Getting started in yoga wasn’t easy for me. My biggest obstacle was simply summoning up the courage to walk through the door. For years I shunned the yoga world in favor of a gym membership, only to traumatize my spine with a slipped disc after overexerting myself on a weight machine. One surgery later I was miraculously able to sit, stand, and walk again without any nerve pain. My medically-restored mobility, however, came at the expense of my flexibility.
My doctor prescribed for me a daily yoga and pilates regimen. While I was curious to try it, my fears descended upon me each time I arrived at the studio. I’d walk into a class and position myself strategically toward the back of the room. My goal was to avoid judgment from those who seemingly conquered any posture with ease, while I struggled simply to touch my toes. My silent need to compete with the advanced yogis who surrounded me blinded me to the stack of props that were available. Rather than utilize an accessory that would advance my practice and help me grow stronger, I got frustrated and made excuses not to return to the mat.
At some point I realized that no one cared about my practice besides the teacher and me. I was really only trying to fool myself. This was incredibly freeing, and I began to set small personal goals at the beginning of each pose. The next day I’d try to move deeper. When my hands couldn’t reach the ground in a standing forward fold, I resisted any creeping critical thoughts and nervous glances to the person next to me, and instead focused on what my available resources were. A block here and a towel there became the stepping stones I needed to ease into new dimensions. In her article, “Proper Props,” Leslie Peters suggests props can be used “…to guide the practitioner toward correct action and maximum intelligence” and, in this way, “…props can engage us in a process of observation, discernment, and reflection.” This has certainly been my experience
Rather than resisting props as an ego-buster for the yogically-challenged, I’ve embraced them as an ego-booster for they continue to help me grow. As Claudia Cummins puts it in her article, “To Prop or Not to Prop,” it’s just as important to be your own teacher, “[using] your body’s signals to devise new and effective ways of using props to enhance your practice.” My practice is better thanks to my use of props, and I am having more fun with them than without them.
These days I take each practice as it comes. Whether at home or in a class, I use yoga to center my thoughts with my physical presence and expand my experience from there. If an asana seems too difficult, I use a prop to help me move deeper into a pose. I would rather find comfort going only as far as I can than injure myself trying to keep up with a total stranger. A flexible body can help open the mind, but an open mind can do even more for the body. My body has amazed me with what it can do when it feels supported. The most dreaded part of my practice is now is having to walk out the door, not in.