Using bolsters not blocks
Part 8 of my take on getting started with Yin Yoga
Yoga props - some people love them and some just don't.
I do admit to having a block around blocks. As a student, they make me uncomfortable because it feels like I’m using them to try to trick my body into doing something or going somewhere it doesn’t want to do. For example, Sticking a block under my sacrum during setu bandha makes my back bend more than it naturally would, and when it’s there I just I drop my weight down onto my scrum and it feels really sore afterwards. Doing the pose without the block gives me much less of a bend but I can feel the affect of adjustments in my adductors as I bring my legs in, the strengthening of my thighs as I push away from the floor and the lift in my shoulders as I try to lift more into my upper back. I feel that I’m getting more in touch with my back by strengthening it. The only time I really do want to use a block is to compensate for a weakness or injury - like placing it under my hip during swan/pigeon to keep the weight off my sore knee. Although even then it’s hard to get them at the right height or I find uncomfortable awkward angles poking into me. So I much prefer adapting the pose - for example doing deer instead of swan or rolling over onto my back to do pretzel.
Funnily enough I don’t feel the same way about bolsters. The mere though of draping my body over a bolster makes me feel happy no matter how awkward or challenging the posture is going to be. Bolsters - or rolled up blankets for that matter - have a lot more give. So as far as a yin practice is concerned, being able to use a bolster or blanket to give you support is great, and then as you relax and go deeper, so does your soft prop as it compresses down. Perfect match.
But then there are straps/belts. For me, using a strap almost always leads to pulling and tensing, cramping hands and feet, tightening of shoulders. I avoid it where ever possible.
My view of yin is that it is a practice you can adapt to how your body works and its limitations or points of compression. Your furthest extent of movement is going to be limited by where bone meets bone - that will never move no matter how much to try to "stretch" into it. It is only tension that will release over time (ie greater flexibility) and tension is held in the muscles, tendons, ligaments and connective tissue. You need to be able to release and relax fully to get the benefit. Pushing yourself up onto blocks or pulling your limbs out using straps doesn't seem to fit, to me, with working towards releasing. Whereas a nice squishy cushion or bolster... that's another story.
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