The inability to touch your toes doesn't mean that most yoga poses are outside your reach. Props found in most yoga studios, including yoga straps, act as an extension of your limbs and can help you achieve poses you may have thought were outside your abilities. Most studios are equipped with yoga straps, made of braided or woven cotton and typically measuring about 1 1/12 inches wide and 6 feet long.
Certain styles of yoga, including Bikram and Asthanga Vinyasa, prohibit the use of yoga straps, while others, such as Iyengar and Restorative, embrace them as essential tools. Early yoga practitioners did not use straps to arrive at poses, but they also did not practice many of the poses prevalent in present-day Westernized practices. While he did not invent the use of straps, renowned yogi B.K.S. Iyengar, codified them into a alignment-based practice he developed in the 1940s, which is still popular and relevant today. Iyengar believed that straps, along with other "props" such as blocks and blankets, helped practitioners of yoga fit a pose to their body safely and effectively. Many modern-day studios, whether Iyengar-based or not, have adopted the use of straps to help yogis and yoginis get into poses they might not otherwise be able to do or to deepen stretches.
Make Your Limbs Longer
Employ straps to help you reach your feet in standing balancing postures or reclined leg stretches. In Lord of the Dance, for example, you stand on one leg and bend your knee behind you, clasping it behind your head with both hands. This advanced posture isn't available to many people, but you can wrap a strap around your foot and hold either side with your hands to get the feel of the pose. Similarly, use a strap for Standing Hand to Big Toe pose by balancing on your right foot, wrapping a strap around the base of the left foot and holding the ends of your strap with your left hand as you extend the leg straight on in front of you. Reclined Hand to Big Toe Pose can similarly be performed using a strap. Straps also assist you in binding your arms around your torso or behind your back in poses such as Cow Face and Bound Side Angle pose.
Stretch More Deeply
A strap helps you feel seated and reclined folds more deeply. Try looping a strap around the base of your feet in Seated Forward Fold and then gently tugging on either end with your arms as you lean forward gently to create a sensation in the back of your thighs.
A strap can also help you open the insides of your thighs in Reclined Bound Angle Pose. Loop the loose end of your yoga strap through the D-ring to create a loop. While seated, pull the strap over your torso and under your arms so the loop encircles your low back. Hold the "tail" of the strap in your right hand and bring the soles of your feet together so your knees point out to the sides of the room like butterfly wings. Wrap the yoga strap loop over your ankles and around your feet. Lie down onto your back and pull gently on the tail of the strap to tighten its bind. Make it snug enough to feel a stretch through the inner thighs and groin, but no strain.
Prevent Form Breaks
A yoga strap can also stabilize your posture in arm balances. Make a strap into a hip width-sized loop and wrap it around your upper arms, just above the elbows, when you perform poses such as Forearm Stand or Four-Limbed Staff Pose, also called Chaturanga Dandasana. The strap prevents your elbows from bowing out in these postures and discourages potential injuries. The strap itself also supports your ribs in Chaturanga, a common, but difficult-to-master, posture. Use the strap to keep your thighs and knees from opening too far away from one another in poses such as Bridge and Wheel by looping it around your thighs, just above the knee.
Intuitively explore using a strap on your own. If you're having trouble reaching your feet in Bow, for example, assist with a strap. Be aware, though, that straps can sometimes lead to overstretching. Never pull so hard to deepen a stretch so that you feel pain or discomfort.
- The Wall Street Journal: Blocks and Straps: Not Just for Yoga Beginners
- Yoga Journal: Prop Up Your Practice
- Yoga Journal: Pose: Lord of the Dance With a Strap
- Yoga Journal: Need a Vacation? Take Reclining Bound Angle Pose
- Yoga Journal: Honoring B.K.S. Iyengar
- Yoga Journal: 3 Safe-Alignment Modifications for Chaturanga Dandasana
- Photo Credit Ekaterina Garyuk/iStock/Getty Images
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