If you’re new to yoga, you might assume that yoga props, like blocks and straps, only exist to help beginners who “can’t” do certain poses. But, that couldn’t be farther from the truth. All students can benefit from yoga props, regardless of their body shape, years of experience, or physical ability. In the same way that yoga teachers guide you to listen to your body and honor what you need, yoga props serve to deepen your practice. The most common yoga props include blocks, straps, and bolsters. These keep your body safe and allow you to customize each pose exactly how you need to gain flexibility and strength. Learn the perks of using yoga props now, so that you can incorporate them into your practice later.
You’ll create more space in your body.
“Yoga props are all about accessibility,” says Christa Beeler, an instructor at Power Life Yoga. “The yoga poses or acrobatics we all see on social media are not for everyone’s body. But, by adding props to your practice, you can meet your body right where it’s at and get the most out of your yoga pose.”
Blocks, straps, and bolsters all create extra space in your body, which leads to more openness in each yoga pose. Here’s a quick description of each:
Blocks can be made of wood or thick foam, and are laid on the ground at a variety of heights.
“Like the hands of a skilled instructor, blocks advance your practice and experience,” says Kasia Galica, yoga teacher, and coach at Cut Seven. “They help in a myriad of ways: to deepen a pose, to properly align, to give support, to encourage activation. This tool adds another dimension to the four corners of your mat.”
“Blocks bring the floor up to the hands for people who are less flexible or need modifications, such as when you can’t touch the floor in a forward bend,” explains Iowa-based yoga teacher Mary McCarthy. “They can be used to lift your chest or hips for a supported backbend or to keep your hands apart in forearm balance.”
In addition to blocks, straps essentially make your arms and legs longer—which, according to Galica, also activates the muscles on the back side of your lower body. This avoids any “pulling” sensation and reduces your risk of injury.
Straps are usually made of non-elastic nylon or cotton and can stretch anywhere from six to ten feet. These also feature a fastener so that you can create a loop to hold.
Bolsters, or cushions, range in terms of style and size, but typically look like a big body pillow or folded, woven blanket. Although bolsters are a little less known in the yoga prop world, they’re one of the best options for extra support.
McCarthy suggests using bolsters in a few key ways. Support your body during restorative and yin poses, such as savasana at the end of a yoga class. You can also sit on a bolster for support during meditation. It may sound simple, but many yogis find seated postures—especially ones held for a long period of time—uncomfortable, both mentally and physically. Bolsters raise your hips above your knees to reduce tension. Instead of forcing your body into a place it’s not necessarily ready or willing to go, this prop invites stiff or contracted muscles to relax, while still utilizing solid form.
Props teach your body muscle memory for proper alignment.
Good alignment in yoga teaches your body what it feels like to pose correctly. The goal isn’t to be “perfect,” but, to receive the full benefits of each posture. It basically creates positive habits: you build strength without straining, and avoid using strong muscles to overcompensate for weak ones. For example, in triangle pose, you can place your hand on a block to keep your spine long and rib cage open, versus collapsing through the chest or overstretching.
“There’s a misconception that if you’re using a block, you’re a novice, or not advanced enough,” notes Galica. “As a teacher now, I rarely teach a class without one or even two blocks. I think they’re incredible tools for all yogis, not just beginners. A block can make the difference between staying in a strong active stretch versus hanging in your ligaments. If used well, blocks can open many doors for all types of yogis.”
Challenging poses become more accessible.
From the outside looking in, it’s easy to equate yoga, as a whole, with crazy handstands on the beach—or with that advanced student twisting his or her lithe body into a pretzel during a group class. But what those scenes don’t show are the years of practice that happen behind the scenes, usually involving yoga props.
“Yoga blocks are great for bringing the floor closer to you,” says Beeler. “[With] many balance or standing postures, you need to push into the floor to create the proper alignment, but you can’t do this property if your hips won’t allow it.”
Similarly, tight shoulders or a tight back can prevent students from binding or performing hand-to-foot postures, which is where straps come into play. “The only way to work towards opening your shoulders is to assist them with a strap,” says Beeler. “In any hand-to-foot posture, it acts as an extension of your arms so [that] you can keep your shoulder blades plugged into your back, offering more length in the back side of your body. Eventually, over time, your shoulder may allow you to release the strap and grab behind, hand-to-hand.”
You can modify up with props, too.
Props can also be used to intensify any pose where you’re looking for a little more sensation, such as putting a block between your knees in chair or boat pose to activate your inner thighs or using a strap to discover a deeper stretch.
Above all, yoga props force you to think about humility. Yoga practice is called a practice for a reason. You’re never technically “done” with a pose, and there are always more levels to explore. Props simply help you safely navigate your yoga practice along the way for a strong mind and body.