Alternatives to "Traditional" Yoga Props
Updated: Jan 29, 2022
Yoga mats are actually relatively new to the ancient practice of yoga. While it may be that a mat is a truly helpful first step in the acquisition of yoga “equipment” or "props", it isn’t an absolute necessity and if you don’t currently own one, please don’t let that stop you from beginning your practice. The primary purpose of a yoga mat is to provide a non-slip surface upon which to practice standing poses in order to keep one’s feet from slipping and sliding. However, a wood or tile floor can also fulfill this purpose. Truth be told, it is also very nice to have a mat for padding one’s knees, wrists, as well as other boney areas so a thick blanket or rug can suffice. For Yoga Nidra, Restorative and even Yin Yoga, that rug, blanket, or even a firm towel can be a temporary alternative for a yoga mat.
Yoga blankets are perhaps the most often used and most versatile of yoga “props”. They assist in elevating the hips above the knees in many seated poses, thus bringing greater alignment to the spine. They are of benefit in certain backbends such as Sphinx Pose, where they are useful in taking strain out of the lumbar spine. Blankets are wonderful in supporting shoulders in Shoulder Stand, and rolled under the knees in Savasana. In Restorative Yoga they can be used in as many creative ways as one can fathom! When used as support during practice, one wants a firm, not fluffy, blanket. Mexican blankets are often the Yogi’s choice. As a substitute, a thick firm towel or two, folded up, will be a good substitute. The fluffy blanket will be wonderful to cover up in Restorative poses and in Savasana, the final resting pose in each practice.
One of the primary purposes of a yoga block is to bring the ground up to you when your hand doesn’t reach the floor without losing your alignment in poses such as Uttanasana (Standing Forward Fold), Trikonasana (Triangle), and Ardha Chandrasana (Half Moon). Blocks also provide support for the knees in Supta Baddha Konasana ( Supine Bound Angle Pose), under the sacrum in Supported Bridge Pose, and a host of other uses, particularly in Restorative Yoga. If a couple of yoga blocks are not readily available, there are alternatives! Stacking a couple of large books and wrapping them in a towel then tying or rubber banding them together is an option, taking care the books don’t slip and slide during practice. Using canned food containers (cans) can suffice for bringing the floor up higher. Firm sofa pillows can be perfect to place under the knees for support in certain supine poses such as Supta Baddha Konasana (Supine Bound Angle Pose)
Often enduring yoga practice the strap can be thought of as an extension of your arms. Useful when hands are not quite reaching their destination, as when reaching for the foot in Supta Padangusthasana (Reclined Hand to Big Toe Pose) or in Paschimottanasana (Seated Forward Fold) an easy substitute is a belt, long scarf, neck tie, or light towel. In some practices a strap is used to loop around the arms or legs in order to assist in finding alignment so a belt with a buckle will work well. In Restorative classes the strap provides support so, usually the legs, can relax and be supported by the strap or as a substitute, the belt or scarf.
We love a firm bolster! This is a favorite in Restorative Yoga practice and also utilized in Yin, when available. A few well folded blankets can be a temporary substitute as can a couple bed pillows wrapped together and tied with a couple scarves. Those sofa pillows will work as well. Please keep in mind when folding and/or wrapping, the bolster substitute works best when made to be firm rather than loose and “squishy”.
When the stability of a wall is called for a door will also work well. Please take precautions to assure yourself the door will remain closed during your practice! A folding chair is also a potential substitute for providing the needed stability in certain balancing poses such as Vrikshasana (Tree Pose)
A chair is a wonderful substitute for a wall sometimes, and vice versa! A regular folding chair can work perfectly...no need to invest in an expensive “yoga chair” unless one is taking an Iyengar series in which case these chairs without the back support are truly amazing. In most classes the others will work just as well.
In sincere hopes that you begin your practice and find ease in the use of what you have at hand.