Love Your Yoga Practice: How Props Can Help You Reach Your Full Potential (by Iyengar Yoga Teacher Sally Marsland)

Iyengar Yoga Alive Physio & Wellness

If you have heard about Iyengar Yoga, you may know we use props. 

Asana is the Sanskrit name for the physical shapes we make during class; in English they are called poses. Props assist with stability, support, and alignment as we do them.  

Props can help when someone is working with an injury or special condition. They provide access to the energy and benefits of asana shapes our bodies may not yet have the skills or strength to make and/or remain in. We also use them to focus on details within an asana, so we can bring that understanding back into the full shape well, as transferring it to others. For whilst the form of each asana varies, Iyengar Yoga’s underlying method is the same. It teaches us how to learn – how to stay present and feel what is required – to move with energy and ease. This is health.

A typical Iyengar studio will have mats, straps, foam or wooden bricks, blankets, chairs and bolsters. Most also have wall ropes, different sized rods, boxes and benches. 

There are also specialised props with names like backbender, tressler and pranayama stick. 

Here’s some of the props you’ll find at Alive Physio and Wellness’s studio:

Iyengar-Props-APW-Hawthorn

BKS Iyengar

Iyengar Yoga’s founder, BKS Iyengar, devoted 80 of his 94 years to practising, teaching and researching the benefits of yoga. There is a good, short biography on the Iyengar Yoga Australia website (https://iyengaryoga.asn.au/what-is-iyengar-yoga/who-is-bks-iyengar). He is widely credited as inventing props, to help students develop their yoga safely without their naivety, enthusiasm or ego hurting or pushing themselves into shapes their bodies were not ready for. 

Yet if you have ever seen BKS Iyengar’s extraordinary and influential  1966 book, Light on Yoga, there is not a single prop to be seen, not even a mat. This is because 1, he hadn’t developed them yet, and 2, he didn’t need them. Unlike most of us he began yoga as a teenager and practised up to 8-10 hours a day throughout his life. 

Prop intelligence

From a brick under a hand or blanket under the head, to complex setups with multiple props, the key is to use them intelligently. Despite their name, the purpose of a prop is not to ‘prop’ or use out of habit. When they are not needed, we (hopefully) put them aside.

Last year I invited three friends to do some yoga at Alive Physio & Wellness. They are experienced yogis. I just said the name of each asana and they instinctively took props appropriate for what was right for them, that day. 

Here’s what they did with Trikonasana:

trikonasana - Iyebgar Yoga

Jane (left) sometimes has an issue with her right knee. The wooden brick to her calf is giving support so she doesn’t over bend it, and proprioceptive feedback to the leg as she develops the connection between the press of the right heel through to her spine and body.

Ruth had a brick and chair in case she needed either of them for balance; see how she’s lightly resting her hand, she raised the arm just after the photo was taken.

Nicola, like the others, has the support of the mat so her feet don’t slip 🙂

And, it might be said, all three of them have the support a most essential prop, the ground. 

Feeling ‘grounded’ – connected both with the environment and within ourselves – is beneficial in just about every situation, and, especially for learning. Another time I’ll explore this more. 

More reasons to love yoga props

I think props are beautiful in their own right, and lovely to work with, especially the wooden ones. 

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