The First Class is a series of posts where I discuss what to bring, what to wear and what to expect when you go to class. While this is aimed mostly at newbies, this is certainly applicable for people looking for tips on how to improve their yoga experience.
When it comes to ashtanga, props aren’t part of the usual practice. Most people come in with just their mat and maybe a towel. That said, safety and comfort are key for ANY style of yoga, so using props to help you have a better practice should be a no-brainer.
My husband is horribly inflexible. I know people say that about themselves, but he seriously cannot even sit up with legs straight out without needing to lean back. So the few times he comes to ashtanga class with me, he grabs a block and a strap for certain seated forward folds. These were suggestions from his teachers when modifications weren’t enough to give him stability.
Outside of ashtanga, props are commonly used in other classes. Teachers will usually tell the class at the beginning what they’ll need that day or help distribute items as students set up their mats. If you’re new the practice or unsure what you may need, here’s a quick rundown.
A blanket is great when you want a bit of cushion under your bum. This could be for seated meditation or a class meant for beginners where you’re sitting cross-legged for quite some time while getting a lot of instruction. Fold it to your desired height and place it under just your butt. Your legs should be off the blanket.
Using a blanket under your knees can be helpful for camel pose or anything that has you “standing” on your knees. Another option is to just fold the edge of your mat over.
Another use is to place it rolled up under your heels while squatting. This gives you stability if you don’t have flexibility in your achilles tendons to get your heels flat on the ground. Or you can roll it up to put under your hips if you’re pretty tight in pigeon pose.
Blocks give you stability for postures where your hands can’t quite reach the ground. They also let you get into a fuller expression of a pose instead of straining yourself.
Half-moon pose is a great example of using a block. You can flip the block on different sides to get the desired height.
Blocks are also great for having something to lean on when you’re in something like pigeon pose. Keep it toward the front of your mat, so you can gently rest your forehead as you ease into the posture.
When coupled with a bolster, blocks are great for setting up restorative postures. Use two blocks to create a “stairstep” to lean a bolster against, and voila! Reclining savasana!
Speaking of bolsters, there many wonderful restorative ways to use them. You can use one under your knees in savasana for lower back aches. Put one between your knees when lying on your side (great for pregos) to ease hip pain. If you need a little more height than a blanket for crossed-legged sitting, put your rump on a bolster. Another backache fix is legs up the wall with a bolster just under your hips.
For those of us with tight shoulders, a strap can come in handy for any behind-the-back arm reaches, like marichyasanas. You can also use them in forward folds when you’re feeling especially inflexible in those hamstrings.
There are also restorative postures that use a strap, like in supta baddha konasana.
When you want to just take a glorious nap while getting in a good stretch, props really are the way to go. It’s amazing how much better you’ll feel when you can safely modify, and props play a pretty nice part in that. Use them when you need to and skip them when you’re comfortable without. I just might go get some blocks out for a nice stretch riiiiiight about now.