After nearly a decade of yoga practice, I have finally invested in a yoga block and strap. I have come to appreciate the use of props in practice as means of achieving proper alignment, as well as providing stability in harder balancing poses. My favorite stretch with a yoga belt by far is a posture I know as toy soldier. Simply wrap your strap around your middle to upper back (I find the longer your strap the better, especially if you are tall like my husband). You’ll then have either side of the belt in your hands. Toss the ends over your shoulders, and reaching around behind you take either end and cross them so as to form an X. If your belt is long enough, you should then be able to pull what’s left of the ends back around front and weave the belt closed through its buckles. As you do so, you will feel your back begin to straighten and your shoulders pull back into their proper alignment. The stretch feels so great that I’m actually wearing the yoga belt like this as I write. Toy soldier opens the heart by opening the chest; it lifts you out of your slouch and helps you to breathe deeper, readying you to face obstacles as it cultivates calm, confidence, strength, and equanimity within you. How do I know? How can a stretch claim so much? I can only speak on my own behalf — I feel all of the above when my body opens up in this pose.
I’m inclined to use a yoga block when practicing half moon. I find that half moon is a more advanced pose, requiring plenty of balance and flexibility to hold. Place your block at the edge of your mat, alongside your feet. Keep a hold of the block with your closest hand and step the foot farthest from it back just a bit. Then, begin to straighten your front knee, breathe in and rotate your body to the side, opening your chest as you lift your back leg and free arm up. A block allows you to really find the right alignment and balance in this pose because you are able to rotate it to suit your flexibility. You can use it at its tallest if you are a beginner, or if you are more practiced and flexible, you can simply use the flatter, wider side.
More uses for a yoga strap and block include:
Deeper reclined leg stretches (lie down and bring one knee into your chest so you may loop the belt around the ball of your foot — if you need to, bend your other knee for comfort, placing that foot on the ground — then, taking the sides of the belt, gently use your breath to pull your leg toward you until you feel a pleasant stretch. Release and repeat.)
Deeper seated forward folds (In easy sit, half, or full lotus, place your block before you and using your breath gently begin to roll the block away from you, leaning forward as you do so.)
Better alignment and balance in triangle pose (Adjust block to proper level to suit your flexibility — really, this may work for any asana that requires you to touch the floor.)
I’m also going to clean our mats. If anyone knows a good recipe for an all natural mat cleaner, please pass it along. We have some lemongrass essential oil that I bet can be worked into the mix — maybe I can create a spray or something. I’m ashamed to say our mats have been somewhat mistreated, one has a hole in it and the other two are dirty from being used outside (and not being brought in). In college I used to throw everything into the washing machine. Is that crazy? I must have heard that I could somewhere. It seemed to work, if not make it a bit sticky. Last month I also bought two different yoga magazines to help nudge my practice along. I’m so determined, yet taking baby steps. If I can even find the time for one truly connected, deep pose a day — maybe that is the right start.