propaganda, part i

You would not believe how many names I came up with for this entry. At one time I thought all the entries in this blog would be about props, so all the names were prop based. I’ll make you read them later. The best one was Prop Culture, but Disney owns it and this is definitely one of those times when picking another name was the better part of valor. 

In most hatha vinyasa yoga traditions, including the very different practices of Iyengar and Ashtanga, props have meaning; maybe good (often good), maybe less positive. In some classrooms, or in some student or teacher minds, they’re a weakness, or simply “not yoga”. Or some props are ok and others aren’t, or some applications of proppage are valid others not. In more classrooms, props are there for those who need them, but they’re not necessarily part of the classplan. They may even be a sign not only of weakness, but of shirking the struggle of the practice. 

In plenty of vinyasa oriented classes, props are integrated into the practice casually. Have a block around if you want it; one or two blankets if you need them. Oddly enough, one of the lesser focussed-on props, the strap, is the one that followers of The Struggle often allow for. On the other hand, teachers or studios may not even realize they’re applying stigma to the use of props. 

Here’s the stigma. I don’t believe it’s generally intentional, but here it is: You’re here to learn to do these poses without help. Using help is a crutch. Either (a) all bodies can do this, and you’re just not trying hard enough or haven’t tried long enough, or (b) not all bodies can do this. Learn to be the outsider who needs help, or go home.

Clearly, there are plenty of rooms where props are integrated into vinyasa practice, and absolutely used in many other forms of yoga, e.g. chair yoga, restorative and of course yin, not to mention aerial and acro yoga, neither of which is considered a “soft” practice.

Most yin yoga teachers rely to a greater or lesser degree on props, and here’s why. Our physical focus is on allowing stress and tension to create resilience in connective tissue and bone—gather, collect that resilience with help from the nervous system, the mind, the subtle body and the heart. We rely on yin tissues and yin forces: gravity, physical assistance with props or by an experienced teacher. 

Another yin assistance may be yang energy exerted in another part of the body, as in dragon, aka anjaney or crescent moon asana, to create that stress. If a pose requires yang energy (heat, muscular tone, in some cases considered masculine energy), but produces no yin, a pose like say plank, then it’s kind of outside our purview, except perhaps as welcome interstitial “juicy” pose between asanas that rely on another kind of tension. 

Props allow us to place our bodies into positions that challenge our tissues for extended periods of time and maintain our coolth—our yin-ness.

In coming episodes of Propaganda, more about the props themselves, how we use them, DIY, and the funniest anti-prop screed I’ve ever read.

Here, btw, is the funniest anti-prop screed I’ve ever read! I guarantee you this was written by a man.

And here, drumroll, is the list of names for blogs about props:

Prop blog names

  • Prop Culture (or Prop Coutour)
  • Proper Tea
  • My second favorite is All Prop-er Yoga Is Theft, but you have to know the Marxist Proper Tea joke
  • Prop Up Class
  • Prop up Event
  • Prop up Store (or sale, and only if I start one of those boutiques where you sell Amazon stuff and get a slice of the action)
  • Yoga done Properly, Proper Yoga, Yoga Proper.
  • Hmmm. Proper-ly? or without the hyphen?
  • Propaganda? Propaganza?
  • Properties
  • Prop Gap
  • Propeteer 
  • Hip Prop Hooray
  • Hop on Prop
  • Prop It Like It’s Hot
  • Prop Room
  • It’s a Prop World After All
  • Propular Mechanics* 
  • Prop School
  • College Prop
  • Proppin’ an’ Lockin’
  • Prop, Drop and Roll**
  • Mary Proppin’s***
  • Prop the Magic Dragon***

*Walter Thompson
**myxyplyzyk
***Ben Slatkin
****Yellow

yin and the art of maintenance meditation

Let’s begin at the beginning. Yin yoga asks you to sit still in a pose that may cause you discomfort or challenge, and asks you not to move without a good reason. Good reasons might include feelings of pain (versus challenge) or anxiety, risk or fear.

Most often we teachers don’t tell you how long you’ll be there; when you get the hang of it you know we probably won’t leave you in a Dragon pose for seven minutes, but you have no guarantees that you’ll get another two minutes in Deer, and whether Deer is a rich satisfaction or a challenge to be met with equanimity; it changes nothing, except maybe how long the pose feels.

So the here and now, the present moment, are the only things that matter.

In class, you’ll hear me say 

  • sit with the sensation, 
  • hear the voices of the the places where you feel things,
  • turn your attention inward, 
  • pay attention to sensation, 
  • be the noticer or witness to sensation or state in the body, active or passive,
  • notice ease as well as discomfort,
  • sit next to the discomfort without seeking to change it.
  • Sit.

The idea is that each pose becomes mindfulness of the body — bodyfulness.

Why is that important, or good? Why should that fulfil promises like “you’ll sleep better?”

“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” In fact, while he may have endorsed the idea, Viktor Frankl probably didn’t originate the idea. But that doesn’t matter here because he brought it home to us.

The point is, if you’re faced with an irritation, a challenge, you have a choice about how, and how soon, you respond. Yin compels you to sit with stimuli — primarily physical challenge — without responding physically. Extend that: sitting with physical challenge, you can sit with noise, memories, fears; learning to choose your response.

That seems to be fulfilling some of the promises we’ve been made about meditation. The ability to return to the breath as it changes the shape of the body (a topic for another day) becomes easier when you’ve learned to create space between stimulus and response, between itch and scratch.

Consider each pose a brief meditation; like performing the stations of the cross

Come to this practice, letting go of control over the content, by attending a class. How long each station lasts and how many stations there are; how challenging in your unique body, how restful, and the story of each station, is unknown.

Or, choose poses and their length and their sequence for yourself. A great place to start is The Complete Guide to Yin Yoga by Bernie Clark with a forward by Sarah Powers.

Either way, finding the posture as it suits your body, staying (physically in the pose; mentally; attentively; even emotionally in the body) is you choosing your response to stimulus. Which is mindfulness.

You may need to alter the pose, but do it thoughtfully. However fast or slow it rolls around in your head, let it roll. Then respond, or not. That’s the yoga.

So how do you maintain a meditation practice? You yin.


In coming weeks and months, we’ll talk about

  • Props: 
    • DIY blocks, bolsters and straps
    • Marshalls and TJMaxx
    • why one bolster is better than another depending on what you want to do with it
    • how to keep your investment aligned with your ways and means. 
  • “Getting the hang of it” stuff like
    • pain/challenge
    • risk/challenge
    • muscles toned and untoned, and the idea of yin and yang tissues
    • muscle tone doesn’t have to interfere with tension on connective tissue; it matters what’s toned and where
  • Gravity — the big one!
  • Tensegrity — the cool one!

affordable private yin classes

now, one hour of online private yin yoga is $30.

no minimum or maximum, no strings. 1/2 hour for $20.

what

Yin is close-to-the-ground, long held poses that challenge connective tissues (ligaments, tendons, fasciae), strengthen bones and keep joints resilient. Beginners and experienced yinners welcome.

Each pose can be a short meditation (helpful for those of us who have trouble making time to sit or can’t sit still too long).

why

We need it. We all need the quiet, the focus inside instead of out. Bring yourself into your right proportion to the world.

how
  • Zoom or your preferred platform
  • Venmo or PayPal
  • Use the contact link for enquiries or to schedule your class

Mailing list and regular group Zoom classes are coming soon, in addition to the classes at Reflections and Jaya Yoga you’ll find on my calendar.

Love
Katie