Do you notice that some students display an aversion to using props? Do you sometimes struggle to help them get past that feeling? Yoga students are sometimes reluctant to use props for many different reasons, but there are a few prevailing ones. First, some feel as if using props means that they're incapable “newbies”. Second, prop usage just feels too complicated and difficult. They'd rather just flow, and not have to stall that free movement to “fuss” with props.
Yoga students at all levels display this tendency. Novices already feel out of their comfort zones, perhaps a little out of place in a room full of folks “better at yoga” than them. They can feel like using props gives them a huge name tag labeling them as such. Experienced students can be averse to props as well, however, as the following example illustrates.
After class one day a student new to the studio I frequent asked the owner “Are there any classes that are more traditional? I just feel as if telling students to use props is disrespectful.” The student clearly was familiar enough with yoga practice to be able to evaluate ”traditional” versus “nontraditional”. Thus, not only beginning students are hesitant to use props. In any case, I couldn't help but think to myself “Disrespectful? How is it disrespectful to teach students how to use props to enhance their practices?” I tried to hold unto the yogic value of non-judgement, but the comment truly baffled me.
And on another point, I didn’t understand the connection of traditional versus nontraditional and prop use versus lack thereof. Case in point, Iyengar yoga heavily centers on prop use, and that is considered one of the most traditional forms around today. But I digress. Let's look at some strategies for helping students overcome their aversions to using props - and thus, allow our students to enjoy more of yoga's potential healing, empowering potential in our lives.
1) Use your personal experiences.
While teaching one day, an instructor whom I respect and admire described how she came to understand the truth about using props - 1) that it doesn’t mean that you're a “beginner” 2) that it can be very helpful no matter what level practitioner you are. This was meaningful to me personally, as a student of yoga, because she shared this while cueing a pose wherein I thought I don't “need” a block to be stable and strong.
Part of me - also as a certified 500-hour instructor - knew that props are helpful no matter level practitioner one is. But another, less developed part of me was confident that I don't “need” a prop in certain postures. My instructor’s personal sharing led me to take a more objective look at the matter.
From that, I could more clearly see that sure, I may not technically “need” props in certain postures. They do, however, help me to build stronger, more stable, more effectively aligned, and more beneficial versions of those postures. Such personal sharings (as always, brief and focused on practice and the students) can, in such ways, be effective ways for helping students understand the value of using props. That holdd true despite how “good at yoga” one is or isn't (which we know has little to nothing to do with the shapes one can make and hold with his/her body).
2) Show students how props can help strengthen and refine.
We as instructors are fully aware that props aren’t only used for physical support and for “bringing the floor to you” - but also for contributing to strengthening exercises and for honing alignment within separate postures. But students don’t necessarily understand this. We can show students the multi-faceted possibilities of props by using these techniques in our classes. Thus, they can experience - on many sensory, visceral levels - that props aren’t just for helping yoga practitioners achieve postures that they otherwise wouldn’t have been able to. This can be far more effective than telling students that using props doesn’t mean that they’re “beginners” - an argument that could fall on deaf ears, because they’ve heard it many times before without any evidence to support it.
These prop usages include placing a block in between one’s inner upper thighs through a Sun Salutation, or in Bridge and Wheel Poses, as well as during core work (such as passing a block in between the feet and the hands while doing full-body crunches). With these techniques, students can come to see props with new eyes - as tools that enhance any person’s practice, not just those of beginners. They’ll then be more inclined to use them not only without hesitation, but with enthusiasm.
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