Props with Purpose
For one reason or another, we all get super offended when our instructor walks over with a block, or offers us a strap, or basic modification. We feel that our practice has been downgraded,
"Why did he/she bring THAT to ME?!"
Screams the ego, and over all the embarrassed/offended/unreasonable chatter of the monkey mind, we miss noticing the feeling that changed when assisted.
Recently, I've been modifying every other class I take, entirely. Can I lift up into a full anjaneyasana (crescent lunge)? Yeah, but is that what I needed? Usually, no. I know I have the strength, and I think in classes that as the "experienced yogi," in the room I am obligated to take the advancement...but that's unnecessary pressure. As the truly experienced yogi in the classroom I should be listening to my body. After a tough night of working power and endurance with my coach, Mario Stanley of Highpoint Expeditions, I don't really need more strength training, what I need is to let go of my ego and to stop showing off in a room full of beginners.
Again, recently I've been modifying every other class I take, entirely. Literally every posture, every flow, and I use props. I know, that's blasphemy, right? What kind of an instructor am I that I would have to use props? Well, to allow my inflated ego a moment in the limelight, "A pretty damn good one." I'd say.
Since modifying postures and adding props, I've found my recovery rate has improved by at least 15%, and my posture retention has not only improved, but advanced.
That's right, I've gotten better by backing off. Ok, so I've been a little back and forth so far, so let's break it down chronologically. I began with talking about props, which we naturally associate with "aiding, assisting, help," and we give those words a negative connotation. STOP THAT. Right now. I don't care, shut it down, lock it up, and stop doing that. I SAID STOP.
We clear? Ok, disco. So allow me to elaborate, props are your friends, not crutch.
(My own personal favorites being these cork blocks from Manduka, and working on ways to learn to love the strap.)
Props can deepen postures, and assist even the most advanced physical practice, I don't care how long someone has practiced, a prop will benefit them. Because props don't have to be "aids," often times they can be used to make a posture more challenging, such as holding a block overhead as a shoulder opener, or bicycling it between your feet during a boat/canoe core exercise.
Those super cool pictures of girls doing standing splits on pillars/each other on instagram, hashtagging partner yoga and showing off their matching AloYoga bra tops? Yeah, they're using props. Oh my lanta, what?! Everyday objects and even people can be props?! Yes, yes they can. So, let's break it down for an example, blocks. Blocks are the number one offender in the prop debate, it always must mean that you are inflexible. Perhaps, next time you're in parsvakonasana (side angle) rather than considering that you cannot** touch the ground, that lifting yourself onto a block will actually allow you stack your hips higher, opening your side body further.
**Please never use this word in any sort of practice, in the great words of Arthur Borman, "Just because I am not there today, doesn't mean I won't ever be."
But wait, "I can already touch my toes in paschimottanasana (seated forward fold)," Well awesome, you're super flexible...wouldn't you like to go further than your toes though? Try placing the block at your feet and reaching further!
Have you considered your props for strength training? Such as natarajasana (dancers pose). We all work for a straight leg, creating these beautiful straight lines with the body, but where do you go once you're there? Use a strap! Just like how we used the strap to aid us to even getting into this holy hip opener, we can use it to create strength for controlled movement by creating resistance! Fascinating, isn't it?
Personal example, after a hell night of climbing, my shoulders are anything but happy campers. I love when we do chandrasana (standing half moon) in the beginning of classes after those days, I like to hold a strap at shoulders distance to extend my side body just a fraction further, the engagement of maintaining a distance in the strap opens up my lats further around my body than just my sides.
So it's safe to say we all can agree now that props are kind of cool, what about modifications? Too far? Just don't want to suffer the embarrassment of being the one person kneeling in class? I challenge you to be. Just one class, take note of the difference in your body.
I began modifying my practice, every single posture, every other class I take now. Why? Because the benefits are completely different. Back to that crescent lunge I was referring to earlier, instead of pressing my knee toward the ceiling and holding a pose, I let my back knee rest on my yoga wheel. Nothing super deep, I have the midi, even contemplating the mini now, but rather than stressing my quads and building, building, building strength, my thighs sang hallelujah. This strong, stiff postures became bendy and stretchy, and my back bend went so deep that I could actually see my heel! (If you don't know, backbends and I are not cool with each other, this was a huge deal.) I'm not quite to that place when my knee is on the ground, as this is a massive quad opener, but I actually enjoy relief postures now. Like, seriously, the pain is actually bearable and I now understand that, "hurts so good," mentality.
This is normally where a decent closing statement comes into play, or at least some sort of conclusion, but I genuinely cannot stress enough that there is no way for me to just tell you how much of a game changer taking modifications is, I can only challenge you to try it for yourself. Maybe you only modify one posture of your flow, one class a week, or just one posture each time you come to your mat. But if only for a week, try all variations of a posture, no matter how far, "past," a pose you think you are.