I mention props in my classes frequently because I love them. So so much. However in the spirit of transparency I’ll admit that I didn’t always adore props. I actually used to think that I was above props or that I didn’t need them because my four limbs worked just fine.
During my yoga teacher training we had an entire module dedicated to props and on that spring day in 2016 is where my love affair began. I finally understood the benefits because I saw and felt just how helpful the various props were. This allowed me to safely and effectively incorporate props into my personal practice as well as the classes I teach.
For those of you who are fresher to yoga I apologize that I have yet to take the time to break down the purpose and use of props. Better late than never though am I right? The addition of props in your practice is entirely up to you. Play around and see what works for you and what doesn’t. Aside from investing in a good supportive yoga mat you don’t need to spend a ton of money on props. Chances are you have items in your home that can be substituted for traditional blocks, bolsters and straps
Pretty self explanatory. No you don’t need the special hand woven ones, although there are some pretty cool hand woven yoga blankets out there. Whatever you have at home is perfect but I do recommend one that is more thick/firm if you use it as a bolster for your seat or back.
There are a few ways to utilize your blanket while in a reclined posture. The most familiar way is to cover your entire body not only for warmth but also for comfort. The weight of a blanket provides a therapeutic calming effect and is helpful in promoting relaxation throughout the body. Rolling your blanket up is a less bulky alternative option to a bolster, however it won’t be suitable for certain postures that require a traditional bolster. A sensitive back or tense shoulders could benefit from an extra layer of softness during Savasana or other reclined poses. You may also use the blanket to support your head and neck during prone postures such as shoulder stand or plow.
The addition of a blanket under your seat slightly lifts the hips off the ground making your seat more sustainable. This is especially helpful in the beginning of practice when the hips tend to feel the most tight. It’s a nice happy medium between sitting on your mat and sitting on a bolster or meditation cushion. Utilizing a blanket may also help you find more comfort and space in your seated forward folds. Fold the blanket into a rectangle and take a seat. Let your sit bones press into the blanket and fold your legs into a comfortable position. If this causes pain in your knees you may straighten the legs out or arrange them in any way that is comfortable and easeful. You might also try placing blocks under your knees to alleviate any straining.
Even if you have perfectly good knees a blanket is a kindness you never knew you needed. I rarely visit table top, camel or child’s pose without a blanket underneath my knees/shins. That extra bit of softness and cushion makes a world of a difference especially if your mat is on the thinner side. Also helpful during lunges where the back knee is pressing into the mat. Fold your blanket in half two or three times depending on how much softness you like. You can also stack two blankets on top of each other if you need more cushioning.
Drape it around your shoulders superhero style for added awesomeness in any standing posture. Beyond that there’s not much I personally use the blanket for while standing. For arm balances and inversions I place a blanket or two in front of me incase I face plant. Which I do. More than I care to admit. I hope this imagery is a humorous reminder to not take things so seriously and let yourself have some fun.
A versatile prop that I use in every single practice. Can’t reach the ground during a lunge? Boom blocks! Knees straining in lotus? Boom blocks! Too much space under your hip in pigeon? Boom blocks! I’ll stop there because if I don’t we’ll be here f o r e v e r while I list all the wonderful things blocks will do for your yoga practice. If you don’t have blocks stacking larger/heavier books until you reach your desired height is a simple alternative. For some seated postures a blanket may be necessary for comfort. If books aren’t appropriate see what you have available. A step stool or other sturdy piece of furniture might be the perfect height for your needs.
The very foundation for some of my most beloved restorative postures. Blocks support a bolster for a gentle reclined set up, a great alternative for yogis who cannot lie flat on their backs for Savasana (resting pose). Blocks are also nice to place under the knees during Savasana if a bolster or blanket aren’t available. Can also feel good to elevate the forearms or feet too.
Sitting on a block is a great support for the spine during Malasana (yogi squat) as well as meditation. For additional cushion you may prefer to place a blanket on top of the block. Underneath the knees in various seated postures to alleviate straining. There’s so many variations and variations of variations to list them all here, I encourage you to get creative and see what you could benefit from.
A great reminder tool to engage the inner thighs and calves for Ustrasana (camel pose). Stack a few blocks to make a kneeling seated posture more easeful on tight leg muscles and sensitive knees. Placing blocks under hands in a lunge helps to create more space between the chest and the front knee. A block under the front hip during Kapotasana (pigeon pose) offers support and stability as well as reduces straining.
Standing balancing postures are one of the best places to utilize blocks because they help us to lengthen where we have s tendency to collapse into. They also lift the ground up to you shifting the level of effort from straining to reach the ground to properly feeling into and engaging your stabilizing muscles. Even placing a block between your inner thighs and holding it there can help you find the kind of engagement you need to find an actively engaged Tadasana (mountain/standing pose) or Utkatasana (chair pose). Another great use for the block is standing it on its tallest height just far enough in front of you to create a stable, flat table-top back. Especially when first learning the shape of a half forward fold (Ardha Uttanasana) this tool is helpful for us to create that muscle memory.
Another item alongside a good yoga mat that is worth investing in is a proper bolster. There is an expansive variety of options out there depending on what your needs are. My personal collection includes the set from Brentwood Home and while it was a splurge I absolutely love each piece. The set includes a classic sized yoga bolster, a meditation pillow and a pranayama pillow. The pranayama pillow has become my favorite thing I never knew I needed but now cannot live without. It’s essentially a skinny bolster that when reclined on opens up the ribcage and allows the lungs to fully expand for some really deep yogic breaths.
It also feels like heaven on the back and when turned horizontally can be a great tool in opening up the shoulders, upper chest and front of the neck/throat. Bolsters are frequently used in restorative and yin postures to bring the ground to you and remove all effort. Many seated and reclined postures like Balasana (child’s pose) and Supta Baddha Konasana (reclined bound angle pose) can be modified with a bolster. They’re also an incredible addition to Savasana as well as your meditation practice.
One of the more affordable yoga props on this list. If you don’t own one a scarf, tie, belt or resistance band will work beautifully in place of a strap. A benefit of purchasing a strap designed for yoga is that they come with a set of D rings and can be easily tightened and loosened. This is helpful when trying to adjust the length of the strap during certain poses but whatever alternative option you have can be adjusted to your needs it just may take a little extra effort on your part. In seated forward fold a strap is extremely helpful in guiding you gently towards your feet while not sacrificing an elongated spine. The strap can also be immensely helpful in more difficult standing balancing postures like Natarajasana (dancer’s pose) and Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana (extended hand to big toe pose). Another way I like to use this prop is by reclining onto my back and taking a few leg flexion and extensions with the assistance of a strap. You can also re-create the classic standing extended hand to big to pose by laying on your back and allowing your leg to fall open towards the back corner of the space you’re in or across the body for the revolved variation.
These are my most loved and frequently used props as part of my personal practice as well as the classes I teach. There are more helpful yoga props out there that aren’t included in this list so I encourage you to explore the various options that are available. As always your practice is yours to make your own so if you don’t enjoy props there’s no pressure to use them, however I will say remain open to the possibility of using props in the future. I hope this was a thorough explanation of the function of each prop as well as the various ways to use them in your practice. As you begin to work with props more frequently other questions may come up or you may need further clarification. Know that I am always available to help via email or Instagram direct message.
Be well, enjoy and namaste!