Using a Wall As a Prop

Using a Wall As a Prop
Yogi/nis are divided on the topic of props. One camp finds them intrusive, preferring to find other ways into an asana. The other camp sees them as one means of increasing accessibility for all bodies. I’m in the second camp, and I often teach and practice poses against the wall. Particularly when working on balance poses, having something to lean upon allows one to focus on alignment and strength before bringing balance into the equation.

Many asanas that look deceptively simple actually require a great many opposing actions. Take the basic Virabhadrasana , or Warrior II. Your feet should be far enough apart that, when you bend your front knee, it stays behind your toes, protecting the joint. Optimally, your stance should be wide enough that your front thigh goes parallel to the ground. The back leg is turned at a forty-five degree angle, but your hips are open, meaning that they are perpendicular to the floor. Your back leg is straight and holding up part of your weight; your arms are pulling together at the shoulders but apart at the tips of your fingers. An oft-repeated cue suggests that you pretend your body is being pressed between two plates of glass. How do you practice all of this at once? You don’t – you will be distracted by the various movements and end up compromising on some part of the posture.

If you practice this asana with your back against a wall, however, you will find it easier to isolate the various moves. Stand with your rear end touching the wall. Turn the back foot out and then step the front foot forward. Check your knee position and then try to lower your thigh. If your hips are parallel to the wall behind you, they are open. When you bring up your arms, you can use the wall to check if they are evenly raised; you will also be able to notice if your back shoulder comes forward, out of alignment. Remember the two panes of glass? The wall is one of them, and you can easily check to see if your body is in a single plane. From here, you can work on straightening your spine, a part of the pose that is easily ignored when all the other competing movements are in play.

Balance poses are often easier to practice against the wall for obvious reasons. Vrksasana, or Tree Pose, is another posture that requires a hip turn out; the wall will show you if your knee is creeping towards the middle of the room (and by how much.) You will also be able to practice moving one foot up the other leg; because you’re not trying to maintain your balance, you’ll be able to bend your knee farther. Again, the wall allows you to take the posture and hold it with a straight spine.

As a third example, consider Hanumasana, commonly known as the splits. If you balance your high leg against the wall as you slide it higher, you will find yourself able to move more slowly into various levels of the pose. This will enable you to relax the muscles you are trying to stretch, which will often provide some amount of extra movement, however small.

A wall can be a wonderful prop to use when you are trying to break down a complicated pose. It is also a wonderful way to review postures that may have gotten too comfortable and thus a bit – or a great deal – sloppy. Try adding some wall work to your home practice. You’ll find yourself improving!

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