Every yoga practitioner has been taught that props can elevate your practice in many ways – from improving your alignment to allowing your body to passively relax with ease. Using props during your practice can also reduce your risk of injury and strain as well.
However, when it comes to utilizing props to nourish the spine, specific positioning and placement can make all the difference. While props can be beneficial, they can also place a practitioner at greater risk for injury if not utilized properly. It is important for yoga instructors and yoga practitioners to understand the effect each prop has on the area of the spine you are targeting.
Do’s and Don’ts of Yoga Props for Spinal Health
Do: Use for thoracic extension and gentle extension of the low lumbar. Use to stabilize the lumbar spine and optimize thoracic rotation during supine spinal twisting.
Don’t: Use with posterior disc herniation or disc bulging as this will exacerbate symptoms. Opt for neutral positioning up to mild extension of the lumbar vertebra to counteract the direction of the bulge or herniation.
Do: Utilize a block behind the chest to passively stretch the pectorals, costal muscles and upper abdominals. Utilize under the sacrum to relieve lumbar hyperextension and spinal erector tension.
Don’t: Use with posterior disc herniation or disc bulging as this will exacerbate symptoms. Utilize behind the chest if cervical spine or nerve issues are present in the upper extremities.
Do: Utilize straps to improve and maintain correct body mechanics by not straining to reach or contort the body to achieve poses or stretches. Straps can be used to create light over-pressure to increase stretching and also aid in improving mobility and end-range.
Don’t: Use to force your body into postures or stretches or rely on straps heavily to stabilize your body. The nervous system is built to protect you from injury – pushing too far into stretches can actually cause more harm than good. To best protect your body, it’s best to create as much stability with your own musculature as opposed to consistent use of external support.
Do: Always have on-hand in your yoga practices. Use towels to offer more grip while aiding in stretching (i.e. supine hamstrings stretch). Towels can be used to support the natural curves of the spine and placed behind the rib cage for gentle heart opening. With a towel you are able to gradually increase or decrease height for more options for support. During Savasana, roll a towel and place under your knees to ease pressure on the low back.
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Don’t: Not use towels! This is one of the easiest props to bring with you and offers multiple ways to use during your practices. If using a towel to support the spine, avoid placing your body in positioning that creates pain, burning, tingling, or increased discomfort in your spine or limbs.
Do: Use to increase support and stability while balancing or in split leg postures such as lunges poses (Extended Angle Pose, Tree pose, Triangle Pose). Dowels are great for supporting the spine safely into a standing forward fold, especially for those who have chronic back pain and tightness with a tendency to spasm.
Don’t: Consistently rely on a dowel for extra support. Utilize it as an aide to find your natural core support and balance. Think of it as “training wheels” for improving your balance and core control. Wean yourself off this prop as you progress in your practice and increase your strength, stability, and range of motion.
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