Many are intimidated by the strength, flexibility and stamina that yoga demands. Though some schools discourage the use of props, beginners may find props help them get over their initial inhibition towards yoga.
Even in ancient times props must have been used to expand one's practice. Yoga danda (stick) itself may be seen as an effective prop, used by very advanced yogis to manipulate the flow of breath in whichever nostril they chose, as part of the secretive swar yoga practices.
Kusa grass mats, folded to the thickness of a few inches, also belonged to this genre of props for an advanced yogi, who needed the extra inches on which he could sit, so that both knees touched the ground. This allowed him to sit for long hours in the meditative lotus pose or padmasana. Today, most practitioners use their branded yoga mat with the same effect.
Though interesting and exotic props are available, using every-day items are better since their commonplace nature itself is soothing, further helping in removing our inhibitions towards difficult poses.
Some good props are bolsters, ideal for forward bends and lying back-bends. In the latter, they can support your neck or back, so that you do not strain too much against the drag of gravity initially. Similarly, you may use a small stool for standing forward bends, reaching to touch it instead of the floor, if your spine is stiff. In seated forward bends, a bolster or a cushion plays the same role.
A belt, scarf or a tie are all good props for leg raises. This again gives us some relief from gravity till we gain muscular stamina. A wall, a firm table or a chair make great supports for balancers. Even advanced poses may be learnt with props. An intermediate level pose such as viparita karani (inverted psychic pose) is also learnt faster with wall support for those who are nervous about attempting such inversions.
Points to note: The correct, studied use of props is necessary. Therefore, a teacher is the best guide here since you must know where and how to place the prop so that pose is executed without errors. After using props for a while one should slowly move away from their use. This will ensure better, more effective impact from the pose.
Shameem Akthar, trained with the Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Center, demonstrates five yogic positions that use props.
Text: Shameem Akthar
Photographs: Jahnavi Sheriff
Catch more of Shameem's yoga writings and about her upcoming workshops at jaisivananda.blogspot.com
Harmony Foundation recently published Shameem Akthar's book, Yoga for Silvers. To place an order, please write to: email@example.com
(This article only attempts to enthuse readers towards yoga practice and complement your existing practice. Yoga is best learnt under the personal guidance of a teacher.)
Also read: Yoga for flexibility!