The original personal trainers may have been yogis. From its beginnings 5,000 years ago until the twentieth century, yoga, with all its physical, meditative and daily life practices, was handed down from teacher to student, not in classes, but one-to-one. The infinite, ever-changing physical, mental and emotional variations among human beings necessitated that ancient yogis give unique and personal teachings in the same way personal trainers address the individual physical issues and needs of their clients.
Respect for the uniqueness of each yoga student inspired internationally renowned yoga teacher BKS Iyengar to explore how he might teach groups of students of varying body types to experience ease in their practice, no matter how strong or flexible they might be. In the early twentieth century, Iyengar began experimenting with using props to help people of all body types practice their poses with optimum alignment and ease.
Iyengar's original props, including non-skid mats, straps, blocks, blankets, bolsters and various types of “yoga furniture,” have been not only duplicated but, in some cases, refi ned and improved by manufacturers around the world. Yoga props, though they were originally designed for yoga practice, can be a great support to any kind of physical training. Here are a few basic props that can enhance any personal training session:
Non-skid mats are a staple of yoga practice. You can't predict on what kind of surface your clients will practice their regimens at home: hardwood, carpet, concrete, ceramic, cork, vinyl, etc. A non-skid mat, also known as a “sticky mat,” provides a safe, consistent surface for practice. These mats not only resist sliding on most fl oors, but they also supply some friction underneath slippery hands and feet, helping to keep your client stable and safe in any position. They also provide cushioning for bony joints. Because of variations in body chemistry, body type and environmental sensibility, there's a plethora of mat types on the market. These include long-lasting, PVC-based mats, from thin to cushy; biodegradable mats of various thicknesses; lightweight travel mats; and heavy-duty professional mats – all in a variety of colors and designs.
Straps are one of yoga's “equalizing” props. Not everyone can touch their toes, and it's better not to force it. Straps can give even those with the stiffest hamstrings the stabilizing experience of holding onto their own feet. By spanning the distance between hands and feet in forward bending movements, straps allow practitioners to hold their feet without compromising spinal alignment. Straps are also useful in a variety of chest-expanding movements.
Straps are available in a variety of lengths, buckle styles and webbing types. The strongest are made of cotton or hemp webbing, and there are organic options for the eco-minded. Buckle styles include traditional steel D-rings as well as lightweight, plastic quick-release and “cinch” buckles.
In seated twisting or forward-bending stretches, people with infl exible hamstrings and hips often have no choice but to round their spines, which can put damaging pressure on intervertebral discs in the lumbar area. A well-placed block under the sitting bones can raise the pelvis just enough to allow it to tilt forward, letting the spine return to its natural curves, which helps keep these discs safe.
In yogic standing postures, including simple standing forward bends, placing hands on a block can relieve pressure in the back and allow for optimal spinal alignment. Using blocks in forward bends and twists is especially useful for people with disc issues in L4 to L5 and L5 to S1.
Blocks come in many sizes and types and can be made from wood, cork and foam in several widths and heights for all individual needs.
Yoga has endured for 5,000 years precisely because it's been allowed to evolve. The relatively recent development of props has opened yoga practice up to the widest audience ever, giving teachers and students infinite options for satisfying practice. Adding yoga props to personal training gives trainers the opportunity to develop new ways to optimize their clients' daily routines. With a little creative experimentation, personal trainers can use props to widen their clients' options, too.
Charlotte Bell has taught yoga and meditation classes, workshops and teacher trainings in Salt Lake City and beyond since 1986. She is the author of the book, Mindful Yoga, Mindful Life: A Guide for Everyday Practice, published by Rodmell Press.