Yoga props can help transform your practice. Whether you’re new to yoga, or an experienced yogi, props can add stability and focus, while helping with alignment and encouraging you to go deeper in your practice. On this page, you’ll find the props I recommend and ideas for how to incorporate them into your home practice.
One of the great things about yoga is that all you need is your own body to practice yoga. And while it’s true that you don’t need any yoga equipment, using yoga props in your practice can help you find new ways to expand and go deeper in your yoga experience.
I used to think that yoga props were for people who couldn’t do the poses — that they were only for new students or inflexible students. Fortunately, I had teachers who showed me how untrue that was. They exposed me to the endless benefits of adding yoga props to my practice.
One of the teachers who led my first teacher training was Christina Sell. Christina spent years studying under BKS Iyengar and his children. Iyengar Yoga is well known for incorporating props to help students expand their practices. In an Iyengar class you can expect to use yoga chairs, blankets, bolsters, straps, blocks, and all sorts of other yoga equipment.
I consider myself very fortunate that Christina brought her knowledge and love of props to the first teacher training I attended. She showed me that props could help advance your practice and make the poses more accessible.
Ever since that training, I have loved experimenting with ways to include a variety of props into my practice and into the classes I teach. You can be assured that if I come to teach at your studio, I am going to use props in my workshops!
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The Benefits of Yoga Props
There’s a reason almost every yoga studio you visit has a variety of yoga props available to students! There are so many benefits to using props:
- Offer you feedback you might not receive without them.
- Help you expand your flexibility.
- Help with stability.
- Improve your posture.
- Can help prevent fatigue.
- Support your weight to prevent falling.
- Provide a safety net — especially while practicing inversions.
- Useful for building strength by targeting specific areas of a pose.
- Helpful for attempting more complex variations of poses without causing an injury.
- Help to stabilize one area of your body so you can focus on another.
- Help to deepen a particular aspect of a pose.
- Allow you to tailor your practice to your needs and your body.
- Props can help you find more stillness and peace in your practice.
- Adding props to your practice can encourage experimentation.
Misconceptions & Myths
Myth 1: Yoga Props Are Just For Beginners
If a yoga studio has yoga props, they are often offered to new students, or less flexible students, as an aid to their practice. But then, as students become more confident in their practice, props often go by the wayside.
But why? As students build flexibility, strength, and stability, yoga props can be a great asset to advancing their practice.
Using yoga props is not a sign of weakness or a lack of skill. In fact, using yoga props effectively takes great skill and can help you expand your practice to places you didn’t even know it could go. It also demonstrates an awareness of your body’s particular shape and limitations (we all have them!).
One of the great benefits of yoga props is that they can help create a foundation in one aspect of the pose, allowing you to to better understand and explore alignment in the rest of the pose.
Think of yoga props as an office assistant. You might be able to do everything on your own, but, like an assistant, props can take away some of the workload so you can better manage the bigger picture or focus on the intricate details.
With a bit of education and practice, adding yoga props can enhance and advance your practice, no matter how long you’ve been practicing.
Myth 2: Ancient Yogis Didn’t Use Props, So Neither Should You
Some people say that since the original yogis didn’t use props, we shouldn’t either. But as my philosophy teacher says:
Long ago, and far away, doesn’t mean better. Everything wasn’t utopia once upon a time.”Douglas brooks
Think about it like this. Pretty much everyone who practices yoga uses the most common yoga prop of all — a yoga mat. We call it a sticky mat sometimes because one of the purposes of the mat is to stop us from slipping all over the place.
It’s a prop.
Sure, you can practice without a mat, but just like all props, it’s there to enhance your practice and help your body get the most benefit from it.
Besides, a quick look at historical texts shows us that props have been considered part of yoga for centuries.
In the Yoga-bhasya, a commentary on Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra by Vyasa written between 650 and 850 CE, Vyasa describes 8 poses that he says are the asanas Patanjali mentioned in his Yogasutra.
One of these is Sopasraya, which is described as squatting and tying your back and two legs together with a strong piece of cloth called a yoga-pattaka (or what we would today call a yoga strap).
Ramanandi Jayatarama’s Joga Pradīpikā from 1737 has illustrations of sages practicing asana, and they are often sitting on various animal skins (the ancient equivalent of a yoga mat), hanging from a tree by their ankles (what Iyengar might call the original rope wall), and using yoga blankets.
Myth 3: Yoga Props Don’t Belong in a Vinyasa Practice
Besides mats and towels, which are used in almost every vinyasa class, props don’t usually make an appearance.
It can be difficult to keep a steady flow and add props into the sequence, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t possible or useful. It’s true that yoga blocks can slow down the flow, but equally they can be used to enhance it.
I love to ask more from my students, and one of the ways I do this in vinyasa is by adding yoga blocks to focus their actions.
And if you think props make vinyasa easier, you’ve clearly never done a blanket drill with me!
Types of Yoga Props & Equipment
Any tool you add to your practice to help is a yoga prop. Below are some common props that you’ll find kicking around most modern yoga studios.
If you are lucky enough to practice at a yoga studio where the owner has experience with alignment-based yoga, you’ll likely find some more specialized yoga equipment I mention, as well.
Common Yoga Props
The yoga mat is such a common yoga prop that we often don’t even consider it a prop.
One of the main purposes of yoga props is to help you stabilize an area of your body so you can refine the work in another — and that perfectly describes what a mat does in, for example, Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward Dog Pose). It helps your hands and feet stick to the mat so you can refine your work in the rest of the pose.
Yoga mats also provide padding to make poses more comfortable (think poses where you have a knee down on the mat like Anjaneyasana or a Low Lunge).
If you’re using a sticky mat (as opposed to a fabric mat common in Ashtanga Yoga) it’s important that the mat is actually sticky (many are not), that it absorbs sweat, and that it’s eco-friendly. Lots of yoga mats are made with synthetic rubber/PVC and without any thought given to environmental impact.
Yoga Block (aka Yoga Brick)
Yoga blocks are the most common yoga prop (after the yoga mat) and you’ll find them in just about every yoga studio in the world. Yoga blocks come is lots of different shapes and sizes, and can be made of all sorts of different materials.
My personal favourite material for yoga blocks in solid wood, or eco-friendly cork, and I am partial to rectangular blocks.
Yoga bricks (as they are also called) can be used is an endless number of ways to help you deepen your yoga practice. Blocks are great at helping activate the muscles that squeeze your legs together by placing a block between your thighs, for example in Tadasana (Mountain Pose) or in Plank Pose. They can also be used to help open up your upper back and shoulder when you lie down on them for back bend work.
One of my favourite uses for blocks is to place them under my hands to practice arm balances. The extra height gives you a little more leverage to find the ability to bring your feet off the ground.
The reason I like cork and wooden blocks is that they are solid. Many synthetic blocks are too soft, and when you press into them they change shape. This can cause the block to become unstable, can cause wrist injury if you are arm balancing, or cause you to fall if you are back bending over them.
Always check how dense the blocks are before buying them. A really firm yoga block is going to be most useful for your yoga practice.
Finally, remember that blocks aren’t all the same thickness or shape. If your studio has different sizes and different density blocks that is a great opportunity to try them and figure out what is right for you.
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Yoga bolsters are often used in restorative yoga practices in poses like Savasana (under your spine or knees) or Pigeon Prep (under your back hip). Bolsters are also really useful props if you are pregnant and practicing yoga as they can be used to provide support around your belly.
I like to use a bolster under my body when I am practicing Chaturanga Dandasana as it gives really good feedback. I start by setting up on the bolster and the pressing away from it. I call this “breathing the bolster” and it gives me feedback when I am finally starting to lift away from the bolster. It’s also useful when coming into Chaturanga Dandasana from Plank Pose — it helps me know if I have lowered down too far.
Yoga bolsters also make a great support for your spine when learning to lie down in Supta Virasana (Reclined Hero’s Pose).
My favourite use of a bolster though is to place is under my knees when I am doing Savasana for an extended period of time. My knees easily hyperextend and having the bolster there prevents this, and allows me to relax more deeply.
Just like with yoga bricks, yoga bolsters can vary in density and thickness. Some are really soft, some really firm. Some are thin, some are thick. What is going to be most useful for your yoga practice depends on you and what you plan on using it for.
Yoga Strap (aka Yoga Belt)
The Yoga Strap, or Yoga Belt as it’s called sometimes, is a very common prop and most yoga studios have them. Why? Because students often have tight shoulders and yoga straps are a really useful piece of yoga equipment to help you open your shoulders, as well as helping you access aspects of poses, like holding your hands behind your back, or holding your feet.
Yoga straps aren’t just for tight-shouldered people though. I love some of the uses for yoga belts Ellen Huang Saltarelli demos on her amazing Instagram account – things like Handstand (Adho Mukha Vrksasana), Urdhva Dhanurasana (Full Wheel or Upward Bow Pose), and Parivrtta Parsvakonasana (Twisted Side-Angle Pose).
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When we lived in Los Angeles it was so easy to buy yoga blankets. In LA they are just called Mexican blankets and available all over the city. I miss my yoga blankets, but they’re pretty bulky and heavy, so I don’t travel with them.
Many yoga blankets are made with wool, and since I’m vegan and love all the little (and big) animals, I don’t recommend buying wool blankets. If you’re looking for non-wool yoga blankets, The Yoga Warehouse has vegan and washable yoga blankets that are also a really good weight.
Specialized Yoga Props
Iyengar Yoga uses the yoga chair regularly in classes, and there are so many great adaptations you can bring to your practice with a yoga chair. If you’ve never tried it, I highly recommend it. Great for inversions, backbends, and also for those with limited mobility!
The yoga wedge is a long thin wedge-shaped piece of wood or dense foam that is fantastic for helping students with wrist pain, or tight achilles tendons/calf muscles. If you have a temporary wrist injury or are suffering from RSI, I highly recommend getting a yoga wedge and doing a quick Google search for how to use it.
The yoga whale is a prop you will most likely see in an Iyengar studio, or at a studio where the teacher has studied Iyengar yoga.
It’s sort of shaped like a whale, hence the name, and is used for deepening your back bend. I love using a yoga whale and jump at the chance whenever I visit a studio that has one.
I’d like to own one some day, but they don’t fit in a carry-on suitcase very well.
Another common piece of yoga equipment in an Iyengar Yoga studio, the rope wall can now be found in lots of multi-modality studios around the world.
Rope walls are great for helping you support yourself and to help you go deeper in all sorts of yoga poses, such as Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward Dog Pose), Sirsasana (Headstand), Uttitha Hasta Padangusthasana (Hand to Big Toe Pose), and so many more.
It’s a pretty big investment for your home practice, but you can find plans online for making your own if you’re interested.
Traditionally the yoga stool was a piece of yoga equipment used to support your shoulders and assist when using your arms to lift up into headstand.
The FeetUp Trainer is the old-school Iyengar headstand stool rebranded and copyrighted. The padded seat gives you a good comfortable support for your shoulders, and they really are a fun piece of equipment for helping you invert. It’s a fun, but not necessarily crucial, tool for home practice.
Yoga Pillow / Yoga Cushion
The yoga cushion is a yoga prop commonly used for seated meditation, but is also useful if you round your back in certain poses or have tight hamstrings.
In seated poses, pop a yoga pillow under your butt and you’ll be able to tip your pelvis more easily to find the natural curve in your lower back (as opposed to a rounded back).
If your knees are high off the ground when you sit in Sukhasana, sitting on a yoga cushion is going to get your knees closer to hip-height, which helps you passively open your hips.
Related Posts & Videos
Yoga Props We Like
- Stephen’s Favourite Eco-Friendly Yoga Mat
- Cork Yoga Blocks
- Organic Cotton Yoga Straps
- Organic Cotton or Hemp Yoga Bolsters
- Cork Meditation Cushion
- Machine Washable Vegan Yoga Blankets
- Foam Yoga Wedge
- FeetUp Trainer Headstand Yoga Stool
- Folding Yoga Chair
Save 10% – Yoloha yoga gear, including cork yoga mats and blocks, organic cotton yoga straps, bolsters and more, is 10% off when you use our code adventure10 at checkout!
A Final Note About Yoga Props
Learning what to do with props takes practice, and it takes exposure to teachers who know what they are doing and who can help you set up the props and poses properly.
One of the greatest things you can do with yoga props is to experiment and find what works for you. Invent new uses for your props in your practice. It’s your practice after all.
If you’re interested in learning from an expert, I recommend checking out Ellen Huang Saltarelli on Instagram, who I used to practice with when we lived in LA. She isn’t posting a lot right now as she is a new mom, but she has hundreds of amazing photos and videos of her doing yoga poses with props in all sort of configurations.
I use this as a resource and know you’ll love it as well if you’re interested in yoga props.
There are also two great books I recommend if you’re interested in learning how to use props in your practice, or when teaching. Yoga For Wimps: Poses for The Flexibly Impaired and Cool Yoga Tricks are both by Miriam Austin and have photos and instructions of how to modify poses with yoga props.
Another terrific resource is your local Iyengar Yoga studio (if you’re fortunate enough to have one). BKS Iyengar was the master of yoga props — and all sorts of yoga equipment (rope walls, sandbags, and even free-weights!). At Iyengar studios around the world you’ll find teachers who are very well trained and experts when it comes to using props in your yoga practice.
Namaste OMies, Stephen
I hope this post has helped you discover some of the possibilities when it comes to adding yoga props to your practice. It’s my goal to inspire you to explore your yoga practice more deeply while enabling you to cultivate the strength and clarity needed to live your adventure to the fullest — and yoga props are an excellent tool for helping you do just that!