When I first started yoga, props were one of the things that frustrated me the most. Like many men (and I am sure no shortage of women as well), I viewed props as some sort of crutch or sign that I wasn’t good/strong/flexible enough to do a posture on my own. In fact, it wasn’t until I started my yoga teacher training that I realized that props were not my enemy, were not a sign of weakness, but a tool to help move me into a better yoga experience.
I bring this up because this morning I was moving through some postures on my own. Out of habit now, I pull out a couple of blocks and keep them close at hand. And as I was moving through my series, I noticed how and when I used the blocks, and the difference in sensations between when I did and didn’t use them.
What I noticed was that when I didn’t use props, I wasn’t able to be present in the yoga experience. I struggled with physical alignment and/or pain, emotional tension around how I was doing and why I couldn’t do it better and mental stress over my physical and emotional distractions. This led me to a less balanced practice.
As I began to get comfortable with props and introduced them into my own practice and later started using them in group classes, I noticed that my movement and comfort into and out of postures was much better. As my physical discomfort diminished, my emotional and mental stress decreased and I was more open to the benefits of yoga.
What I have come to understand is that props are helpful. And with all things, different teachers have different strengths when teaching. Some are masters of the verbal queue, others offer the best assists and yes, some are amazing at offering prop options; both for the physical alignment benefits and also in a way that puts students at ease enough to reach for the prop.
But not everyone is strong in that area. So it is up to us, the students, to be comfortable with our own use of props. Use of the props is a tool to help us overcome a variety of challenges.
These challenges can range from proportional issues (I have T-Rex arms – that is my arms are shorter than my body, so that when I sit with my arms fully extended, my hands will just touch the floor), to injuries (I have had a shoulder dislocated 3 times; I have a great grasp on one side for Gomukhasana, but on the other side, I am a full block apart) to being new to a posture. Props are a great way to adjust alignment for new or challenging postures.
The options are ours as the student. Take and use the props. It isn’t a sign of weakness or shortcoming, but a sign of knowing oneself and being present in your practice. I have short arms; some postures don’t work for me without a block. Nothing is ever going to change that, as I am done growing. If props aren’t offered, feel in your own body what isn’t working, grab the most likely prop and use it. If it isn’t ideal or needs a tweak, the teacher will offer an assist.