To Prop or Not to Prop

In the early 70s, when I began Hatha Yoga at the local Whitehorse YWCA, using props was not an option.

We all bumbled as long as best we could with what we had: our bodies.

Eventually, I discovered that my breath was pivotal to relaxation, especially as I was a practitioner who loved to play my edge. But that, too, had its price.

Discomfort and pain led to injury. The more I played the edge in my body, the more it would boot me out.

Willfulness did not pay.

When I backed off, guilt would kick in. I told myself that I was wimping out. And so my “no pain no gain” addicted body would return to the edge to prove that once more I could endure beyond the threshold of injurious pain.

Many years later when I began taking classes with Jeannie Stevens, I was introduced to the world of props. Blankets, blocks, bolsters, straps and eye bags were strewn all over the yoga room. I thought it looked more like a pyjama sleep-over than a real yoga class.

I spurned props as being fit for wimps or those poor folks whose bodies were just stiff as boards.

My resistance gave way to curiosity. Jeannie often said our limitations are our best teachers. Well, I had plenty of them. Scoliosis, bunions, lordosis and the usual array of injury from being a hard-core runner, dancer, martial artist, wood cutter, bush woman and birthing four children naturally.

Repetitive movement takes its toll.

It overdevelops certain patterns of movement with the consequence of underusing full range of motion. The strain becomes more noticeable with fatigue, emotional upheavals, illness and aging.

Does any of this sound familiar?

Deny as one may, there comes a time when rationalizations, excuses and sticking one’s head in the sand can no longer be an option. Violence to oneself is one of the great denials of this day and age.

Grasping for a goal – the perfect pose, the perfect relationship, the perfect job – plays havoc with our digestive system, hearts, endocrine system, musculo-skeletal system and immune system.

We pay for disregarding our bodily signals of distress. Trapped in our desires or fears, a mental paralysis takes over.

B.K.S. Iyengar states that we must “be ruthlessly and uncompromisingly kind.”

In Hatha Yoga, each pose can be modified or adjusted with props. He also postulates that we have erroneously taken the view that intelligence resides in the brain.

Iyengar has developed a method of cultivating the intelligence of every cell in our body by using props while in an asana (posture).

Lack of column space today does not permit me to describe the numerous ways to use props … but I will soon. But whether you are in a Nourishing Bolstered Backbend, a Supported Shoulder Stand with blankets and strap or a Supported Warrior III with one leg pressing into the wall and arms supported by blocks, these props are guides to positive changes in our practice.

“The skin is our first layer of intelligence and the nerves in the skin feed information to the mind.” An average square inch of skin contains more than a thousand nerve endings. When a prop touches the skin, our consciousness is awakened and enlivened.

By observing what the prop can teach, we can use props as gurus guiding our bodies to an ever-deepening awakening of that intelligence.

Lillian Strauss is a Yoga practitioner, reflexologist, Thai massage therapist, movement and music teacher at Energy Works. For information on her classes, contact her at 393-4541 or [email protected]

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