The Benefits of Props in Yoga: A Beginner’s Guide

Remember the days when yoga practice consisted of you and the bare earth? No, me neither! These days, we have the choice of so many props in yoga.

Yoga equipment exists to support your yoga practice, whether you attend class in a yoga studio or are establishing a solid home practice.

This post will identify some common yoga props (and some not-so-common props), their uses, and their benefits.

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Key Takeaways

1. Props in yoga have a multitude of uses. They can support your body in relaxation, make a pose more accessible, make a pose more difficult, and aid in finding good alignment for your body proportions.

2. Some systems of asana rely more on props than others. For example, BKS Iyengar advocated the use of props in yoga to help with alignment and created a style of yoga that relies heavily on props.

3. Some of the most commonly used yoga props are blocks, bolsters, mats, blankets, and straps. However, there are many more props that can be added to this list. These include eye pillows, meditation cushions, and yoga chairs to name a few.

4. You never have to spend money on yoga props. Almost all of them can be replaced with common household items.

A list of 11 common props in yoga including yoga wheels, yoga bolsters, and yoga blankets is to the left on an image of a yoga strap and 2 cork yoga blocks.

11 common props in yoga (and their free alternatives)

There is a whole range of props and yoga accessories available these days. This section lists the 11 most common props and their free alternatives.

For each item, I have linked to a webpage where the prop is available for purchase. These are not affiliate links.

I have listed the props in order of what I believe to be most to least common. That said, there are more (yes, more!) props in yoga that I have left off the list lest it become too overwhelming. Consider this a list of essential yoga equipment for beginners.

If you’re anything like me, I tend to think I need all the things in order to get started. In yoga, that just isn’t true, hence why I’ve capped it at 11 and provided suitable free alternatives.

1. Yoga mat

Surprised this is listed as a prop? I would be, too. Honestly, though, a yoga mat is a prop. Considering that yoga has been around for thousands of years, the yoga mat, invented in the 1960s, is a comparatively young addition.

The history of the yoga mat is an interesting one, and worth looking into when you have the time. Why? Because that will help you to make a fully informed decision about whether or not you really need one.

If you do decide to purchase a yoga mat, I urge you to choose one that uses eco-friendly material. I have a post about the 20 best non-toxic yoga mats that you can peruse before you buy.

As for thickness, the thicker the yoga mat is, the more cushioning your joints will get but it may also have a detrimental effect on balance. Aim for between 3mm-5mm, and if some poses require more padding use a blanket or towel, or fold over the edge of the mat.

For most yoga practitioners, a yoga mat is one of the first things we tend to buy. You’ll quickly find it can become an overwhelming decision to make. Personally, I use a Liforme yoga mat (in vibrant orange), because it:

  • is non-toxic,
  • is non-slip,
  • has bespoke guidelines imprinted to ensure good alignment
  • comes with a robust mat carrier to keep your mat safe during transit between studio and home (or when backpacking through South East Asia).

FREE ALTERNATIVE: A large towel, or (drumroll please) nothing. NOTHING? Yep. If you have a hard floor surface or a low-pile carpet, you’re good to go. Have a towel on hand to mop up sweat, and a blanket to provide some insulation during savasana. 

2. Yoga blocks (or yoga bricks)

There are many different types of yoga blocks, but the most common are foam or cork. When I first started out, I immediately went to the local sports store and bought myself the cheapest foam blocks I could find. This, like many things I’ve done in life, was a mistake. They buckled under a little bit of pressure, and very quickly became covered in chips and grooves from general use.

Some foam blocks are good. But, in my opinion, if you’re shelling out for some blocks, go for these Cork blocks. They are:

  • super stable
  • eco-friendly
  • comfy
  • a little heavy but not in a limiting way.

Cork blocks will be able to hold your body weight without buckling, providing you with the stability and resistance that is needed during asana, pranayama, and even meditation.

FREE ALTERNATIVE: Any thick, sturdy books you have (hardback Oxford English Dictionaries are the perfect yoga block substitute), a robust water bottle, or any wooden blocks will do (I used to use little storage blocks back in the early years of my practice). Anything that emulates the size and shape of a brick and provides stability will be fine. 

3. Yoga blanket

Often in yoga studios, you will see the conventional traditional Mexican yoga blankets. I have a couple of these at home, one for yoga and one for lazing on the sofa.

Their size makes them quite versatile to use in your practice. I roll mine up like a sausage to emulate a bolster, This post provides the pros and cons of a few more options.

FREE ALTERNATIVE:  Any large towel, throw, or bulky scarf has worked for me in the past. I used a small quilt once that my mother made for me – perfect (just don’t tell her I did that). 

4. Yoga belt

Also known as yoga straps, you’ll find a variety of different versions online. Opt for something that is long and ideally cotton as this will provide more versatility and be fairly durable respectively.

Straps are used mainly to increase flexibility. For example, wrapping the strap around your toes in a seated forward fold and pulling on it gently to allow the hamstrings to open up.

FREE ALTERNATIVE: A long belt. I have also used a thin scarf and even a towel before. The scarf and belt worked brilliantly. A Towel is OK if you’re not too sweaty, otherwise, it might chafe a bit on steamy feet. 

5. Yoga bolster

Often used frequently in a restorative practice, yoga bolsters are lovely to have if a little pricey. They are long, sturdy cushions that can be used to rest on, sit on, squeeze, or ugly cry on when watching The Notebook.

If you do buy one, go for a dark color. My biggest regret in life was forking out for a lovely light grey bolster only to watch it pick up all the dust and dirt and sweat stains (lovely, right?). I quickly realized why the studio where I took classes had opted for deep purple and navy.

FREE ALTERNATIVE: a large sturdy cushion or pillow will work just as well and likely will be a lot cheaper. 

6. Yoga wheel

This one really is useful if you’re keen to work on backbends and upper back flexibility, or are looking to alleviate discomfort from a Lumbar hernia (that’s the reason I bought mine).

There are, as always, several options available. I went for a cork-covered version as this is pretty comfy on my spine.

FREE ALTERNATIVE: Hang off the edge of the sofa or the bed, and place something heavy over your feet to keep them grounded if you need to. A cat worked great (he is a pretty hefty cat). A sturdy inflatable gym ball worked for me, too. 

Eleven common props in yoga are separated into three categories, including "common props" in a light beige rectangle, "lesser-known props" in a dark beige rectangle, and "even lesser-known props" in a mid-brown rectangle.

7. Yoga Towels

You’ll probably see people cover their mat with a similarly sized towel. This is to sop up the sweat during a particularly vigorous practice (think Ashtanga Yoga), or if they’re practicing in a hot and humid location.

I used to cover my old mat with a towel during peak summer in Japan when the weather gets up into the low 40s (in Celcius) and the humidity is flirting with 80%.

Now that I have my Liforme mat, I don’t need a yoga towel. Instead, I have a small towel handy to dry me off when I’m really sweaty. Yoga towels tend to be grippier than regular towels, while still being soft to the touch.

FREE ALTERNATIVE: Any towel will do, but beware of slipping. I used to use a bath towel but found that my thin travel towel was better as I slipped and chafed much less. 

8. Meditation cushions

These are usually little round well-stuffed cushions to sit on during meditation sessions. You can find a list of durable cushions here.

Personally, for meditation sessions either at the end of a yoga practice or as a stand-alone practice, I just opt for my yoga block or folded yoga blanket.

FREE ALTERNATIVE: Any firm pillow or cushion, yoga block (or book), or yoga blanket (or towel) will do as long as you are comfy, and that your knees are in line with or lower than your hip points.

9. Yoga chair

Chair yoga is increasingly popular with those less mobile – be that through a disability, injury, or wear and tear due to age. You may see your yoga teacher use a foldable/collapsable chair for two reasons.

  1. They are easy to store in a studio without taking up much space
  2. The chair likely has no arms in the and the back is of a nice height to rest your arms on during twists.

FREE ALTERNATIVE: A dining table chair as long as it has no arms, doesn’t wobble, and the seat isn’t too high (meaning your legs won’t dangle off the edge). I’ve also used a bench, and old, school chairs (you might see me use these in my Facebook Group lives). 

10. Eye Pillows

In Savasana (corpse pose), at the end of class, your teacher may direct you to close your eyes. My teacher usually will dim the lights at this stage in an evening class.

I teach morning classes, and, try as I might, it is proving impossible to dim the sun. Some students like to place an eye pillow over their eyes to block out the light a bit.

FREE ALTERNATIVE: A small towel or folded blanket (avoid covering the nose, though, so breathing isn’t restricted). 

FUN FACT: You never actually have to close your eyes in Savasana. The purpose is to withdraw the senses inward allowing the mind and body to relax. However, for many, closing your eyes in a room filled with strangers, or even in your own home, can feel quite unsettling. It is perfectly fine to keep them open and try to rest the gaze on one spot, letting the eyes relax a bit.

11. Wall

A little-acknowledged but super helpful prop is a wall. If you have a bare bit of wall near your practice space, then use it. Whether you’re a new or seasoned practitioner, we all have our off days where our Tree Pose is not quite as solid of an oak tree as we’d like.

That’s all part of it. On those days, a wall comes in really handy – sometimes to support a hand searching for stability while your tree blows in the wind, and sometimes just for friendly reassurance.

The more support you have at your fingertips (literally), the easier it is for balancing in standing poses like tree. Your balance will improve over time. 

Other reasons a wall is your best friend include:

  • help with alignment in poses like phalakasana (plank pose) and chaturanga dandasana (yoga push-up)
  • support when practicing fear-inducing inversions like headstand
  • when replicating poses off the mat (for example pushing your hands into the wall as you step back into an L shape to replicate a sort of standing adhomukha svanasana (downward-facing dog)

Benefits of using props in yoga

3 benefits of props in yoga are separated in beige, mid-beige, and mid-brown rectangles respectively. These benefits are: develop a connection to the breath, turn on the rest and digest state, and cultivate discipline.

If it was difficult to tell, I am a huge advocate for the use of props in yoga, largely thanks to a yoga teacher training I took with Arundhati Baitmangalkar or the Let’s Talk Yoga podcast (I HIGHLY recommend adding this to your commuter playlist).

I personally don’t buy into the dogma that props are a hindrance or purely for beginners. Instead, I think they are a great tool for cultivating a strong and healthy connection with your body. Here are my reasons why:

1. Develop an unshakable connection to the breath

The purpose of asana practice is not to accomplish a pose, per se, but to connect with your breath on a much deeper level than normal. Forcing yourself into a pose the body is just not yet ready for is a surefire way to lose connection with the breath.

Pressing back into a downward-facing dog when your wrists are on fire, practicing Marjaryasana (cat-cow) when your knees are sore, or hovering midair trying to reach the floor in Hanumasana (splits) when you have stubbornly tight hamstrings (*slowly raises hand*).

Placing a folded blanket under your wrists, knees, and hips respectively can alleviate the discomfort, allowing you to refocus on the breath.

2. Facilitate the activation of the parasympathetic nervous system

When you can transfer your focus from discomfort, confusion, or frustration in a pose to instead taking in deep, slow, controlled breaths, something amazing happens on the physiological level, that might be imperceptible at first.

You activate the parasympathetic nervous system, the rest-and-digest response. This is the state where we feel calm, grounded, in control, and focused. This is where we want to be for as long as possible, as frequently as possible.

The beauty of yoga asana (the poses), pranayama, (breathwork), and dhyana (meditation) among other components of yoga is its ability to bring us into this state. If we are able to stay relaxed and in control in a challenging pose on the mat, then we are also able to do the same in challenging situations off the mat, like, for example, when public speaking. Props help us get there.

3. Cultivating Tapas (Discipline) 

When we make use of yoga props in our practice, more asanas become accessible to us. This takes us from a limited mindset to a growth mindset.

What I mean is that by using props in particular poses that previously posed (see what I did there?) a challenge for you, and may even have led to you dreading the pose, you suddenly see how it’s the pose that adapts to your body and not the other way around.

I spent years forcing myself to reach my big toe in Triangle pose (Trikonasana). When a teacher from Konalani Yoga Ashram placed a block under my front hand and slightly readjusted my hip position, it was like a whole new world opened up.

I could breathe so much deeper. I began to enjoy the pose and the sensations I felt in areas I hadn’t accessed before.

More than that, I learned to appreciate my body for what it is, and not berate it for not doing what I think it should have done.

And that is what will keep you coming back to the mat:

  • Props help adapt the pose to your body
  • This helps you to focus on breathing
  • You also get to experience the pose in a way that suits you and your body
  • Therefore, motivation to continue goes up
  • And by default, your discipline for the practice is nurtured.

Why do we use props in yoga?

In a beige, mid-beige, and mid-brown rectangle respectively are listed the following reasons to use props in yoga: to help the body relax, to make a pose either easier or harder, and to develop the correct alignment for you.

There are essentially four main reasons that we use props in yoga. Not just for beginners or people over 70, but for practitioners at all levels.

These are listed below in no particular order, with some examples to illustrate each point.

1. To help with proper alignment

Props can ensure you keep bones and joints in correct alignment, minimising the risk of developing an injury over time. Some example inclue:

2. To make a pose more accessible

This can mean:

There are many more ways to use props to make poses more accessible. The trick is to get curious and find out what works for you. As a beginner, this can be quite difficult to do.

I recommend adding a yin yoga session to your regular practice, as this will help you to explore props in yoga in a slower setting than a regular Hatha Yoga class.

3. To make a pose more difficult 

If you’re working on developing more advanced techniques in your asana or other forms of physical movement, then yoga props can assist with this. For example:

  • making the floor seem further away in Uttanasana (standing forward fold) by standing on blocks – essentially making your legs “longer” and tthe floor further away.
  • building strength in the legs by squeezing blocks between your thighs in Utkatasana (Chair pose)
  • Increasing the range of extension in Hanumanasana (splits) by placing a block or folded blanket under each foot.
  • increasing upper back and shoulder range of motion Kapotasana (pigeon pose)

4. To help the body relax

​This is paramount in restorative yoga, where the whole point is to fully switch on the parasympathetic nervous system. In other systems of asana, though, such as Hatha yoga, Yin yoga, or Ashtanga yoga, it is necessary to allow the body to relax into the poses. Let’s take a look at the same poses we covered in point 3, but this time see how props can help us to relax in these poses, rather than “advance” them.

Savasana is often cued as lying down, face up, arms and legs spread to the sides. This isn’t always comfy despite it being a resting pose. A bolster or rolled-up blanket under the knees can help take pressure off the lower back. Blocks, a bolster, or a rolled-up blanket to support the head and spine can also feel wonderful and help the body to deeply relax.


1. What are props in yoga?

Common yoga props include blocks, blankets, straps, wheels, bolsters, chairs, walls, eye pillows, meditation cushions, yoga towels, and of course a yoga mat.

2. Are yoga props necessary?

​They are not necessary, but they do help with making asanas (poses) more accessible so that you can focus on the breath and not how restricted or uncomfortable you might feel without the use of props.

3. Why use props in yoga? 

Props are used to help with correct alignment related to your body’s proportions, to make a pose more accessible or more difficult, and to help the body deeply relax in some poses. You will develop a deeper connection to your breath, enter into a calmer and more grounded state more easily, and nurture a disciplined practice by increasing your motivation to get on the mat and explore poses with props.

In summary:

There are numerous ways to use props in yoga. Their beauty is that they allow you to get super curious with your practice by experimenting a little in each pose to find what works for you.

That way you develop autonomy and agency, both of which contribute to self-worth. This translates off the mat in situations that might have you doubt your self-worth or confidence, such as when public speaking or having a difficult conversation with a loved one.

Who’d have thought a simple yoga block could do so much?


Getting curious about your practice is a sure-fire way to maintain discipline.

Another is to keep a regular yoga journal. make a note of how you felt before, during, and after class, what poses you found tricky, how the breath felt throughout, whether or not you understood the cues given by the yoga instructor, and which yoga poses you could make more accessible using yoga props. This is a great way to make the practice truly yours. 

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Until next week, much love,

Ellie xx