Support at home — exploring asana with props

propsA friend remarked to me recently how she hates it when her teacher quietly gives her a second block to sit on at the start of class. She knows its an ego thing, but she feels frustrated every time. My own teacher strongly encourages props in class, but I’ve rarely seen him impose one on a student in such a direct way (though he does do this cool thing where he rolls up someone’s mat and tucks it under their heels in squat pose. It never ceases to surprise a newcomer the first time they feel this! It’s very sweet to watch).

I almost cried with relief the day he came and popped a brick under my knee in Janu Sirsasana to give my hamstring a bit of support. Somehow it never occurred to me to do that! Thankfully I’ve figured out a bit more since then about how I can make poses more comfortable or attainable and because of the ethos of his teaching I never feel at all bad about doing this in class.

Today was a day for home practice and I sneaked it in at lunchtime — the bonus of a day working from home. I was feeling energetic and playful, probably a reaction to the detailed work my day job necessitated this morning, so I found a great soundtrack on 8tracks called Bhakti Sunshine (it lived up to its name! take a listen if you like Jai Uttal, KD & co.), and I just had some fun on my mat, flowing, breathing, exploring.

And using props wherever I could think of a way to do so.

Uttihita Hasta Padangusthasana from Light on Yoga
Uttihita Hasta Padangusthasana from Light on Yoga

It was really interesting figuring how I could start to get a feel for the shape of an asana even if I can’t actually do it ‘on my own’ yet, and comparing this with my experience in class where I usually hold back, concentrating more on correct form than exploring my edges so much. So in class we’ve been doing Uttihita Hasta Padangusthasana (extended hand to toe pose), both in front and out to the side. And I can’t get my leg out very far in either direction. Fine, my teacher’s line is very much about focussing on the strength and straightness of the standing leg and keeping hips level, so I’m more or less happy with that. But it’s really beautiful to watch the students who can get further in this pose. It looks an awesome and slightly precarious balance — I can almost see the energy running up and down to keep the pose tall, but also the horizontal forces stretching the raised leg out, and the mysterious relationship between these two forces.

Of course I want to know what that feels like. So strap to the ready at home (including a hilarious mid-air transition to unwind a bit of it from hanging round my neck and hook it over my foot while I’m balancing…). It was a really interesting experience to feel how near yet how far I am from being able to hold even this wocky supported version.

Another thing I tried was using the back of the dining chair kind of like a ballet barre and supporting myself rolling my hip open from a warrior 3 stance into a supported Ardha Chandrasana. I’ve been struggling with AC recently and feel as though I’m arching my lower back as I try to open the hip. But being supported and not worrying about falling down meant that I was better able to focus on keeping my core solid and lengthening my spine which made the pose feel straighter.

Back on the ground I experimented with a folded blanket under one sit bone in asymmetrical seated poses to see if I could get a sense of more equal stability. Less exciting work here, but hopefully some patience will see my hips settling more evenly.

I’m getting to the stage where poses feel more like a dynamic space that I can move around in and approach from different directions. Today was one aspect of that. If I have time later on I’ll get the books out and see if I can match up some of what I was feeling to the anatomy and formal descriptions of some of these poses. The time on the mat was just for my body, but my brain still asks a lot of questions.

3 thoughts on “Support at home — exploring asana with props

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  1. Props can be so useful! I find that the right prop at the right time can really open up the possibility of experiencing the key actions in a pose that might otherwise be closed off to the practitioner.

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  2. So cool that you’re experimenting like that! I tend to hold back rather than exploring my edges and so lately I have been telling myself “i can!” (My fave running mantra) a bit more and finding that I can do some poses that I thought I couldnt! The mind is such a powerful thing. I think props are such a great way of opening up your practice and modifying poses so you can still experience their benefits 🙂 I’ll have to check out Bhakti Sunshine, what a gorgeous name! 🙂

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