When Should You Use a Yoga Prop?
What constitutes a yoga prop and when should you use one? Where did yoga blocks come from? Why are they so popular? These are good questions. The answers are rooted in the history of yoga. Let us explain.
The Origins of Yoga
The practice of yoga dates back about 5,000 years. It began in India as a means of achieving spiritual enlightenment. Yoga techniques were passed down from teacher to student. These techniques were eventually recorded by the Indian sage Patanjali. He wrote down a systematic method of yoga in the Yoga Sutras. Patanjali is considered to be the father of yoga.
Patanjali wrote of the eight “limbs” of yoga:
- Yama — abstaining from violence, stealing, lust, and greed
- Niyama — developing devotion, purity, studiousness, contentment, and discipline
- Asana — attaining body postures
- Pranayama — controlling the breath
- Pratyahara — going inward and withdrawing attention from the outside world
- Dharana — focusing concentration
- Dhyana — practicing meditation
- Samadhi — merging with the universal consciousness
Yoga Blocks: A Brief History
During the 20th century, Yogi B.K.S. Iyengar first introduced the use of props to yoga. They included:
- sand bags
- yoga blocks
Iyengar yoga is based on the traditional eight limbs of yoga as expounded by Patanjali in his Yoga Sutras. Iyengar yoga emphasizes the development of strength, stamina, flexibility, and balance, as well as concentration (Dharana) and meditation (Dhyana). An Iyengar practice emphasizes attention to detail and precise body alignment, aided by the use of props.
Props prove useful to both beginner and advanced yoga practitioners. For the beginner, props function as aids for experiencing the asanas more easily than would otherwise be possible. For experts, props allow challenging poses to be attempted more safely. For all practitioners, they improve alignment and help protect against injury. Many modern day yoga instructors feel that props greatly improve their clients’ progress. Props help beginners to experience asanas more readily, and they allow tired, senior, or ill clients to reap the benefits of yoga with much less muscular effort.
The Perfect Yoga Prop
Finding a perfect yoga prop is an elusive goal, and the modern yoga community continues to search for better ways to achieve the goals of the Yoga Sutras. Almost any object can be used as a yoga prop so long as the object is used in keeping with the attention to detail and precise alignment of an Iyengar yoga practice. Some objects, of course, are impractical, and others are a poor fit for the human body.
Among the most common props are yoga blocks — solid, rectangular pieces of material designed to support the body in a variety of poses. Typically made of wood, cork, or foam, yoga blocks assist the yoga practitioner by simulating a higher floor, a type of small bench capable of holding your weight.
A New Type of Yoga Block
While the original yoga block was designed to simulate and raise the floor, a new type of prop, the Three Minute Egg®, is designed to be an ergonomic extension of the body to the floor. The Three Minute Egg® is, as the name suggests, an egg-shaped yoga block with a curved top and bottom, and rounded edges. While comfortable to hold, the shape of the egg is specially deigned to work with the natural curves of the body, as well as offering a flat, rocking-chair-like edge that grips the floor.
Some instructors have reported that the Three Minute Egg® encourages a deeper, more comfortable, and safer expression of poses than rectangular yoga blocks. Other instructors have said that it encourages more conscious weight distribution and accurate alignment. Because of its unique shape, the Egg gently encourages awareness and better balance between the left and right, the front and back, and the upper and lower regions of the body. As for the Egg’s “three minutes,” that’s a great amount of time to stay in a posture during deep stretch practices like Yin Yoga and Restorative Yoga.
When to Use a Yoga Prop
So when should you use a prop? If your practice allows the use of props, then use one whenever it helps you to achieve the goals set forth by Patanjali’s original eight limbs of yoga. In particular, use a prop to protect against injury and to safely explore the asanas you might otherwise find unattainable. Most asana practices involve some level of rigor and effort. All yogis would do well to complement these more intense practices with some Restorative Yoga, and Restorative Yoga relies heavily on the use of props.