One of the best ways to change your approach to a yoga pose or your practice in general is to add yoga props. Props range from blocks to straps and bolsters with many other options. Yoga props can provide support for compromised parts of your body (i.e. the neck or back) and can make yoga poses available which were previously inaccessible due to structural aspects of the yoga practitioner’s body. In this post, the first of a series, we will be showing you traditional yoga poses done in a more restorative or gentle fashion using props.
Many yoga practitioners do not have a block, strap or bolster available for use on the mat. But this lack of “traditional” props does not mean they cannot practice a more supported version of their favorite poses. One of the easiest and often most available tools the yoga practitioner has is a yoga mat. Yoga mats can be rolled tightly or folded more loosely to create a cushioning support for the neck and back. Here are two yoga poses that opens the front of the chest, with propping provided by a comfortable yoga mat.
First take your yoga mat and fold it so that it is about a palm-width across.
This folding method will allow the mat to act as a surrogate for a yoga bolster. The thickness of the mat can be adjusted by the yoga practitioner for comfort with a tighter fold or roll creating a deeper backbend or twist and a looser fold/roll diminishing the extent of either pose. The following two poses can be done together or separately with some gentle movement between each pose.
1.) Supported Matsyasana: Set your folded mat perpendicular to the length of a second mat or the way your spine will rest when you get on the floor. Bring the mat to the base of your spine, sitting up against one end. Gently guide yourself onto the mat so that both your back and your head are supported. Your neck should be resting in a neutral position and not causing your chin to tuck or to turn upward. If the latter two things happen you can lower the mat or place a rolled up towel under your neck (between the shoulders and the Occipital ridge) to support the neck. Allow your arms to rest on the ground beside you and bend your knees, with feet on the floor and let the knees gently meet in the center. This asana is a very gentle backbend, but can be contraindicated for certain individuals such as those with spondylolisthesis and spondylosis. This pose can be held from 1-5 minutes depending upon the comfort of the individual.
2.) Supported Side-lying Twist: Set the folded mat perpendicular to the length of a second mat or the way your spine will rest when you get on the floor. Sit to one side of the mat and lay down with the mat along your back. Stack your knees or separate them gently depending upon what is most comfortable in your body. The arm closest to the ground will provide support for your head. The top arm will drape over the mat with the shoulder resting on the mat. If additional support is needed for the head a pillow or block can be used. The same is true for the legs where a blanket or pillow can be placed either under the top knee or between the legs for more comfort. This twist can be held for 1-3 minutes and then repeated on the second side. This pose also provides an opening in the chest for those who cannot backbend due to compromises in the lumbar spine. The yoga practitioner needs to be mindful of any sensations in their neck and support their head/neck appropriately.
At the end of these poses follow with a gentle forward fold such as hugging the knees to the chest while rolling on the back (Child’s Pose on the back).
Simple use of props can allow you to hold poses a bit longer while creating a comfortable and supported framework for your body. These longer holdings offer an opportunity to release into the poses and give you a chance to relax and renew your body.