In some Yoga classes a lot of props like Yoga blocks, belts, cushions, wall support and even wheels and swings are used.
Some Yoga teachers and teacher trainers are very critical towards it and completely avoid the use of props. Others find them important for the learning process.
Everyone can decide for themselves whether they want to use props or not. Here is my understanding of the pros and cons, and my opinion on the best way to practice. It might be helpful to make your own decision.
Voices against using props:
1. Money aspect:
All essentials one really needs for a Yoga practice are a little space and a mat. Props are businesses to make money.
2. Dependency: Additional props make it easier to get in the desired “end pose”. Hence, the practitioner doesn’t have to move out of their comfort zone and it is likely that they will just get stuck where the body allows them to go. Then the practitioner will always look for a block, strap or wall and they won’t learn to do the desired pose independently.
3. Energy: The props interact with the flow of energy within and around the body. The poses are designed to channel the energy in certain ways. Props can disturb this.
4. Hygiene and emotional energies: If many people share props in a studio, not only their sweat and bacteria, but also their personal energy might get stuck on the mat/ prop and transfer to other people.
Voices for the use of props
1. Experience: To use a prop helps to experience how the full pose feels. It can be motivating and helpful to actually feel the “end pose”, and then work towards it.
2. Safety: If one can’t reach a certain pose without a prop it can protect and support their joints, bones and tendons to use a cushion or block (for example using a cushion as hip support in pigeon pose preparation).
3. Alignment: One might compromise on alignment by attempting to reach a certain position. For example leaning sideward and down instead of forward and down to touch the hand to the ground in Parsvakonasana – side angle pose.
4. Newer forms of Yoga practices: Yin Yoga or Aerial Yoga are based on the use of props and would not be possible without them. They are great sources to enhance and deepen one’s Asana practice.
5. Age and certain health limitations decrease the range of movement, flexibility and strength. In this case, props (like even chairs) can still allow practitioners to experience the benefits of Asanas.
I personally would recommend using your own personal props mindfully. That means, use them if you need them to experience the full Asana, but mindfully learn to become independent from them. Alternate between using and not using them. Challenge yourself a little bit and keep on progressing, until you don’t need the help anymore.
Adho Mukha Vrikshasana/ handstand: First of all, learn to fall over safely, without the use of a wall. Then practice with and without a wall. At the wall you can practice the full pose to find alignment, gain a feeling for the pose, strengthen the involved muscles, gain the range of motion required in certain body parts (like shoulders), enhance your balance and boost your confidence. Practice more and more without the wall and learn handstands independently.
Salamba Sirsasana/ headstand: First of all learn to fall over safely without wall. Then practice in front of a wall without touching it and learn to go in steps (like in the pictures), without jumping or touching the wall. Once you can come up with control, go away from the wall again and use the same steps, to get into your headstand without the wall.
Parsvakonasana/ Sideangle pose: If you can’t reach the floor with
your hand, try it with a block only to feel the grounding connection of your hand to the floor. Then let your hand land on your shin bone, but keep the alignment.
Eka Pada Raja Kapotasana/ King pigeon pose preparation: If your hip doesn’t reach the floor,
use a blanket under your hip to ground your hip and keep it aligned with the other side, but roll the blanket up thinner and thinner underneath you with every week.
What about the mat? I would definitely recommend everyone using a mat because the padding protects your joints (e.g. knees) and bones (e.g. the vertebrae’s) from injuries. Also it marks your limited space for you in a crowded Yoga class and helps you finding the right distance.
Your mat is your safe place where you can express and experience yourself through movement. It becomes your constant companion through your Yoga journey, safeguarding you from the cold or heat of the ground which might cause disturbances in your practice. It also helps you conserve your energy from dripping in the floor.
I think the key to benefit from the use of props lies in the effort to regularly try it without props as well. In this way, props become a help, not an obstacle in your practice.
In times of pregnancy, rehabilitation, disease and other physical limitations (or if age is a factor) it is especially important to practice carefully and gently with priority on health and safety.
In these cases (and many others) the use props and the practice of easier variations can prevent the practitioner from completely stopping the practice.
With all the competition out there we should keep in mind that the spinal movements, joint movements and organ massages are more important than getting into certain end poses.