Originally Published July 16, 2020
One of the conversations that has repeatedly come up over the years with other teachers is how to convince people that yoga props are worth using. They often share how it has both been explicitly and implicitly stated that using a prop makes them less of a practitioner. Somehow, it makes you seem weaker if you sit on a blanket in a forward fold then the person forgoing one.
This doesn’t surprise me in the least. It is a symptom of a practice that has been co-opted, among other things, by Individualism (a topic for another time, perhaps.) But it might be interesting to inquire why it is so hard for us to admit that we could use some help from time to time. Or, in other words, what is so difficult about admitting that you might need, or benefit, from information and assistance that you cannot provide by yourself?
It’s somewhat like getting lost and stopping to ask for directions. I have definitely been guilty of driving aimlessly when astray, convinced that I will figure it out eventually on my own. Had I just stopped and asked, time would have been saved, and maybe some lessons— and directions— learned.
It’s an imperfect metaphor, but there is a common mindset taught in yoga that your body doesn't have anything to learn— It already knows everything that it will ever know. This mindset is aimless at best, and dangerous, at worst.
A very senior teacher that I worked under for many years once said to students, “The body is so smart, that it is impossible for it to be hurt while in motion.” And I am sure many of you have heard similar things. “The body just knows…” seems to live in the yoga vernacular.
It’s obviously not true, and acknowledging that honors the bodies’ intelligence rather than diminishing it. The technology of the body rivals and surpasses any man made gadget. It is so incredibly advanced that we still cannot quite figure it out. Therefore, it is worthy of our attention, appreciation and exploration. To say that it “just knows” strips it of perhaps the main marker of intelligence: the ability to learn. We don’t inherently have the all answers, but they are worth searching for.
This is where props come in. They are invaluable tools for exploring our physicality in ways that do not come so easily to us. Props can elevate us (blocks, chairs, blankets), give us boundaries (straps, blocks, chairs), and give us something to get over (blocks, chairs, poles). All can grant us accessibility to our own personal unknown territory, and allow us to learn more about ourselves and the vessel we inhabit: our body.
Because we are so amazingly adept at excelling in specific areas, others often get neglected. The areas we excel in are our strengths. In order not to wear them out, we should pay attention and explore our blind spots, or weaknesses. This attention we pay to these "weaknesses" is nothing short than a sign of our strength.