Furniture Yoga: Using props in Iyengar yoga poses
I want to talk about equipment in Iyengar yoga poses. You may know that in Iyengar yoga, we tend to use yoga props in classes quite a bit.
But what about if you’re practising at home? What if you don’t have all this specialised stuff? And what if you can’t get hold of it?
Never fear. I’m here to tell you about the alternatives.
First, a bit of background.
Iyengar yoga poses and props
If you go to a yoga class in pretty much any Iyengar studio in the world, you will be struck by one thing.
You will notice that the place is very well stocked with a wide array of blocks, bricks, belts, bolsters and blankets. There may be ropes hanging from the walls.
The point of all this equipment is not to make the practice more complicated. In fact, the props help simplify yoga poses for students at all level of ability.
Many of you know Iyengar yoga as a rigorous practice which emphasises precision of action.
Some people worry that they are not ‘flexible’ enough. They may avoid coming to a class, fearing that they will be shown up for their lack of mobility.
And yet, Iyengar yoga is a boon for those suffering from the pain which comes from injury and other chronic conditions.
The emphasis on structural alignment gives relief. The use of the props in yoga poses helps correct postural imbalances. It also helps regulate many other functions of the body in the process.
For students who find it difficult to get into the more complex yoga poses due to a lack of flexibility, the answer is props.
Even the most advanced Iyengar students use props at pretty much every practice session.
For more about Iyengar yoga, check the UK’s professional body IYUK
The use of props, now ubiquitous throughout the world, was devised by the Indian master, BKS Iyengar , acclaimed author of the bestselling Light on Yoga.
In his youth, BKS Iyengar was a sickly child. He suffered from tuberculosis, typhoid and complications caused by malaria.
He overcame his physical challenges through determined and continuous hard work (‘tapas’) in yoga poses. The experience gave him compassion for his fellow human beings. And a deep understanding of our frailties.
The props were born
Iyengar realised that most people needed to train their bodies gradually. He started out by experimenting on his own body in the yoga poses, using furniture and household items he had ready to hand at home.
Then he brought objects into his home from outside, such as bricks and blocks of wood.
Finally, BKS Iyengar began having friends make the equipment just as he liked it.
Props for health
Iyengar found that using these items allowed him and his students to be in yoga poses safely – and to hold the key aspects of those poses for a longer period of time.
Rather than jumping straight to an advanced pose, in Iyengar Yoga the body can accustom itself to new positions gradually and progressively. With that breathing space, we can observe more deeply and sensitively.
The props are wonderful teachers.
Some people refer to BKS Iyengar’s groundbreaking yoga-with-props style as ‘furniture yoga’.
Today, the Ramamani Iyengar Yoga Institute in Pune, India, is a wonderful cornucopia of hand-made props built for all body types and every conceivable pose.
I was there in November and witnessed first-hand, in medical classes, how even those with severe disabilities were able to stay in yoga poses which helped open joints and realign imbalances gently. All without risk of further injury.
Many are those who have passed through the doors of this centre ready to give up on an active life – and come out the other side transformed.
Invariably, they are deeply grateful to the man Iyengar yoga teachers call Guruji.
I observed Guruji on several occasions practising inverted yoga poses and back arches in the large octagonal studio in Pune. He would hold them for long periods of time. And he was supported by lots of props. This was when he was in his 80’s and 90’s.
I myself suffer from scoliosis which I have had since birth. I am convinced that I would live in perpetual pain were it not for Iyengar’s ingenious techniques.
Yoga equipment at home
So, with such carefully designed equipment used in classes, how can we practice yoga poses at home if we don’t already own these props?
Well, there are alternatives. So, where you use a brick or a pile of foam blocks in a studio, you might find yourself a stack of hard-backed books such as thick cookery books at home.
Where you would use a yoga strap, a dressing gown cord or a long thin scarf would work.
And where you would use a bolster or a blanket, a pile of beach towels or a cushion might do.
If you do want to buy your own equipment, I highly recommend Yogamatters for all your needs.
I will be teaching most of my online sessions as much as possible without equipment. At least to begin with.
But I might start a gentle class by asking you to have handy a chair, which you would put against the wall for support.
Or I might suggest doing a pose with the back to the wall.
From there, we’ll build up. You’ll soon get the hang of it.
You might even find you can manage more yoga poses than you’ve done before.
In the end, practising yoga at home can be fun and really creative!
Have a look at a snippet of one of my live classes to see how they work.
Don’t worry. I’ll talk you through all of this when you join me on the Zoom.
And you might want to warn your housemates that there’ll be one fewer chairs for them to use that day!
I’m looking forward to our session together.
Warm wishes, Tor.
PS. If you want to order up equipment, I would suggest: a mat, 5 foam blocks, 2 bricks, a yoga strap, a bolster and a cotton yoga blanket.