Yoga is a popular trend in the mind-body fitness world that has its origins in Indian philosophy and has grown to a worldwide movement. Anyone can begin a yoga practice at home or in a studio, but some may feel intimidated to get started without any knowledge of how the physical practice can be supported by props in the beginning. Knowledge of basic yoga equipment is helpful for the beginner or advanced practitioner.
Yoga props are commonly used in classes to modify poses.
The common props include mats, straps, blocks, bolsters and eye pillows.
All styles of yoga may use props to some degree.
The equipment used in yoga, usually called yoga props, is great for any level of practice. Advanced students may use them in different ways than beginners, but either way they are helpful.
The yoga mat
The first thing you need is a yoga mat, and if you sweat a lot, a yoga towel to cover your mat could also be helpful. Yoga mats come in a variety of brands and materials, but generally they are made of rubber to give a grippy texture to prevent slipping during postures.
A yoga mat towel or rug helps to absorb your sweat and also has a grip factor enabled by the sweat so you don’t slip. You simply place the towel over your mat. The mat is shaped like a long rectangle to fit your entire body in various sitting, standing, and reclined postures.
Many yoga studios will have mats to borrow or rent, but you may want to purchase your own if you plan to practice at home. You may then wonder how I choose a mat?
Most sporting goods stores and even yoga studios will sell them. If you have sensitive knees, opt for one that is thicker. If you are taller, look for a longer one. Other popular mats may have alignment lines on them.
Blocks are a quintessential yoga prop. They can provide leverage and support in a variety of ways. They are made of foam, cork or wood and look like a brick. You can use them to sit on if your hips are tight or underneath your hands if your hands don’t touch the floor in a standing forward fold. Advanced practitioners may use them under their hands or feet for moves like arm balancing poses. They help to create some elevation so the yoga posture becomes more accessible.
Yoga blocks also help create good alignment when used correctly. For example, if when sitting the back is rounded and the knees are lifted up, it is best to sit on a block to elongate the waist and let the knees drop downward to create a longer spine. This helps lift the organs so the breath can flow easily through the body in a meditative position.
Generally, you want to have two blocks on hand for your yoga practice. One for underneath each hand is ideal for poses like Warrior 3, which is a balance pose.
The yoga bolster
A bolster is a cushion or pillow a yoga practitioner can use for support in seated and reclined postures. Often, they are used for sitting meditation for longer periods of time because they are more comfortable than a block. They come in a variety of shapes and sizes, but usually they look like a big pillow.
One of the most common ways to use a bolster during a yoga pose is to lay it vertically behind your body and recline over it to open the chest. It can also be placed under the knees in savasana (corpse pose) where you lay on your back and relax at the end of a class. This helps alleviate any lower back pain.
Bolsters are primarily used in more gentle styles of yoga such as restorative and yin yoga. During these types of classes, a soft prop used for support helps the body stay in the pose for longer periods of time. Relaxing and supported poses may be held for 2-20 minutes depending on the style or teacher. This helps create a bridge toward a meditative state.
The yoga strap
A yoga strap is a long cloth belt with a buckle on the end so you can make a loop in it if necessary. It is commonly used in postures such as seated forward fold if one cannot reach the feet, you can simply loop the strap over the feet and hold onto the strap instead of the feet.
A yoga strap helps create length when the flexibility of the body is not there yet. Over time, it will help develop the length and flexibility in the muscles and joints needed to accomplish the posture, but like everything it takes time, and in the case of yoga, also deep breaths.
The eye pillow is used during savasana or yoga nidra practice. Yoga nidra is the yoga of sleep, which is done laying down in savasana and is a long guided meditation. The eye pillow may be made of soft cloth with sand or rice inside, sometimes with a lavender scent for relaxation. It helps keep the eyes closed with gentle pressure and block out any light so you can surrender to deep relaxation.
Many times yoga props are used in a way to “modify” the practice in order to stretch or strengthen the body toward the goal of the pose so one day you may be able to perform the posture without them- or maybe not, in the case of restorative yoga. For example, a vinyasa yoga class may use blocks and straps for arm balancing and backbends.
The biggest barrier of all is in the mind with just getting started! Don’t be afraid to get out there and try something new- and remember, the yoga equipment is there to support you, there is nothing wrong with using yoga props.