Recently I received an opportunity to sub for an excellent yoga teacher at my favorite studio for a couple months. The usual nerves began to bubble toward the surface before the first class began, mainly: could I keep the standard of quality high for the students?
Thankfully after wrapping things up, a student came up to me to say thank you. The glow of aliveness radiating out from her clear eyes told me all I needed to know.
Besides thanking me for the class, this student asked a question that made me take pause.
We’d finished the class using a bolster for a supported fish pose to integrate all the heart openers from the class. (Oh right, it randomly happened to be Valentine’s Day morning.)
The student asked if it was okay to use a bolster in the same manner during her shavasanas.
Of course it’s okay, I said. A bolster is no different than using a blanket or anything else during the final relaxation. Shavasana, more than any other part of the class, should emphasize individual comfort and if props help achieve that, there shouldn’t be any hesitation.
This led me to think about how we use props in yoga classes.
It baffles me how often we’d rather fight to achieve the “ideal” idea of a pose, rather than allow our body to ease into something with the aid or a well-placed block or strap. This seems especially true for newer students, as the ego mind remains so dominant. Even if it’s their first class, many students see others around them in a pose and think they HAVE to attain that depth, too.
I speak from experience.
When I began practicing yoga, I’d fight my body to go deeper into a lunge or forward bend because my mind said I had to get as far as the person next to me.
Blocks? Ha! Not for a capable, strong guy like myself!
A blanket under my knees? Do I look like a wimp?
Eventually I realized props don’t make you look weak, rather they enhance the yoga experience — as you surrender into sensation. Thankfully many of my early teachers emphasized listening to your body, rather than the ego on a yoga mat. Slowly but surely I realized that in the long run, this is a fight the ego cannot win.
As a teacher I’ve noticed how resistant some students can be to a prop — even a simple strap. During a class when I offer a block or strap to a student who seems to be struggling, it’s always amazing to see the virtual light bulb go off over their heads when they allow the prop into their practice.
Perhaps this all boils down to the connotation of the word “prop.” Many of us fight with the idea we need something to prop ourselves up. Props are for the weak.
Instead why not refer to our yoga props as tools or aids?
Or look at it this way, would a golfer turn down a tool which may help them lower their score? Would a chef resist a new gadget that would help their recipes soar? Would a guitarist turn their nose up at a pedal that helps them play their desired tone?
Encouraging students to listen to their bodies, rather than their egos, is something we should strive to do, especially when it comes to something as simple as a block under our hands or a strap between our fingers. Better yet, it’s something we all ought to consider when we step onto our mats.
Mike Cardillo, RYT-200, lives and teaches yoga in Connecticut. He believes yoga is more than simply making shapes with your body.
He can be reached at yogawithmikeCT [at] gmail.com or found at Facebook.com/yogawithmikeCT