author and founder of Iyengar Yoga
Why Yoga Props
Consider each of us has unique anatomy; some with longer or shorter arms, legs, torsos, fingers, feet, etc. Our connective tissues, joints, tendons and muscles vary. Add into the equation that many of us have incurred injuries from accidents or postural habits that have become ingrained into our physique resulting in limitation to our mobility. When you pause to examine all of these factors, it becomes quickly evident that each student's needs and capabilities vary.
While yoga props are fairly simplistic in nature, they can make or break a yoga practitioner's relationship with yoga. Using props to support one's body in an asana or meditation practice can result in a practice that is deeper and more satisfying. An impossible pose for a student suddenly becomes possible when a yoga strap, block or bolster is incorporated. These "tools" are available for all students, not just those who are motion-restricted. Even those practitioners who have Silly Putty-like flexibility can gain a leg up (super amazing pun intended) by incorporating props into their practice.
Kinds of Yoga Props Blocks: Commonly made from cork, wood or foam, these rectangular-shaped props have many uses and can be adapted to many poses (see Tummee.com). It is suggested that an ideal measurement for a block is 9" x 6" x 4". Blocks measuring three inches at the smallest length are too thin for my liking. When used in the highest position (shown in the photo), these thinner blocks are too wobbly. Considering blocks are often used as a form of support placed on the ground acting as part of our primary foundation, it's important they offer us stability. Criteria you may consider when making a purchase includes material, grip, durability and cost. Wood and cork are generally sturdier and more durable than foam. Foam is lighter and more forgiving on joints. Wood may slip on a hard yoga studio floor. Cork is more slip resistant and also a sustainable material. Costs for blocks vary from $16 for a pair of foam blocks to nearly $50 for a pair of cork blocks. Household alternatives you can use include, thick books or VHS tapes taped together (thanks Jessamyn Stanley of Every Body Yoga). Given the general affordability of yoga blocks I recommend purpose-built yoga blocks. Budget foam blocks can be picked up at Target and TJ Maxx, and more spendy selections can be purchased online. Suzanna's recs: Budget Foam: Gaiam Foam Yoga Blocks
Yoga straps are wonderful props that help keep a practitioner in alignment and help deepen into a pose. They also help fill in gaps where one's body cannot express a full pose. One common example of how straps come in handy is when a practitioner has shorter arms or legs. Some more commonly recognized poses where a strap benefits include Seated Forward Fold, Reclined Big Toe, Bound Angle, Seated Side Stretch and even restorative poses like Legs-up-the-Wall. When shopping for a strap, some criteria to look for includes: a width of 1.75 inches, eight feet in length, a D-ring or heavy-duty buckle and soft but non-slip material like organic cotton. While elastic bands (used in physical therapy), deliver some similar benefits, a yoga strap's rigidity is a standout feature that offers greater benefit needed for doing yoga. Budget straps can be found at Target, and there's a wider variety available online.
Suzanna's yoga strap rec:
Lotuscraft Yoga Strap
Yoga Blankets Yoga blankets are used in a few different ways. Perhaps the most obvious way is to stay warm while in a restorative or seated pose where you are mostly still and may want a layer of warmth. Savasana (Corpse Pose) comes racing to the forefront of my mind when I think of a prime example to use a blanket during a yoga asana practice. Practitioners can either drape the blanket over them to add warmth or fold it over a couple times and place it beneath their head to elevate their forehead higher than their chin offering neck support. A yoga blanket rolled up can also serve as a replacement for a block such as when you're sitting in Simple Seat (Sukhasana) and may want to elevate your hips to create more length between your tailbone and the crown of your head. A hoodie or even a towel can serve a similar purpose in a pinch. If you choose to purchase a Mexican-style "yoga blanket," there are many varieties to be found and the greatest selection is available online.
Suzanna's yoga blanket rec: