We will zest up this New Year’s column with a novel approach to yoga: the use of props to deepen your practice. Actually, it is an ancient practice, not just in yoga but in martial arts as well. Props were common to boost flexibility, agility and confidence in a particular activity. Therefore, their use is actually a comeback of sorts. In the yoga style credited to Lord Hanuman, for instance, the use of a rope or pole (mallakhamb style) was rather common. Sand bags, filled gourd skins and bamboo were also used as weights or props for such purposes. Other props used back then were acupressure paduka (still available at crafts exhibitions or wooden artefact stores) and yoga poles (danda) to correct posture.
Every month, we hope to introduce you to a prop that will help you transit classic poses. You may continue to use them or drop them once a particular issue with a pose has been sorted. Owing to space constraints, we can only show you one pose per prop. But you can certainly use them for various other poses. While much of this is available online, you should ideally consult an expert when following these instructions. In essence, the intention of this column is to open your mind to the potential for growth through the use of props.
This month, we start with the simple yoga belt. It is easily available in most sports shops and online stores. If you are unable to buy one, you can make do with any long cloth material (such as a dupatta) that is 2 m or longer. Other than the pose shown here, you can use it to do several others. Try leg stretches, lying or standing; use it for expansion of the chest, in poses like the cow face (gomukhasana). It is particularly useful in the latter, where beginners may find that one hand does not reach across to touch the other one. Using a belt will help you align the muscles and, eventually, you will find that the initial awkwardness will vanish and the pose will become more negotiable.
Crescent pose, kneeing variation (ardhachandrasana)
Start on your fours; use a cushion at the knees or fold the mat to cushion the knees. Draw the left foot in front between the palms or as close as possible towards them. The other leg extends behind. This is the first stage. Now, pass the belt over the left shoulder and loop it over the left ankle. Fold the left leg at the knee, to hold as shown. Use both hands to hold the belt firmly while your torso is now upright, as shown. Initially, do not draw on the belt too much. Later, as you become comfortable, you can draw up the foot closer to the hip. This gives a lovely stretch to the thigh muscles. Release; repeat for the other side. Breathe normally throughout.
Caution: As this pose is rather intense, ensure you have done some warm-up. Avoid in case of knee problems.
Benefits: This pose improves stamina and flexibility of the hips and legs. It mimics a backbend, toning the spine, and uplifts the mood.
(stone on the palm)
This month, we also introduce yoga games, or kreeda yoga. These are games we played as children; often without realising they form part of the yoga and martial arts tradition of India—like hopscotch! Using fun, these games developed sharp reflexes, agility and overall fitness. Hastamalakam (stone on the palm) is a group game. One player places a stone on the back of the left hand and moves about the group to touch as many people as possible with the right hand, all the while ensuring the stone does not fall off. Those who have been touched are obviously out of the game. When the stone falls, the main player is out and is replaced by another. The one who manages to touch the most people before the stone falls is the winner!
Shameem Akthar is a Mumbai-based yoga acharya. If you have any queries for her, mail us or email at email@example.com. (Please consult your physician before following the advice given here)
Photo: iStock Featured in Harmony — Celebrate Age Magazine January 2017