prop – something that props or sustains
Iyengar Yoga is well known for its theoretical foundation on postural alignment and precise execution of movements in yoga poses and pranayama. It is less about “doing” a pose, but more about “studying oneself.” The use of props such as blocks, belts, blankets or chair allows everyone to achieve the above benefits regardless of her or his physical condition or age.
In a typical Iyengar Yoga class, students are challenged to practice on the concepts of alignment. Take Uttanasana (Intense Stretch Pose) as an example. In this standing forward-bending pose, we strive for the final classical position which involves standing with feet together, reaching our hands to touch the floor next to our feet without bending our knees, and having our frontal torso in close proximity with our legs. Details on how to extend the legs to properly align our hip joints in this pose are often emphasized for an effective and safe extension of the spine. Therefore, when a student cannot achieve the actions in the legs due to hamstrings stiffness, we offer blocks to bring the floor up in order to maintain the integrity of the student’s body, at the given time, with the given limitations.
Moreover, students build stamina and endurance in yoga poses so that they can develop deeper awareness of their bodily condition. More often than not, props supports our body as well as our mind while we work longer in a pose. For instance, inverted poses such as Sarvangasana (Shoulderstand Pose), offer a range of physical and emotional benefits when they are held for significant time periods. A continuing beginner student who just starts to gain stability in shoulderstand pose may not have the stamina to maintain the alignment (such as keeping the elbows at shoulder-width) in this pose for more than 2 minutes. In this case, a belt is instrumental to provide a tool for this student to keep the arms in line so that s/he can stay in this pose longer without either a collapse body over the wrists or pain in the cervical region of the spine.
Finally, B.K.S. Iyengar refined the use of props in the practice of yoga also to educate our mind in the classroom of our physical body. The elaborate use of wooden props in Iyengar Yoga such as the trestle (Pune horse) or Setu Bandha Bench (Bridge Bench) has helped numerous students to overcome their physical hardship and to achieve confidence and serenity. In addition of using the props as a parameter of a pose, such as doing standing poses with a trestle, using props in restorative and therapeutic poses facilitates healing and a deeper release of relaxin such as endorphins.
B.K.S. Iyengar once said, “It is while practicing yoga asanas that you learn the art of adjustment.” The use of props in Iyengar Yoga allows us to slow down, pay attention and to accept the “here and now.” In this sense, our yoga practice is a journey of learning how to adapt, grow and mature.
(Image credits to Barbara Ayala from Chile and Bobby Connell from New York)