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Eight of the best nurturing props for yin yoga to help get you back in your body

Updated: May 24, 2023

Yin yoga… support props… My mind already drifted off just writing the words. But it wasn’t always so easy to slow down with the yin thing. I recall some of my early studio yin experiences thinking ‘we are all just lying around hugging some pillows’. I was frustrated, I wanted to sweat. I didn’t get it one bit. I was too much in my head and not in my body. And then the yin-awakening came.

These days, as a lover and teacher of yin yoga, I know that there are people who may not understand the benefits or ‘get’ a yin class.

Don't get me wrong, we need yang styles of yoga or movement - just in balance with the yin. So what makes a heady yang person convert to a yin-ster? Well, a few things come to mind but what I want to talk about here is the support tools we use in a class. Using props in a class is not ‘cheating’ and it doesn’t mean you can’t ‘do’ a pose or your neighbour will see you as a beginner, impaired or simply inflexible. We use props for a reason and when this realisation hits, I love to watch the shift in yin newbies from reluctance to embracing.

Yes, I am passionate about sharing the virtues of yin yoga. The main reason is that we live in a yang-paced world. Meet that deadline, catch that train, pick up the kids, sweat it out at the gym and so on. We need to balance that out with a bit of radical slow time. Sure Netflix and a glass of red could do it as well, but what our souls need is that down time in a vibrational space where we feel safe to let go and tune in to ourselves. But for many it is hard, oh so hard to do this. This is why I encourage the use of props to help people relax their muscles, to soften down and feel into their bodies, and not the way they look in a certain shape.

Props can be used to support us in a variety of ways - to either increase a stress where needed or to decrease the stress.

Although not entirely essential, props help us to navigate our practice, to open and lengthen the body and find our ‘edge’ in a pose. What is sometimes referred to by yin master Paul Grilley, as the ‘Goldilocks’ position. However, props were first introduced from the Iyengar philosophy of yoga in around the 1920’s or so. Founder B.K.S. Iyengar was a firm believer in props and used them in his own health recovery and yoga practice. He described props as ‘any object that helps stretch, strengthen, relax, or improve the body’s alignment’. While yin subscribes to a more functional approach than alignment, the same intention is there.

Here is my (non-definitive) list of go-to props that I love in my own practice and when teaching:

The wholesome bolster – without a doubt this is a must for me. Of course, bolsters come in different shapes, sizes, stuffing material and so on. But the bolster is that one prop practitioners can benefit from the most. It supports the body in untold ways – from supported child pose or sphinx, to supported bridge or simply under the knees in savasana. I can’t live with my bolster(s).

BFF block – yep, a standard prop in all yoga studios and again you can get different sizes and materials. Cork blocks are sturdy and great to use under a bolster e.g. for a supported reclined butterfly. Other blocks are made from foam which your kids will love to dig holes into with their nails. These are just wonderful to support your forehead in a sphinx or use under your head as a pillow in say a reclined fish.

Uplifting belt/strap – Hallelujah praise the Lord. The belt not only lengthens my arms in cowface pose, but I love the way it holds my feet up in waterfall or pulls my feet closer to my backside in a sphinx variation so I can target also my quads as well.

Trusty wall – we all have at least four of these, right? Believe it or not, wall props are super nourishing – think reclined pigeon or legs up the wall.

Dependable blanket – whether you use it folded under your hips to tilt your pelvis forward in seated forward folds, or you roll it up and place it under your back or tummy area, a blanket is easily available to all. There are so many ways to fold a blanket in yoga, did you know?

Hefty sandbags – Oh mama. These are so delicious to get that little deeper in passive stretch poses such as on your sacrum in child’s pose, but you may need help to get them into place. They are also soothing for feeling of anxiety, much like a weighted blanket. I use them on a shoulder in a reclined supine twist or on my pelvis in savasana.

Hard hitting cork ball – Mmm Mmm pain and pleasure in one. Ok, maybe this is not a prop, but rather an additional tool to get deep into those gnarly places in the body. With a few strategically placed cork balls or even a few tennis balls under my glute area in poses such as waterfall, (cue Nina Simone) ‘and I’m feelin’ good’!

Soothing eye mask – hello savasana! Need I say more – you can always add some chill factor with a few drops of lavender too!

You may also find an array of other props in the studio like ropes, slings, pilates balls, wheels, chairs and some weighted objects to hold in your hand in supine poses. I am sure there is more.

In yin yoga, gravity and time are the best props

By no means do you need to use or purchase any of these for your home practice. But if you do want that little bit of extra mmm factor, you can always use rolled up blankets, pillows, lounge cushions, ties or wraps, books, etc.

So next time you get on your mat, stop, listen to your body, get creative and experiment with ways to support yourself in a pose. There is no right or wrong way to use props as long as it feels good in your body.

So, are you ready to get wild and slow right down? If so, let me know your favourite props and how you like to use them!

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