Welcome to our ‘How to Yoga’ prop series! In this series of posts, we’ll be going through some of the different types of props you might be able to use in your yoga practice, and ways to use them. This isn’t by any means a definitive guide, because your prop use is only limited by your imagination! Everyone will find different things helpful for their practice, so take these ideas as inspiration to get creative in your own body.
And remember, under no circumstances does using props make your yoga ‘less’ than a yoga practice without props. They’re not aides or training wheels, they’re tools for you to explore. People at every stage of their yoga journey can use props to help support or extend their practice, and everyone deserves to do yoga that feels comfortable in their body.
Today we’re talking about yoga straps. They may seem a little intimidating to begin with, but I promise they’re not too scary! But they are super versatile and can bring another layer to your yoga practice.
Straps can come in a variety of lengths and materials. Most commonly you’ll find cotton or canvas straps at around 2-3 meters long, with some metal rings or a buckle to make a loop with. You might also find cheaper materials like polyester with plastic buckles (pictured, right).
One of my favourite types of straps to use is an infinity loop (pictured, left). Usually made out of stretchy elastic, these loops add another dimension to poses, and are
brilliant for people who have less grip strength, or need some extra space to move in the pose.
If you’re looking to purchase a strap, I use Stretch Now for most of my equipment, they’re an Australian owned company with high quality and sustainable products. The straps in these photos both happen to be budget options from Kmart, because that’s what I had on me at the time!
And if you don’t have a fancy strap, don’t worry! Straps are probably the easiest prop to replace with household items. Try using:
Soft rope (for some poses, be careful with anything hard)
Any long bit of sturdy material you can find!
So let’s jump in and explore how we might be able to use straps in a yoga practice!
1. Arm Support and Alignment
A great way to start using a strap is to support the alignment in your arms. You can see in the photos below how we can start to do that in a sitting position, by holding onto the strap in a simple overhead lift position (apologies for the weird faces throughout, the sun was in my eyes!). From this position, we can apply this to lots of other poses, like Warrior One, side bends, and shoulder openers. You could even use the same principles in poses like triangle and extended warrior, holding the strap nice and wide with your arms extended to help open up through your chest.
You can also see here the difference between a traditional strap and the infinity loop. Gripping the strap requires a little more strength through the hands, which can be great for activating the muscles and inviting body awareness, but can be difficult to hold onto. The infinity loop has the option to slip your wrists through so that you don’t have to grip the strap, which also allows your hands to be in a more natural position. The strap also has some more flexibility in the movement, but you are still limited in how wide your arms can go. But with both straps, we can get some extra length in the arms by using the strap as leverage and relying less on strength in the shoulders.
2. Making your Arms Longer
The most traditional use of a strap is to take you where your arms won’t go! There are lots of poses where you need the stability or leverage of holding onto a body part, but your arms don’t quite reach to be able to hold on properly.
There are endless ways to do this, and there are some examples in the pictures below. Anything where you have to reach behind you, like king pigeon (pictured), dancer’s pose, or cat’s tail, or in front of you, like in folds (pictured), reaching your hands to each other in binds, or balance poses like hand to big toe (pictured).
Again, you can let your imagination go wild here. Using straps can help your body sit more comfortably in the pose so that you can hold it safely, rather than straining to reach and being unstable. Even if your arms kind of reach, using the strap can give you more space to lengthen through the pose. For example, in a forward fold, I can physically touch my feet, but using a strap to hold onto means that I can gently pull against my feet to be able to straighten my spine more.
Grounding with a strap doesn’t feel right for everyone, but it can be a really helpful tool to get connected with the sensory experiences going on in your body. You can do this with most major body parts, and you can experiment around with what feels right for you.
One of my favourite ways to do this is by using a strap to secure a block between your knees, like we talk about in our blocks blog post. Tying the bock to you gives you quite a strong feeling of grounding and can be especially helpful for people who don’t have muscular control of their legs (for example, wheelchair users). You can see in the picture below that I’ve opted to use the strap around my thighs in a forward fold, and you could easily slip a block between your legs for some added grounding.
Another option for grounding and body awareness is using the strap around your ribs. It is very important that the strap is not too tight, and that you can quickly and easily slip it off. The benefit of the rib strap is to learn to be aware of your lateral breath, breathing out into your ribs to use the whole capacity of your lungs. You could also try this across your chest or stomach to practice the same awareness.
And lastly, a popular restorative position is reclined butterfly, and you can use the strap here for some added grounding. It can be tricky to get into if you’ve never done it, so I’ll walk you through it. Start by making a loop with a long strap, and step into the loop so the strap is against your lower back. Sit down with your knees out to the side, and bring the strap between your legs and hook the loop over your feet. Adjust the size of the loop until it’s firm but not too tight, and then you can lay back and hold for as long as you like!
What's your favourite way to use a strap? Let me know in the comments!