Ask a Yogini: Should I Use Yoga Props?

Tadasana

Once someone finds out that I practice yoga, they often ask me questions. Sometimes a lot of questions and that’s part of the reason that I wanted to become a yoga teacher in the first place – so that I could share knowledge from an informed perspective.

So, I have an idea for a new monthly series on the blog (actually Amanda gave me this idea) – Ask a Yogini. Each month, I’ll answer a question about yoga – anything that you’re curious about. Chances are, if you have the question, someone else does too! And don’t worry, I won’t mention specifically who asked the question.

So come back on the first Monday of the month, OK? Until then, please let me know what questions you have about yoga. You can submit them via the comments section here or email them to me at christine {at} lovelifesurf.com. Cool?

Disclaimer: While I am a certified yoga instructor, I am not your yoga instructor. Please exercise caution and honor your own body. These views are mine alone, based on my own experiences. Always consult a certified yoga instructor for additional guidance and assistance.

Should I Use Yoga Props

Ask a Yogini – Should I use Yoga Props?

I remember when I first started practicing yoga, I didn’t want to use any yoga props because I thought that would betray me as a beginner. In my mind, the whole purpose was to become flexible enough so that I could do each pose without using a prop – that somehow that meant I had mastered the pose and the practice. Ha! What little I knew at that time.

Short answer? YES

What are yoga props?

Props include Yoga Blocks, Yoga Strap, Blankets, and a Bolster. Even folding chairs and the wall are considered props. Many people associate props with specific styles of yoga like Iyengar and Restorative yoga but you can use them in every yoga practice.

Why use yoga props?

Props help you get into postures safely and with proper alignment and allows you to experience the pose and its benefits even if your hamstrings or shoulders are tight. They help to make yoga accessible to beginners and those experiencing injury or other physical limitations. They can also help bring awareness to your body so that you can feel how to properly engage and support muscles in a specific pose.

Yoga blocks, by far, are my favorite so I’m mostly going to talk about that. I recommend getting two blocks and you can get either foam blocks or cork blocks. I like the feel of cork blocks because they are a bit sturdier and heavier. If you don’t have yoga blocks, you can always use a sturdy, hard cover book in its place.

yoga props

How do I use yoga blocks?

There are endless ways to incorporate props into your practice. Here are 3 different ways to use yoga blocks in your practice.

1.  Yoga blocks bring the ground to you

You can use them under your hands in forward folds to help bring the floor closer to you so you don’t have to strain your back of your hamstrings as you try to reach for the ground.

blocks under hands

You can also use them in poses like extended side angle for them same purpose where it’s important to ground your hand firmly into the ground (or block). Depending on the day and how my legs and hips are feeling, I often use a block in the pose.

extended side angle

You can use a block under your head in forward folds so that your head can feel grounded. If you’re in a seated forward fold, you can place the block on your legs and rest your head on top. Forward folds can help to calm the nervous system and it really helps if you head feels secure.

prasarita with block

My hair is covering the block but I swear there is one under my head!

2. Yoga blocks help you learn external and internal rotation

Have you heard this cue in yoga class before? Do you know what it means? This might be my favorite way to use blocks. Understanding what external and internal rotation means in both your arms and your legs will transform your yoga practice and help you come into better alignment in each pose.

block between hands

In your arms, external rotation is critical to help plug your arm bones into your shoulder and solidify the shoulder girdle and to help you achieve greater vertical extension.

Place a block between your hands and lift your arms overhead. Press firmly into the block with your hands and as you do that, you should feel like your pinky fingers are moving towards each other. That’s external rotation. Your biceps should be moving closer to your ears and towards the back of the room and your triceps should feel like they are spinning towards the front of the room. You want this same engagement in downward facing dog, Warrior I, etc.

 block between legs

Place a block between your thighs on its narrowest width. Press firmly into the block and move the block towards the back of the room – that’s internal rotation. You should feel like your thighs are turning inwards toward your midline. Now, move the block towards the front of the room – that’s external rotation. You should feel like your thighs are rotating away from your midline.

3. Yoga blocks let you rest in restorative poses.

Blocks, along with blankets and bolsters, are a great way to set up for restorative poses. Props support you in the pose so that you don’t have to exert any effort but still experience the effects of the practice. Restorative yoga is designed to relax and restore your body.

My favorite restorative pose is supported bridge. Lie on your back and press into your heels to life your hips. Place a block underneath your sacrum – not your lumbar spine – and relax. You can take your hands alongside you or clasp them underneath you.

 supported bridge

Those are just some initial ideas on how to use props. I didn’t talk much about using a yoga strapblankets, or bolsters but let me know if you want me to discuss those too!

Do you use props in your practice? What other yoga questions do you have?

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Comments

  1. says

    I love teachers that set up their mat with block so that everyone will follow suit. They set an example that using block is not a failure in some way, but a benefit that everyone can use. I used to feel like you did, that blocks were an indication of being a beginner, but I finally realized that as an older yogi, with a runner’s tight muscles, blocks were my friends.
    Debbie @ Live from La Quinta recently posted..The Reason this Isn’t a Training RecapMy Profile

  2. says

    Whew–thought you were going to say not to use them and I would feel like a dork. I am so tight that I could really use three blocks stacked up! haha! You look amazing btw! That gorgeous body is strong and beautiful!

  3. says

    I’m a supported bridge girl all the way! I also use a block for sitting in easy pose, goddess pose (sometimes) and extended side angle.

    Perhaps you have an AAY segment about how do you get past the hate (yes, the hate!!!) of certain poses? I hate chair, plow and shoulder stand so much. Not very yogic thoughts but so very true….at least for me.

    Thanks lady!
    Melissa Burton recently posted..Friday’s Featured Female – Melissa@MelissaRunningIt.comMy Profile

  4. says

    Great series idea Christine! I love it already. I’m super bendy and most times let my pride get in the way of using yoga blocks. “I don’t need those I can touch the floor” etc. But then I had a teacher give me blocks one day just to play around with and I found that they don’t hinder my practice but enhance it that much more.
    Angela @ Happy Fit Mama recently posted..HappyMy Profile

  5. says

    I do use props on my practice! I am laughing because I always thought I’d be one of those photographers who don’t use props, but sometimes, you can’t resist. And people want it.
    Anyway, I apologize because I know very well you’re talking about Yoga!
    And I love this post.
    Tamara recently posted..Too Darn Happy.My Profile

  6. says

    As someone still new to yoga – I started practicing about 7 months ago – I definitely rely on the blocks. Initially, I was a little embarassed since I thought it would be viewed as a sign of weakness, but I’ve come to recognize how important they are in helping me get the right alignment and stretches. I am still working on loosening up my tight hamstrings and hips. This seems to be a neverending challenge! Can’t wait to check out this new series! Great idea!
    Kerry recently posted..A Little Self-Reflection: 10 Things I Would Tell My Teenaged SelfMy Profile

  7. says

    Great idea!!! I definitely use props. I have no choice since I’m not that flexible from all the running and cycling. I enjoy using them b/c I feel I can more fully get into the pose!
    Looking forward to more next month…
    Allie recently posted..The Rundown: Go Big or Go HomeMy Profile

  8. says

    Love this series! I have so much to learn. My first yoga experience wasn’t exclusively a yoga studio so they only had blocks and straps. The second studio I went to had bolsters and blankets as well, so I would be interested to know are certain things better for certain poses? Or better for newer yogis, etc? Also, the only person I have seen use a bolster is someone pregnant, but maybe that was just the class I was in?
    Kelly @ Cupcake Kelly’s recently posted..Weekly Updates: 02/24/14 – 03/02/14My Profile

    • says

      I love your questions Kelly! Just want to clarify – Do you mean are certain props better for certain poses or are certain props better for newer yoga practitioners? I wish every class used bolsters. They are often used more in restorative yoga classes (where you relax into the pose so the bolsters help to make those poses more comfortable) or yin yoga classes (you hold the poses longer so the props help you sustain that hold).
      Christine Yu recently posted..Ask a Yogini: Should I Use Yoga Props?My Profile

    • says

      Did I respond to you about this? I have a Jade mat that’s pretty great and sticky. I also have recently been using a Gaiam Sol mat which was made specifically for hot yoga so it absorbs sweat and keeps you from slipping around. He could also just get a yoga towel like a skidless one (I think that’s what it’s called) and place it over the mat.
      Christine Yu recently posted..Friday Round-Up: Follow Your HeartMy Profile

    • says

      Hi Megan!

      So sorry it’s taken me so long to get back to you on this! Blankets definitely help to keep us warm and toasty at the end of class in savasana but mostly we use them to help elevate our hips in seated postures (for those who are less open in the hamstrings or whose pelvis has a posterior tilt or rounded lower back). They are also helpful to add padding in some poses like Pigeon pose. If you have tight hips and your hips are super high off the ground, you can use blankets in the space between the ground and your hip, again helping to bring the ground up to you rather than forcing your hip down.

      Hope that helps!
      Christine Yu recently posted..Friday Round-Up: Follow Your HeartMy Profile

  9. says

    Oh – I’m going to enjoy this series!! And, I’m so happy that you said yes to the props. The only way I can remotely do triangle is with a block. Even with a block, my head doesn’t touch anything on a forward bend!
    Teaching external and internal rotation isn’t something I would have even thought of – now I’m happy that I have my yoga blocks.
    Kim recently posted..#Mania #Frenzy #OverloadMy Profile

  10. says

    I am excited about this series, too! I didn’t start getting really into props until this pregnancy. Now, I couldn’t live without my blocks and bolster. I don’t have a strap, but use a stretchy exercise band sometimes. Love #2. Haven’t thought about that in awhile! Namaste :)
    Emily recently posted..I Should Watch T.V.My Profile

  11. says

    I love this, Christine. When I took yoga classes, I always felt like a failure if I needed blocks. I’ve since began to see them as a tool to help me do poses correctly. My hamstrings have always been and probably always will be very tight, so props are almost a must for me.
    Shana Norris recently posted..My Mamalode Instagram Takeover.My Profile

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