As yoga teachers, we get to see some really awesome (read: terrifying and sometimes hilarious) things from the front of the room. People seem to develop strange habits, which look really bizarre to us, but we have to remember that our years spent studying movement and the human body is what informs our practice and…that not everyone has this same knowledge base. Too often we witness students do things that they think are helping their practice, but are actually hindering them from getting the results they desire. One self-imposed struggle is the strange aversion to using props.
We have heard a variety of statements trying to justify the no-props attitude: “props are for people who aren’t fit,” “I don’t need them,” “I feel like I look stupid when I am the only one using them.” We hate to burst your bubble, but… you actually look more awkward when you are falling all over the place instead of just using a block to match the height of your long legs to your short arms in a half moon pose! When you are trying to grab your foot in utthita hasta padangusthasana while standing on the other leg, but you don’t have the hamstring length, you end up rounding your back forward or tilting awkwardly to one side instead of using a strap…might not be bad, but you probably don’t know how ugly it looks when you do that. We are not saying that you should be concerned about what your practice looks like. We are saying that you shouldn’t have to sacrifice good form, because of your unwarranted prop aversion.
Props are there to help you, not hinder or regress your practice. Here are some reasons why you should get over your prop-o-phobia:
- Differences in body proportions (Torso/leg/arm length differences). Everyone’s body is different. Some people have long arms, some have short arms, some have long torsos, and some have long legs. So if someone who has short arms and long legs is trying to do “Half Moon” with his or her body parallel to the ground, he or she will be forced to either not touch the floor with their hand (which is a common variation that we teach, and which actually requires a lot of trunk and leg stability), OR just use a block. We promise that it won’t kill you. It’s a lot better than continuously falling over and then trying to catch yourself.
- Props aren’t always signs of regression, sometimes they can make things harder. There is this weird assumption that using props means that you are making the pose easier. Well, apparently you have never tried to do a headstand with a wooden block on your dorsiflexed feet, or a forward fold with a rolled up mat under your heels, or sun salutations with a block between your legs. There are ways that props actually make things harder.
- Props are useful for external cueing or proprioceptive feedback. Not sure if your back is straight in “Warrior 3”? Use a dowel rod. There is your answer. No teacher needed. Want to make sure that your hip isn’t jutting out to the side in your “Bound Revolved Side Angle”? Get your butt near a wall, literally. No contorting to look into a mirror, just stay away from the wall with your bum. Can’t tell if your elbows are splaying out all crazy in your headstand, because you are upside down and can’t see them? Haha, that’s what blocks and straps are for, silly.
- Props prevent injury by helping you do the pose CORRECTLY so that you don’t build up unhelpful patterns. There is nothing like seeing someone do something wrong…. over and over and over again, until it becomes a habit. For instance, knees knocking inwards while doing Chair pose? Make a loop with a strap to go around your legs and push the outside of your legs into it. Use it until your glute medius/minimus is strong enough to stabilize your hips properly and you don’t need it anymore. Added bonus: it will make your butt look better.
- Speaking of preventing injury… If we see one more person doing a “Shoulder Stand” with no props on the floor, we are going to scream!!!! That is STRAIGHT UP bad for your neck, and you WILL probably get horrible injuries if you keep doing it! Grab a couple of blankets and STOP BEING A BABY ABOUT IT!