One of the things that makes Iyengar yoga unique is its use of props. Many students taking classes with us for the first time have been intrigued by the array of yoga props on hand at the studio. BKS Iyengar says that a yoga prop is any object that helps stretch, strengthen, relax or improve alignment of the body or sustain the asanas for a longer duration. Why do we use props and how can the use of props enhance your yoga practice?
Proper alignment of the body was one of Mr. Iyengar’s goals in the teaching of the yoga poses. In his own practice Iyengar had searched for items to help him open and support specific areas of the body. When teaching he found it helpful to support his students with his hands. This worked well when he was teaching one student at a time but when teaching a group he needed “extra hands”. As with the yogis of earlier times he took what was available around him and devised props from the home and the gymnasium to support his students. True to his teacher’s tenants, he believed strongly that the poses should be adapted to meet the students’ abilities. Through the genius and innovation of Mr. Iyengar props are now used to allow all practitioners access to the benefits of the postures regardless of physical condition, age, or length of study.
The use of props was just one of his many breakthroughs—and one of the things that makes our studio unique. The proper use of props is a special area of expertise that we have acquired over many years of practice and study at the Iyengar Institute in India and with our teachers.
Some of the props are familiar to anyone who has been to a yoga class—blocks, blankets and chairs. Others are more unusual including the various wooden benches, the “yoga horse” and the rope wall. Props offer a unique benefit. By supporting the body, the use of props allows both action and relaxation to take place simultaneously. People tend to stretch from their more flexible areas and rely on their more developed muscles for strength. Props encourage the weak parts to strengthen, the stiff areas to stretch and the tired muscles to relax, bringing alignment and balance to the whole body. In addition:
Props can help those with injury or illness to recover. Working with the yoga ropes, chairs, blocks and other props can align the spine and create space in the joints, particularly important to those with scoliosis, osteoporosis, arthritis or joint replacements. Practicing the postures with bolsters or benches can help relieve common ailments, regulate blood pressure, ease breathlessness and remove stiffness in the back, hips and knees.
Props can help you to deepen your practice. Their proper use can give you the confidence to attempt more difficult asanas and to sustain poses for the length of time required to acquire complicated body movements.
Props can help us to cultivate greater awareness. With the help of props we can stay in a yoga pose and try to let go of the grip that habit and conditioning have on us, particularly if we are accustomed to overworking in a pose.
The practice of the yoga postures and the use of props can bring us good health, concentration and peace of mind and take us to the doorway into something deeper. It is our hope that through our work together in the postures we can encourage each other over time to, as Eddie Stern, yoga teacher, author and publisher suggests, “step through the doors and eventually into the inner rooms that hold the true purposes of the yogic sadhanas”.*
* From his article The Yoga of Krishnamacharya, Namarupa, Issue #5, Fall 2006 – Spring 2007