I realize this may cause a scandal, but it’s time to come clean.
For the past 10 years I have practiced yoga propless.
When it started, I was dealing with chronic anxiety and I felt like yoga might help. I didn’t go out much in those days and wanted to avoid a group class. So I headed to the bookstore, grabbed a few books, and learned how to practice in the safety and comfort of my own home.
I picked up two books that day. Each had totally different takes on the necessity of props.
The first book began by compiling a list of all the props I would need in order to start my yoga practice: a mat, blocks, blankets, straps, wedges, bolsters and, meditation cushion.
The second book made no mention of props. It simply told me how to practice.
So I began to practice. No props, no fuss- just me, my body, and my breath.
It wasn’t until years later, when I took a class at a local studio, that I realized how prevalent props where in modern yoga practice. I got to class early and parked myself in the perfect spot. Other than my mat, I was completely propless.
One of the other students came in and told me I would need some props. She rambled off a list; 3 blocks, 5 blankets, 2 straps, 2 bolsters, and 2 – 5lb sand bags to be exact. Seriously? By the time I gathered all that stuff and got settled back on my mat I was ready for Savasana!
As the class proceeded, every pose required a prop (or three). The time between poses was filled with changing out and adjusting the props. I found it very distracting and I didn’t feel the same soul nourishing benefits I got when I did my prop-free practice at home.
Yoga is somewhere the neighborhood of four thousand years old and in the span of that time props have occupied very little of its history. It’s only in our modern culture that props have gained so much fame. You can purchase them almost anywhere- the grocery store, the book shop, the street corner. It seems there are endless opportunities to buy more stuff in order to do something that requires nothing but your body and your breath.
I want to be clear. I’m not knocking props. They can play a vital role in a yoga practice. They provide relief from pain and discomfort; help bring awareness to specific areas of focus, and offer support or adjustment in positioning. These are all important and even necessary uses for props. Unfortunately, it’s not the only way props are used.
Many times a teacher will use a prop as a way to ‘help’ a student get themselves into the correct shape of a pose. This can create the impression that the goal of yoga is to achieve the shape and that by achieving the shape you will reap more benefit. There are two problems with this approach.
First, the benefit of a pose comes from the effect it creates in the body not necessarily the pose itself. There are multiple ways to create that effect independent of the pose. Ponder; is your goal just to do the pose, or are you trying to create an effect?
Second, not all poses are meant for all bodies, and props or no props, when the primary goal is to achieve a shape it raises the risk of injury.
As I look back on my experience with that prop heavy yoga class, what I remember most was how un-safe it felt. There was a strategic method to the prop placement which automatically put my body in the position the teacher deemed as correct. There was no choice as to how deep I would go into the pose because as I followed the instructions, I was just put there. I found myself in positions that were much deeper than were appropriate for me and I felt danger in parts of my body where I had never felt danger before.
At the time I was no stranger to yoga. I had been training with a master teacher for over 2 years and as a teacher myself; I was paying attention to what was happening in the room. Amid the ooh’s and ah’s of those who were clearly enjoying the bliss of the class, I heard sighs of frustration and huffs of discomfort. I saw grimaced faces and confused looks. And as I weighed that with what I was experiencing in my own body I pondered the freedoms of a propless practice.
– to explore an appropriate and comfortable range of motion.
– to choose how deep to go into any given pose.
– to focus on the uninterrupted flow of the practice- no grabbing for props between poses.
– to direct the attention inward- away from the outward distractions that props might provide.
A propless practice can remove the perception that there is a perfect form or right way to do a posture. It can create space to grow, explore, and discover your own limitations and abilities as well as provide room to play with different adaptations and variations of poses. Most of all going propless gives you the freedom to come to your mat and practice yoga anytime, anywhere, without a ding dang thing… even a mat.
Trish Elting is an AVI Certified Viniyoga Therapist and Teacher + RYT-500. When she’s not teaching private yoga lessons, helping students create beautiful at-home practices, or blogging her lil’ heart out, she’s the front chick for a yoga- and chant-inspired cello band. Trish hosts nurturing retreats and online classes for yoga teachers and yoga lovin’ non teachers. One of her passions is helping teachers explore creative ways to manage and grow their business. Hang out with Trish over on facebook, or twitter. www.trishelting.com.
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