Yoga props and making do

How COVID changed yoga props. By Maria Oliver

Yoga props. Don't you just love them? If you can't reach your toes, use a brightly coloured belt. Blocks and bricks in complementary colours, matching or clashing with your yoga mat as the mood suits you. I am not naturally bendy so I love my props. They help me sit up taller, they support my hands when I can't quite reach the floor, they allow me to access and go deeper into poses that I couldn't master before. B.K.S. Iyengar is credited with introducing props to yoga, having used tree stumps and anything else he could find lying around.

I have bags of yoga props. I used to lug the bags to every class. I would hand out my props, demonstrate how to use them, and collect them back in again. Regular attendees brought their own, but lending out props meant that everyone had the same. Then COVID happened.

All of a sudden, instead of greeting students in a hall, I was peering into their homes through a video camera. I could not lend out my props.

I never expected Zoom yoga to take off. I started teaching on Zoom so that I wouldn't have to refund my students for classes they'd paid for in advance. Then they ran out of classes and paid for more. It was a relief to be able to continue to earn, when teaching yoga was my only source of income. But I still could not lend out my props.

I changed the instructions I sent out to my class members. I didn't want to make them buy props, other than their own yoga mat (yoga mats are a special, personal space; I think you should really have your own). I suggested that a scarf or dressing gown cord would take the place of a yoga belt. A cushion could be used to sit on if a foam yoga block is not available. A hardback book could be used to rest your hand on for Ardha Chandrasana if there was no brick.

Walls also become a problem to be solved. Many people don't have clear wall space in their homes. If we were going to practice Viparita Karani, some flexible thinking was needed. So I suggested that legs over a sofa, or legs over a bed would work. As long as the furniture was against a wall so that it wouldn't slide suddenly away! We could also bend our knees and use the furniture to push against to lift up into a supported shoulder stand.

When we were allowed to start meeting up outdoors, we faced different challenges. My main props became a tape measure and floor spots, so that I could place people's mats two metres apart. Yoga teachers were still not allowed to lend props out, but we found that water bottles made useful brick replacements, and most people brought water with them as the weather was warm.

Yoga props (2)

I also taught postnatal yoga outdoors. These women had given birth during lockdown, without their partners present, and were deprived of introducing their babies to grandparents, except through closed windows. Their babies took part in online music classes, but their mothers could not attend in-person groups and make vital connections with each other. It was amazing when we were allowed to meet up outside, and again we improvised. There were no walls, but a buggy handle could be used as a support for Warrior 3. Muslin squares and blankets took the place of belts, Rolled-up blankets or folded changing mats were sat on.

Now we're back in our venues, and I am allowed to lend yoga props out again. But I'm still encouraging people to bring their own and make do if they don't want to buy anything especially. It has saved me from lugging equipment around. It means that class members are able to source their own equipment which they can also use at home. And maybe it takes us a bit closer to what yoga is really about. Being non-grasping, not hoarding material goods, making do with what we already have around us, thinking flexibly. But I still get joy out of brightly coloured props!

Maria Oliver

Maria Oliver is a yoga teacher and children's writer. She teaches yoga to adults, children, pregnant and new mums.