By B.K.S. Iyengar March 2000 Although controversial, the use of props could make yoga for beginners much more accessible The young, the old, even the sick obtain perfection in yoga through constant practice. And perfection is necessary, for without it, one fails to experience the desired effects. Many people are unable to perform the classical postures independently due to stiffness of body or ill health. However, yoga provides a way for all handicaps. If you face difficulties practicing, you may use certain support systems called props to obtain the benefit of classical postures. Although props should not be used permanently, an aged or ailing person may use them forever. In bygone days, yogis performed asana (postures) and pranayama (breathing exercises) in ashrams located in forests. They made use of the tree—its thick branches, trunk, and cushion of leaves as ‘props’. They used to tie cloth or ropes to the branches of the tree and hang on them. They would make a platform of dead tree trunks, a pillow of the leaves, and use all of these as ‘props’. While carrying out an asana independently, a novice may not perform well. For instance, in sarvangasana one does not know which elbow is in and which is out, and which is far or near from the shoulder. But one may fix arms between two legs of a chair or use belts around the upper arm to keep elbows in correct order. Duration is an important factor here, and any student can effortlessly perform sarvangasana for 10-15 minutes with the help of a chair. Again, in sirsasana, people may not lift their shoulders correctly. However, use of chairs/boxes and ropes can help lift the shoulders evenly. Props also rejuvenate. In savasana, one feels strain on the respiratory organ, tightness in throat and hardness of brain cells. By using pillows and blankets in the manner required by the torso, the chest remains on a higher level than the abdomen, and the head higher than the chest. This way, tension in the head is removed, hardness of respiratory muscles minimized, the body relaxes quickly, and the thoracic diaphragm is used properly for soft, steady, and total breathing. Props are useful in pranayama as well. A slanting plank is one that supports the upper back in order to remove deformities of chest. Often, we find people lacking proper development of chest muscles, especially after an attack of asthma or angina. A plank is very useful for them as it removes tension quickly and helps gain a perfect posture.
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