by Charlotte Watts
Props are an important part of a body intelligent yoga practice as they can offer support, resistance and bridge the gap between yourself and the floor when you can’t quite reach. This last point is crucial; if ego and ambition enter our practice and we don’t use a block or belt when we need one, we can push into poses, creating both force and even potential injury. This immediately takes us out of the realms of yoga where we can breathe freely to create connection and opening and moves us towards a state of clenching and caring only about ‘the stretch’ or end point of a pose.
Yoga is about creating balance – if we are having to push hard in one direction, then it is difficult to open up in another. So if you have to round the back to reach the toes in a forward bend, you can’t find space in the front body and get caught up with ‘how far down you can go’. This is not the point, use a belt around the feet and you’ll see you can create length in the front spine, connect to the breath and find a meditative state in a more body intelligent pose.
Practising in this way actually allows the body to open more as muscle receives the message that it is safe to lengthen from a calm nervous system. Gripping and pushing create more contraction and less likelihood of that ‘perfect pose’.
Crucial yoga equipment to have to hand:
Yoga mat – these create grip and are often known as ‘sticky mats’. Unlike smooth pilates mats they are designed to help us stay in one place, important for postural integrity, for instance good grip with the hands to press back and support the spine in down-face dog. Cheaper brand new mats can be annoyingly slippery and need a bit of wear and tear before they offer good grip. Do wash your hands with soap to dry out palms first – hand-cream is not a friend in down-face dog!
Yoga blocks – always have one at least (or a phone directory) to be able to sit up in seated poses without slumping back and support the neck by placing under the skull in lying poses. Several are always useful to practice poses where some height from the floor helps us open up, to lift the chest and top shoulder away from a hand on the floor for instance.
A belt – so useful to help binding when we can’t quite reach particularly in poses where we are lying and straightening out the legs or seated forward bends. A tie or scarf can work at the beginning.
A blanket – folded, can be used in place of a block or several folded and stacked instead of a yoga bolster for restorative poses. Pulled around the front shins, this can help support the legs in seated or meditation postures to stop pain in the outer shins or gripping in the knees. Also useful to place on mats for comfort to facilitate ‘letting go’. Maybe most importantly, to create a feeling of warmth and safety in savasana (final relaxation) so you can truly focus on the breath and releasing into the whole of the body.
Something comfortable that you can move in easily, particularly around the waist, so you don’t feel restricted when bending forward or twisting. That’s why many yoga trousers have fold-over top panels. We are all different shapes, so try several but don’t feel you need special gear. Your comfy leggings or sweat pants are great if they allow you to move well; older clothing often works best for this reason.
It can be useful to have clothes that allow you to see the positioning of your knees and be aware of the positioning of your pelvis and lower back. This will help you follow instructions, especially when new poses are unfamiliar to you. When we start out on a yoga journey, we can feel body connection takes a while to establish and seeing alignment in these areas can help you follow postural and placing instructions in ways that safely support your knees and lower back. This is one of the reasons practitioners can wear tighter clothes (not just vanity!), so they and teachers can see alignment best and adjust where needed.