What Are All Those Props for Anyway?
In the sometimes confusing world of Yoga Props, I often find it is the lack of familiarity that makes people shy away from grabbing a strap or a block. If you understand what the prop is doing, you can try it, explore it’s use and decide if it has use in your body and in your practice. This month, I’ll take an in depth look at straps, blocks, bolsters, blankets, wedges and Gripitz.
I buy mine at http://www.yogaaccessories.com/8-D-Ring-Buckle-Cotton-Yoga-Strap-_p_123849.html. These come in 6′, 8′ and 10′ length. Most people can do very well with the 8′ strap. If you are very tall, you will want the 10′ strap. This strap has an unyielding “D” ring so when you pressing out on it with all your hip abductor strength, it will hold and not slide.
My first Yoga strap was organic cotton, but I found it so thin that after 3-5 uses, the D-ring began to buckle and slide. If you are the only one using the strap, you could probably get by with a pinch buckle, but once someone messes with the looping of the strap, you’ll spend endless hours figuring our how to get it to hold. Spend the whopping $6.99 and get one to last you a very long time. You need to trust in the ability of your strap to hold.
Where flexibility is lacking, the strap will extend the length of your own arms and legs so think of it that way. Eliminate the struggle and let the strap make up the difference. Gomukasana arms is a great example of this.
This is just beautiful, but this can be painfully aggravating for anyone with shoulder impingement, and It can look downright dangerous for someone with scapular instability. The desire to reach your own hand for the first time can override any consideration of anatomy and mechanics.
OUCH! Our model on the left needs help leveling her pelvis and our model on the right has scapular instability on the left (which is why the scapula looks like a chicken wing). He also is very tight in both shoulders. He stays rounded in the front which causes both scapulae to wing in order to grasp each hand. Let’s take a look at a well-propped Gomukasana:
Ahhh! I’m breathing better just looking at this beautiful propped Gomukasana! The block allows support for BOTH sit bones. The strap placement not only allows him to make the connection without shoulder strain, but as he pulls on the strap (right hand pulls down in opposition to left hand pulling up), he creates scapular stability by engaging the middle and lower trapezius on the left and the super-important Serratus Anterior and Lattisimus Dorsi on the right, keeping the right shoulder blade flush on the back (no chicken wing here) and the left shoulder out of his ear! Because he has eliminated the strain, the neck is also aligned well and not forward of the sternum.
Strap use doesn’t have to be complicated. To quote Rick Steves, “Keep it Simple, Stupid.” (KISS). If it’s not simple, you cannot breathe and if you cannot breath, you’re not doing Yoga.
One of my favorite uses for the Yoga strap is in simple Mountain Pose (Tadasana). Often with the arms overhead, my clients can get all into the upper traps.
You can clearly see the over activity of the Upper Trapezius. This position also causes me to collapse through the sternum in the front rather than open. Shoulders don’t make attractive earrings and the strap can really help keep you open in the front of the chest and engaged in the middle and lower Trapezius.
With the scapulae properly stabilized, my neck is free and my shoulders are strong and capable of handling just about anything.
If I were to include my favorite use of the strap for the lower body, it would be to help create space for the tight hip. Where hamstring length is lacking, allow the strap to help you! It would be lovely if we could all achieve Supta Padangusthasana (Hand to big toe pose) in this way:
In the meantime, there is a whole range of possibility between where we are now and this guy. The strap is your friend and will help you close the gap.
This is beautifully propped. In the first photo, our model not only supports her neck, but she creates space in the left hip with strap #1. As she straightens the left knee in this loop, she is applying traction to the right hip creating space for the right hip to seat itself in the socket (acetabulum). In this way when she adds strap #2 to stretch the hamstring on the right, she gets a pure hamstring stretch, unencumbered by hip hiking and lower back activity.
There are so many wonderful uses for your Yoga Strap. Make friends with it at home, where you have the time and space to explore. Try a Therapeutic Yoga Class to embrace the full potential of the Yoga Props.
With the newly found space created in your neck, shoulders and hips with your strap, imagine the possibilities!