Although I've been practicing yoga regularly for more than five years, I've rarely ever used props. For one, I've always been flexible, so I often feel that it's unnecessary to use a block or strap to help me stretch deeper. For another, in very un-yogi-like fashion, my ego's partly to blame. Use a strap? Straps are for rookies. Admitting I need one has always felt like admitting I'm not capable of nailing a pose on my own.
But recently, thanks to a few eye-opening conversations I've had with yoga instructors, I've begun to realize that using props isn't only for beginners or people who can't touch their toes—and it's certainly not a sign of being weak in any way.
“Many students have a false perception that using props makes asanas [a.k.a. poses] 'easier' or 'dumbs down' a posture,” Ashleigh Sergeant, yoga instructor and head of yoga content at Gaia.com, tells SELF. “But with some basic education and a bit of practice letting go of that ego, yoga can be greatly enhanced and advanced through the use of props.”
Ready to push your assumptions aside and transform your practice? Here's why everyone should give yoga props a try.
1. Props help personalize your practice—so you can get more out of it.
Although props have been used for decades, they fit right into today's world of customizing everything. “Props allow you to tailor your practice to the specific shape and structure of your body,” Sergeant says. This helps you easily achieve proper alignment, rather than struggling to force your body to look the way you think it should. In addition to preventing injuries, good alignment allows you to get more from each asana, whether that's greater opening, stretching, strengthening, or all of the above.
2. Props help you breathe deeper and relax more.
The “no pain, no gain” mentality of fitness has crept its way into yoga, says yoga instructor Jessica Matthews, professor of integrative wellness at Point Loma Nazarene University. This makes it easy to dismiss a key aspect of yoga: the breath. It’s the first thing that goes when we struggle with an asana—it's easy to forget to breath deeply when you're focusing so hard on maintaining your body positioning. "Using props helps you breathe properly, using deep diaphragmatic breath, which activates the parasympathetic nervous system, leading to a sense of calm,” she says. And since most of us are living in a constant state of stress, it'd be a shame to miss out on that benefit when we can get it.
3. Props quiet your mind.
Although it helps cultivate mindfulness, ujjayi breathing (the slow and controlled breathing used in yoga) in and of itself isn't a guarantee to still your race car mind. Props can assist. “They help create moments of steadiness where you can be present and aware in your body, calming the chatter and distractions in the mind,” Matthews says. Quite literally, they'll help you get steady in a pose and enjoy some peaceful moments in it, instead of spending the whole time worrying about if you'll fall. And if using a block to find a solid half-moon also helps me find a peaceful mind, why would I want to do it without, only to wobble and have my inner critic scold me for shaking?