Thursday, April 14, 2011

Give props

My husband and I often share a particular giggle when he "sings" songs that are waaaaaaaaaaaaay out of his range. Think Rush. Journey. Gwen Stefani. I look at him, roll my eyes and (usually laughing and covering my ears) say, "HONEY! Not all songs are for all people!" And then he tries even harder -- and louder. Now of course, he could accommodate himself and sing the song down an octave, but that would be no fun, right?

This happens all the time in yoga. Poses seem out of our reach -- literally. We can't reach the floor, our other arm, head-to-knee. But there is a solution for that in yoga: props. So often I see fellow students or my own students not take a prop they really need. I get it that you're there to push your edge, but often, using a prop actually moves you deeper into the pose. And not only that, but more importantly, using a prop can protect your body from the bad alignment (and karma) that will come from jamming your body into a pose -- this isn't comfortable and steady like it is supposed to be. There are so many examples of using props that could make your practice really soar. I know I'm preaching to the choir, but here are just a few:

A blanket, folded, under the heels during malasana, supports feet and ankles (thus protecting the knees), making the deep knee bend accessible while the heels are still in contact with the ground.

Blocks, used under the hands in uttanasana (especially the first ones of the day), give something to press the hands into. Start with bent knees, slowly straightening them, lifting the hips. (This gives so much more stretch than bouncing your fingertips two inches from the floor in hopes of touching it!)

A strap, used to draw the leg back in supta padangusthasana (or heck, even pigeon or bow) will ultimately make a deeper expression of the pose possible.

Even in wonderful, peaceful sukasana, many people need the support of blankets. With a clean fold, sitting right on the edge can encourage the hips to open and knees to drop while supporting the low back, allowing the torso to sit taller. Check out Cora Wen's awesome blanket-folding tutorials on YouTube.

As teachers, if we really want to make yoga accessible to everyone, then we'll offer students appropriate props. It makes practice safer and more fun. I often use props when I teach -- some that I really need and some that I don't -- to show that using a prop isn't cheating or weird or anything less than real yoga. Sometimes I'll have everyone work with a particular prop. As students and practitioners, we are to honor our body in what it needs and use the block, blanket or strap when necessary. It doesn't mean that you'll have to use that prop forever -- or maybe you will. It's a practice, not a destination.

It is about being open, I guess -- open to what is needed and what possibility might unfold -- and being true to yourself, wherever you are in your yogic journey. It would be nice if we could all sing along with those Rush tunes. I can actually, but I'm flexible that way. Binding in parsvokonasana, not so much -- yet.


Teeg said...

Oh yes I definitely agree - props are my best friends! I am never hesitant to grab a brick if I need it because I would rather fully access the pose without hurting myself =) Leave your ego at the door my teacher always says!

DoulaMomma said...

But is there a prop that can get my boobs out of the way so I can fold more fully?? ;-)

Elizabeth Gallo said...

@Kim, that's funny! You know I have the same problem, and with my belly too! I do know some people that recommend using a strap to flatten out -- I have never really tried it to see if I like it -- seems a little to Victorian for me!

Anonymous said...

Mama I love this! I am a big fan of saying the wall isn't cheating, it's preventing injury... props are something i love to use, i wish i had more in my home studio, but it's on the list!

Anonymous said...

Mama I love this! I am a big fan of saying the wall isn't cheating, it's preventing injury... props are something i love to use, i wish i had more in my home studio, but it's on the list!

Meg said...

I often need a folded blanket or bolster under my knees for savasana. My lower back makes itself known otherwise!

Googlover/keishua said...

I love what you say about not seeing using props as cheating. I think that is common misconception. Sometimes, I find that having a prop can gibe your the courage to try a pose that you would not do.

lissabliss said...

Agreed. I am all about props in my practice. Yay to you for encouraging your students to use props. Usually, I find myself being one of the few people in my classes using them.

Elizabeth Gallo said...

My guess is that the vast majority of people need at least one folded blanket to sit on for Sukasana -- and so many won't take it. It's a shame! Lissa, I often find I'm the only one using props too!

Anonymous said...

hardest is when you teach somewhere they don't have props. then you REALLY have to get creative ;-)

adan said...

didn't realize what i'd been missing ;-) what a nice site!

totally agree :

"using a prop actually moves you deeper into the pose"

i say similar things to the folk in my classes, and my wife and i, either together or just one of us, demos props for most everything we do

so many good things in your post, geez!

the bouncing with fingertips is a huge no no w/fitness orgs like afaa, ace, etc, considered a ballistic move - yea, bend those knees and release that muscle spindle action ;-)

i've a list of topics i want to work my way toward, and this was one of them; your post has renewed my belief of how important props are in everyday practice

so, props to you! yea, easy joke ;-)

thanks so much!