How to Become an Advanced Yogi in Just One Step

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One afternoon a couple of years ago, I walked into a tiny yoga studio for class. Everything was pretty chill: soft music played, light streamed in through the windows, yogis quietly shuffled into their chosen spots, mats neatly placed.

But after I put my own mat down and went to select some props from the borrowing shelves, I heard something I’ll never forget.

As I walked back to my space, I set down my 2 blocks, a blanket, a strap and a bolster. That’s what I heard a girl next to me whisper to her friend.

“You know, they really shouldn’t let beginners in this class.”

Really?

There are a lot of ways in which that comment is out of alignment with traditional principals (like ahimsa). But, for you and me, let’s just focus on one:

The proper use of props is actually a ridiculously effective and experienced way to deepen your practice.

In fact, it’s often the more advanced yoga practitioner who has the confidence, wisdom and patience to use them, because they understand that the secret to truly relaxing is feeling supported.

Think about it. If you’re in deep pose that asks you to touch the floor in some way (e.g., your hips or chest in pigeon, your lower hand in triangle pose, etc.) and your muscles are straining, the body stays tight because it’s sending messages to the brain that its in danger. When you strategically place props under you, though, the brain registers that “hey, the floor isn’t so far away. I can release here.” And so it is.

Not only is there nothing wrong with supporting yourself, there’s everything right about doing so!

In this week’s free tips, then, I’m giving you 3 ways that you can use physical props to support your body in during yoga, as well as 3 yoga-inspired ways to physically support yourself in everyday life.

These tips tackle tightness, pain and stress, particularly in unhappy hips, aching lower and upper backs, overworked shoulders and under-stretched chest muscles.

On your yoga mat, try this:

  1. Standing poses with bends… Use blocks under your hands when they don’t reach the floor. E.g., in forward fold, gently bend your knees and place your hands on blocks, instead of straining to touch your toes!
  2. Seated poses… use blankets for your bum. E.g., in easy seat, place a folded blanket underneath the edge of your seat (close to your tailbone), to support your lower back and overall spinal alignment.
  3. Chest opening stretches… use a strap when your hands don’t touch. E.g., instead of reverse prayer, simply bring your hands behind you, and connect them with a strap as you roll your shoulders back and breathe.

In your life, try this:

  1. While commuting… fold a blanket or towel in a rectangular shape, and place it behind your upper back as you drive to support your spine, shoulders and chest.
  2. At your desk… place blocks (or books!) under your feet to create a 90-degree angle in your legs while sitting, to support the lower body.
  3. While sleeping on your side… use a firm pillow between gently bent knees and the ankles to encourage less constriction in the hips.

Challenge yourself by choosing 1 (or more) of these super, simple strategies. Use consistently for 7 days. Notice how your ability to relax shifts when you invite in some help from the physical tools around you.

And if you need a reminder of the infinite support that’s always around you, remember the Buddha’s famous words:

Leap and the net shall appear.
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P.S. A lot is changing over here at Ritual Care, and one difference is that all of my Higher Ground Yoga private clients must have an HGY Home Practice Kit (or something similar), a collection of my favorite props for home practice. I’ll be sharing what’s in it in an upcoming LoveNote, so stay tuned! In the meanwhile, I’d love to hear what you love using at home. Let me know in the comments below!

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2 Responses to How to Become an Advanced Yogi in Just One Step

  1. Duane says:

    I am a newly ‘returning’ yoga student and I love props. As a 50 year old man who has not done yoga in over 20 years (and previous it was very limited) I am very stiff. The blocks and straps are a great benefit. I also use a towel in most seated positions since I fractured two lower vertebrae years ago. I know that I will get back to where I need to be but the props will help get me there quicker and easier.

    What strikes me, though, about props, is that at my current school in Beaumont, TX, I am the ONLY student that uses props and one would think I was committing some yogi-sin. The instructor does not comment yet the ‘sneers’ are there from other students (yes, very un-yogi like!) Okay, maybe those sneers are because I am the only man and an old one at that? Even so, I am equally, if not more capable than many of the other students and I can see where the simple use of props would make their yoga flow so much smoother. I know I am reaching further, bending deeper, growing better because of the props.

    • Kelly says:

      Agreed on all counts, Duane. Keep up with your prop practice — I know I’ll keep up with mine! Namaste. 🙂

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