Yoga Props: To Buy or Not to Buy?

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According to an article written by the The Good Body in July of 2018 Americans spend around 16 billion dollars a year on yoga classes, clothing, equipment, and accessories. This number jumps to 80 billion when you look worldwide, and other sources actually show this number to be much higher.

I can safely and confidently say that I’ve contributed to that amount. I pay each month for a subscription to have yoga classes readily available on my phone, I subscribe to magazines, I attend specialty classes and workshops at various studios, and my current yoga prop inventory includes:

10 yoga mats
8 yoga blocks 
4 straps + a set of straps in varying sizes
3 bolsters of different sizes
1 foam roller 
1 yoga wheel
5 blankets 
2 mat towels
2 hand towels
2 sandbags
4 sets of/myofascial release balls of varying sizes
1 zafu

So what’s with all the hype? People cite all sorts of reasons for practicing yoga and contributing to this industry. Forbes (2016) provides research from a study conducted by Yoga Alliance and Yoga Journal that shows some of the reasons people try yoga; they include: flexibility, stress relief, general fitness, overall health, and physical fitness. Over 85% of survey respondents reported feeling a sense of mental clarity from the practice and stated that is was a form of meditation. If you do a quick online search of the benefits of yoga, you’ll find a number of articles citing the many benefits of yoga. Harvard Health Publishing (2015) states that yoga can help those who practice to be more aware of their bodies and be less critical of them, that it helps with becoming a mindful eater, it can help with weight loss as it can help you to be more sensitive to hunger cues, and that it has a positive effect on cardiovascular risk factors.

Simply put: the hype and benefits are real, and if you’ve practiced it before, you’re probably pretty well aware of some of them. But is all of this spending on props really necessary? Maybe, maybe not…

Why do I personally buy into the prop and accessory hype? No clue, but I have some ideas.
1. I like yoga 
2. I’m a yoga teacher
3. Yoga brands are really good at advertising 
4. I think I need it, because I’ve been told I do

As a teacher I am definitely putting these props to good use. But I also use them very consistently as a yoga practitioner too. One thing to keep in mind is that props aren’t for those who can’t do the “full pose”. Mainly because the “full pose” doesn’t really exist. We are all so unique in our bodies and goals, and props can assist us with things like deepening our practice and changing the experience to allow us to feel the poses in new and different ways. Props also allow us to find balance and stability, strength, coordination and flexibility. They can also be extremely beneficial in case of injury as they allow us to continue to get on our mats and access our poses in a safe way (in case of injury, please speak with your doctor before starting or continuing a yoga practice). 

Props can be hugely beneficial to your body and your practice. There are a ton of different props out there, with every brand usually having a couple different options of each in terms of style, material used, color, etc. Here are a few examples of some of the most common props and how they can help in our practice:  

  • Blocks are great because they help bring the floor to you. Based on the fact that there are 3 levels available, you can choose which one works best for you in each pose. But blocks aren’t only good when you’re stretching; they are great for strengthening exercises too! For example, you might use a block in Utthita Parsvakonasana (extended side angle) if you are practicing placing your hand on the ground or you might use it in between your legs in Navasana (boat pose) to activate the muscles in your legs.
  • Straps help to deepen poses, relieve pressure and they work great in helping to stabilize the arms and legs, especially in poses that are held a bit longer. Straps are great for use in poses where you are working on making a connection with your toes or foot, such as in Supta Padangusthasana (reclining hand to big toe pose) or Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana (extended hand to big toe). With these, you might use a strap when lying on your back to help deepen the stretch AND make the pose more relaxing at the same time. If used when standing, a strap will allow you to keep your spine tall while you work on stretching the hamstrings.
  • Bolsters come in multiple shapes and sizes and are extremely beneficial in restorative and yin classes, or during any pose that asks you to settle in and start to relax. They allow the body to soften and feel supported as they are essentially a form of body pillow. Bolsters also assist us in opening up in poses in a way that feels supported. For example, in supta baddha konasana (reclined butterfly) a bolster placed long way under the spine and supporting the head allows the heart to open and the back side of the body to relax.

I 100% encourage the use of props, no matter what style of yoga you are practicing. Many studios provide some sort of prop, usually blocks and straps. I have come across a few studios that provide more and in my experience, it’s only been on rare occasion that there haven’t been any at all.

Don’t let the idea of not having yoga specific branded props stop you from getting creative and using them in your practice. If you are practicing at home and you don’t want to purchase these things, there are so many things around the house that can work:

  • Dictionaries or any thick, hard cover books make good blocks. If you find them to be uncomfortable for any reason, know you can always throw a blanket over them to make them more comfortable
  • Pillows, towels and rolled blankets make good bolsters and blankets
  • Tennis balls can work for myofascial release
  • Belts can be used as straps.

If you are interested in or in the market to buy props, remember, there are a lot of options out there, both in terms of brands and in terms of materials used and styles. Here are some of my favorite props to use:

  • Blocks – any foam block will work well. Cork blocks work well too and they can be a bit more stable, but they aren’t as comfortable in relaxed poses
  • Straps – These straps from Manduka are awesome, they come in a variety of sizes that you can use as you move from pose to pose and continue to practice. As an added benefit, you don’t have to worry about creating loops or anything fancy to hold your feet/toes
  • Myofascial Release Balls – All things RAD Roller, this company has every option you could possibly want for self-myofascial release
  • Bolsters – Again, I like Manduka for these. I’ve found some brands can be a little stiff and uncomfortable. Not these ones, you’ll feel so supported and relaxed you’re likely to fall asleep on them (which isn’t a bad thing!), this style is my favorite.

So the point? Props are fantastic. But you don’t have to buy into the yoga hype or buy the marketed props to practice or to use props in your practice. We are lucky to have access to free yoga videos online and many different items around the house that can be used for support. Looking to deepen your backbends and open your heart a bit more? Hello PVC pipe do-it-yourself yoga wheel… You can always start with items around the house and go from there. Ready to jump right in and stock up on all the things like I did? Go for it. To each his (or her) own; you have to do what works for and is right for you. Either way I encourage you to use them.