Monday, March 26, 2012

Props, Support, and Paradox

"Using props means I am not as good of a yogi, right?" "Only people who are not flexible need props." "I can touch the floor, so what good does a prop do me?" These common myths about props in yoga correlate fairly directly with our common myths about support in our lives generally.

We live in a world that is moving more and more toward the individual, away from support structures. We are told, whether consciously or unconsciously, that we need to be able to make it on our own. I am reminded of the scene in “American Beauty,” where the mother informs the daughter, “the only person you can trust in the world is yourself.” I’m paraphrasing, but you get the idea. The notion is out there – looking to others for support is, at best, a sign of weakness, and at worst, detrimental to our survival.

Yet, deep within ourselves, I would bet that most of us know this is simply not true. As has been mentioned before, the yoga paradox shows us that the more support we have, the deeper we can go, support also allows us to to further in our lives. In addition, humans are social creatures who not only crave societal interactions but rely upon them for survival. As hunter-gatherers, if we did not have each other, large felines probably would have destroyed us as a species. Creating societies of togetherness has its downfalls – we see those outside our set worlds as “others” – but it also ensures our survival, physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

And yet so many of us are afraid to ask for help.

I was at a yoga class this weekend in which we spent most of the class using props, following an Iyengar approach. It was not, however, a restorative class, where I am used to doing that. During teacher training, we learned some techniques for using props in non-restorative (as well as restorative) postures, but I had never attended a class structured around the use of props. It was a small class, and it worked great! The support from the props did not necessarily make the asanas easier. In some ways, they were more difficult. But they were also more “correct.” And the props allowed me to go into postures in ways I never had before.

With the support of the props, the focus could be on ensuring the postures were opening and strengthening properly and safely, instead of struggling just to hold the pose incorrectly. With the use of props, we could fully open up instead of cutting off circulation by pushing ourselves into positions are bodies are not ready to accomplish. In turn, the body can eventually go deeper into the poses quicker and more safely than it ever could have done on its own. The support gets the mind out of the way and allows the body to open up to its fullest potential.

Once again, the body is a lesson for the rest of life. Asking other people for support does not mean we are weak. It does not mean we cannot do it on our own. It may not even make life easier overall. It will, however, help remove the internal struggle we have with ourselves, the struggle that tells us to go further than we are ready. That is how we injure ourselves. That is how we create harm. But with the appropriate support, we can hold ourselves up and move forward in ways that would otherwise take much longer or even cause us harm. With proper support, we can soar to new heights and new ideas without worry.

Props in yoga can be used for all sorts of reasons. They can protect our vulnerable knee joints from taking on too much strain. They can lift the floor to where we can reach, so we can create space in the body instead of constriction. They can be gentle reminders to bring attention to particular parts of ourselves that need attention in a particular pose. They can also be used to keep us from literally falling over in balance postures. When we know how to properly use props, our practice can soar to new heights.

Support off the mat is similar. By finding the proper support, we can protect our vulnerabilities, ensure that our goals are within reach, focus on areas we may have overlooked without the help of outside sources, and ensure we stay as balanced as possible along the way. But the first step is recognizing we need the support and that asking for it will take us further in all our endeavors.

Where do you find support most helpful? How has support changed your yoga practice? How has it changed your life?


© Rebecca Stahl 2012, all rights reserved.

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