by Julia Febiger
When I began my yoga practice, I steered clear of props (i.e., blankets, strap, block). If a teacher specifically instructed with a prop, I would try to go through the motions but mostly I resisted. Fancying myself a purist, I thought I should be able to do everything with just me and my mat. According to Jeffrey Steingarten, former food editor for Vogue, most babies will accept any type of food after eight or ten tries. So how many tries does it take for an adult to accept a yoga prop? Personally, I lost count.
Props are like the vegetables I didn’t want to eat as a child. Everybody told me they would be good for me, but I didn’t believe them. At least not yet. With yoga, I was convinced that while props seemed to work well for others, for me they were a hindrance – something to push aside on the plate of my practice. Luckily, they were introduced to me more than 10 times.
In full disclosure, I find sukhasana – which literally translates to “easy pose” – incredibly challenging. Call it yoga irony. When it comes to sitting easefully in this cross-legged position, I usually hear Shakira singing “the hips don’t lie” in my head instead. At first I found this bizarre; but you know what? Shak was right, and I needed some props to support me in this pose. Like how I began my love affair with vegetables by only eating tomatoes that were diced or smaller (a distinction I’m not sure has any basis in taste, or reality for that matter), I started with an affinity for a certain blanket that had just the right weight and color scheme (medium-thick with purple stripes, please) for one “easy” pose only.
Gradually, I learned to heed the wisdom of my teachers and take note of those practicing intelligently around me. Starting with one baby-step blanket for sukhasana, I moved from being skeptical of props to raiding the prop closet before class. Have you ever gotten a freshly laundered blanket that may even still be warm? In a word, amazing. As it turns out, using props appropriately helps to nourish rather than detract from my practice. I discovered that props allow me to surrender to the specificity of a moment without needing to make a sweeping statement about my practice as a whole.
Eventually, I developed a taste for props on my own – no matter the shape, size, or color. I began to understand what is good for me. Now I consider props, and vegetables for that matter, a staple. Every now and then I attempt sukhasana without any blankets just to see where things are at, but mostly props have become a healthy habit. I’d like to think Mr. Steingarten would be proud of how I overcame my prop aversion.
There’s another song echoing in my head now. In the infinite wisdom of country singer Kenny Rogers: “You’ve got to know when to hold ‘em, and know when to fold ‘em”. I’m pretty sure he was talking about blocks and blankets.