Importance of Using Props for Yoga
This image shows how my teacher Bobby Clenell makes us do shoulder stands. Both the shoulders are in the same line. And the base of the shoulder is the only one responsible for carrying the whole body weight up without putting any pressure on the cervical vertebrae. Hence it is a perfect( aligned and functional ) shoulder stand. You can check more of bobby’s prop based asana images HERE
When I started practicing yoga. I use to get pretty emotional about using props. I would try to prove to myself or to my teacher that see I can also bend super far like you and touch my feet with my hands. Naively, at the cost of over rounding my spine, collapsing the front body and therefore constricting my breath. Funnily, what I did not realize at that time is that this way- Neither am I able to breathe properly nor am I able to work on my hamstrings. I was not doing yoga actually. I was just bending-trying to touch my own feet .
What if, rather, I had realized the level of flexibility of my own hamstrings and have put my hands on raised blocks instead of just trying to touch my feet?
What I have learnt after practicing many poses for years and still not feeling any progress in the strength and flexibility of the muscles is that if their is no proper alignment and flow of oxygen in any pose (simple or not so simple) then there is no ‘yoga’ happening. So, Now, I have learnt to pick up or ask for as many props as I need to support my pose in proper alignment. I can thus avoid- risking an injury or marring the chances of progressing in the pose by getting into a “self sustained – skewed pose”.
I see highly experienced teacher doing the same and I wonder how simple it is for them to know their or their student’s body so well to pick up a prop and support the pose as and when needed. There is no shame or comparison in them about that.
I believe, props help practitioners at all levels gain the sensitivity of a pose while receiving the benefits over time without overextending themselves. They allow students to practice asanas (postures) and pranayama (breath control) with greater effectiveness, ease, and stability.
As a simple example, take kapotasana (pigeon pose). Generally I have seen the hips (unsquare), floating in the air, putting pressure(in a wrong way) on the lower spine. Not allowing the legs or upper back to stretch. But if we keep one of the floating hip on a bolster or a block then we get a chance to square both the hips and remove our attention from all the discomfort that the floating hips were causing thus enabling the stretch of the hamstrings and back muscles- which was the whole purpose of the pigeon pose. This way we also give a chance to the hips to sink into the pose, experience it and then gradually develop muscular strength for it.
I hope this helps. Please keep asking your fitness related queries.