For the first several years I was doing yoga, I was completely opposed to using props during my practice. I was terrified that, if I used a block or a strap during a power vinyasa class, people would know that I was (cue scary piano music)… a beginner! (Side note: one of the biggest mistakes you can make during the beginning of your yoga journey is trying to pretend you’re not a beginner! There is nothing wrong with being new to yoga!! Actually, many teachers prefer teaching students who haven’t been doing yoga for very long. More on this in a future post.) I was trapped in comparison as I looked around the class and didn’t see anyone else using props. I thought that props would make me look like I didn’t belong. Since then, I’ve realized how useful props can be as part of a yoga practice, and now I’m the proud owner of lots and lots of helpful pieces of yoga equipment! I’m also committed to reminding my students that using props can be a great thing, and can really deepen a yoga practice, especially because yoga is not about what your practice looks like on the outside! My students know that feeling good in a pose is way more important than looking a certain way. Props aren’t crutches or safety nets. They’re tools that can train your muscles, protect your joints, and deepen your stretches. Still not convinced? Read on for 8 reasons you should incorporate props into your yoga practice!
Props Help Extend Your Limbs
Some poses might just not work for your body. And that doesn’t mean you’re “bad” at yoga! Sometimes, the genetic proportions of our bodies prevent certain poses from feeling good or aligning in a safe way without the use of props, and there’s nothing we can do to change that. If you have a long torso, short arms, a long neck, or pretty much any other type of body, you will probably encounter a pose at some point in your practice that just doesn’t feel quite right. Especially for standing and twisting poses, the length of our limbs can really affect how a pose feels in our bodies. The solution: using a block! Just like in the pictures below, there might be a pose in your practice that requires longer limbs than the ones you were born with. Use a block to extend your reach and create more space in your body! Try this and you’ll be amazed at how different some of these poses can feel.
Props Provide Muscle Engagement
Another, less common use for a block: to help you engage your muscles! Blocks can be utilized during core work to create resistance and during standing poses to help you squeeze your thighs together! Sometimes, especially when you’re new to a yoga practice, your muscles need to be trained in certain poses. Some muscles just don’t know what to do yet! A block is a fantastic way to help your muscles learn when and how to engage so that your practice is stable and safe for your joints, tendons, and ligaments. For example, using a block to remind your thighs to engage toward each other, like in the image below, is a fantastic way to build stronger standing poses!
Props Help with Alignment
Especially in poses that tend to be difficult alignment-wise, like Urdhva Dhanurasana (Upward Facing Bow/Wheel Pose), Adho Mukha Vrksasana (Handstand), and Sirsasana (Headstand), incorporating a yoga strap can be vital. Tying a strap around your thighs above your knees at hip-width (as shown in the photo below) or around your upper arms right above your elbows at shoulder-width can protect your body from doing a challenging pose incorrectly, and it can also show you how a pose is supposed to feel when it’s aligned correctly. This can eventually help you move toward doing the pose without the prop. If you’re struggling with feeling stable in some of these challenging backbends and inversions, try incorporating a strap to help you properly align.
Props Provide Support
Especially in restorative poses, sometimes our bodies just need a little bit more support than what the floor can offer. That’s why I absolutely love using props in my restorative yoga practice. You can use a bolster to support your whole spine as shown in the photo below, you can use a block to support part of your spine (like in Supported Fish Pose or Supported Legs Up The Wall) or you can use blocks to support your knees as they fall toward the ground in Supta Baddha Konasana (reclined butterfly). This can help you fully relax and sink into a pose without extra pressure or discomfort on your joints.
Props Allow for a Passive Stretch
Quick vocab lesson: an active stretch is when you use your internal muscles to pull your body into a stretch without using any external forces (like when you stretch your quadricep by bending your knee so that your heel comes toward your butt without grabbing your ankle/foot). A passive stretch is when you use an outside force to stretch a muscle (like when you stretch your quadricep by using your hand to pull your ankle/foot so that your heel comes to your butt). Passive stretching usually means that your muscles are relaxed, not engaged, and it allows for a deeper range of motion in the stretch. Both passive and active stretching are an important part of a well-rounded yoga practice! Active stretching usually doesn’t require any materials, but props can really help with passive stretches. For example, you can use a wheel to help with your backbending flexibility without tiring out your muscles, as shown in the photo below. You can use a bolster to weigh down parts of your body that need a little help getting closer to the floor in poses like Supta Baddha Konasana (reclined butterfly). You can also use a wall to deepen your stretch in a forward fold or a quad stretch!
Props Help You Practice Balance
A strong core is essential not only for a stable yoga practice, but also for many of the activities you do throughout your day-to-day life. I believe that one of the best ways to strengthen your core is to practice balancing. After all, keeping you stable, supported, and upright is literally what your core is made for! You can use props to help you work on balance, like in the photo shown below!
Props Build Confidence
Ever been terrified to try a new yoga pose? Me too! Props can seriously help us with some of that fear. In a lot of my inversion/arm balancing practice, especially in poses like handstand, headstand, and forearm stand, I’ve used the wall to gain the confidence that I can balance upside down. Knowing that you have a wall right behind you to catch you when you fall helps you feel safer upside down. Walls can also build strength for inversions and help you understand what it feels like to be properly aligned in some arm balances. For example, you can do inversion drills like the one shown in the photo below to build your strength, muscle memory, and confidence, and build up to eventually trying a handstand/forearm stand/headstand without the wall.
Props Protect Your Body
You’ve probably gotten the hint by now, but I’m a big advocate for protecting your muscles, joints, tendons, and ligaments with proper alignment and body awareness (which are kind of props’ bread and butter)! Props allow you to extend your reach, train your muscles, be supported in a stretch, align correctly, and keep you from falling all over the place! The reason I love props the most is this one: because props help prevent you from injuring your body during your yoga practice, which means that you can continue doing yoga and living life without unnecessary pain or injury.
Get Started with Props
Here are some props I recommend for yogis who are just getting started! None of the products I mention below are sponsored. They’re all just items I use and love!
Almost all of us have access to a wall, so I think this is definitely the best place to start! You can use a wall to help with passive stretching in forward folds and quad stretches, provide resistance in standing poses, assist with inversion drills, and create a sense of safety when trying new arm balances.
The first prop I recommend every yogi invests in is a yoga block. They’re useful for so many purposes, including training your alignment, bringing the floor closer to you, providing resistance in core workouts, and supporting your body in restorative postures. Another bonus: blocks are super inexpensive, compact, and easy to carry. Here’s a standard block I love: Gaiam Foam Block. Here’s an eco-friendly cork version that’s a little less cushiony: Half Moon Cork Block. In the meantime, if you don’t have a block, you can use items around your house like a pillow, book, or shoebox.
A strap is also an essential for many yogis, including myself, because you can use it for correcting alignment, reaching your foot in poses like Mermaid and Hand to Foot pose, and deepening stretches. I love this Lululemon Loop It Up Strap because it also doubles as a yoga mat carrier! If you don’t have a strap, you can substitute with a necktie, belt, ribbon, rope, or hand towel!
Especially if you’re a yogi who loves restorative practices like I do, a bolster will be your new best friend! You can use a bolster for support in passive poses, to add extra weight, and to snuggle in passive twists. I love this Standard Bolster from Hugger Mugger. If you don’t have a bolster, you can use a lumbar pillow or rolled up blanket for most of those purposes as well!
Yoga blankets help support you in poses when a bolster or a block are too thick, hard, or just the wrong shape. You can roll them up to cushion your knees, fold them to support your head and neck in poses like Shoulderstand, or even use them as… well… a blanket during Savasana. There are specific yoga blankets you can buy, like This One from Benevolence. But, if you don’t feel like splurging on a yoga blanket, you can use any firm blanket or bath towel that you have handy at home.
Yoga wheels help you get into poses like backbends in a passive way, which is almost impossible to do without any support! This can help you develop flexibility and it provides a stretch that just feels amazing. I love this Yoloha Cork Wheel, or this simple plastic and foam Gaiam Wheel.
For Strength: Wrist Trainers
Okay, so wrist strength training balls aren’t technically props you would usually use during your yoga practice, but I figured I would mention them because they really help develop some of the skills and strength you need for lots of poses, especially arm balances and Plank. I love These Ones from Gaiam because they’re compact, the perfect size, and they come in 3 different resistance levels.
For Recovery: A Foam Roller
I love foam rolling! If you haven’t already, watch my foam rolling tutorial on IGTV to learn how to use one if you’re not sure where to start. Again, you probably wouldn’t use a foam roller during a regular yoga practice, but foam rolling during recovery is fantastic for helping muscles heal quickly, decreasing soreness, and increasing range of motion. I love This Cork Roller from Free People, or for a cheaper version, try This Foam Roller from Gaiam.
Do you use props in your yoga practice? Do you use them in any ways I didn’t mention in this post? Did this post inspire you to start trying some props in your practice? Any questions about how you can specifically incorporate some of these props? Let me know!