Yin Yoga Props: What to Use and How to use them

Yin Yoga is a fantastic complement to other systems of asana and other types of exercise. This post discusses Yin Yoga props in terms of what props to use and how to use them effectively to support the development of your Yin Yoga Practice.

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Key Takeaways

1. Props are an excellent addition to regular asana practice, whether it’s Yin Yoga, Vinyasa Yoga, Ashtanga Yoga, or anything else.

2. Yin Yoga props don’t differ from props used in other Yoga classes, as the poses in Yin Yoga are inspired by the poses in Hatha Yoga.

3. Yoga blankets, blocks, bolsters, and straps are all handy to have nearby, but can all be replaced with towels, books, large cushions, and belts respectively.

4. Yin Yoga props are used to support body parts that are in mid-air (think hips elevated in splits, or knees elevated in Easy Pose). They also provide extra comfort to sore or grumpy body parts (like placing a blanket under the knees in Savasana to release pressure in the lower back). Additionally, they add length to short limbs (think placing blocks under your hands in Dragon Pose), and also aid in increasing muscular flexibility (like gently pulling on a strap in a seated forward fold).

To Prop or Not Prop

To prop or not has been a long-debated question in the world of Western Yoga. Some practitioners staunchly believe in practicing asana without props, and others in practicing with them. There rarely seems to be any in-between.

– Not being able to flow with the breath as you always have to stop to prepare props

– Becoming reliant on props in your asana practice

– Avoiding exploring other variations of a pose

– They can become quite expensive

However, personally, I am a proponent (see what I did there?) of using props for the following reasons.

The argument FOR props…

  • They help Asana become more accessible based on your mobility and proportions. For example, in Iyengar Yoga.
  • Props provide some reassurance, meaning you can focus on the breath instead of worrying about pain or injury. Much like you would see in Restorative Yoga.
  • When you know when and how to use them, they become much less of a perceived barrier.
  • Props also help you to find your edge (more on that later) in a pose – so they sometimes provide a challenge more than a support.

One particular system where I have found props to be essential is Yin Yoga. Yin Yoga is a hugely beneficial practice, meant as a complement to other systems of yoga or styles of movement. Yet, Yin yoga beginners are often left wondering what props to use and how to use them.

Alternatives to conventional yin yoga props are shown, including a book or box to replace yoga blocks, a towel or throw to replace yoga blankets, and a belt or scarf to replace yoga straps.

What is Yin Yoga?

Yin Yoga was originally founded in the 1970s by Paulie Zink, a martial arts teacher and Taoist yoga teacher. He blended principles and movement (Asanas) from Indian-born Hatha Yoga and thought from Traditional Chinese Medicine to create Yin Yoga.

Paulie Zink’s student, Paul Grilley, along with Sarah Powers, is responsible for the widespread practice of Yin Yoga across North America and Europe.

Yin Yoga essentially works to open up energy channels in the body, known as Meridians in Chinese medicine and Nadis in Hatha Yoga.

Another differentiating component of Yin Yoga is that in each practice the student will hold a pose for longer periods of time compared to Hatha Yoga classes. Anywhere between two to ten minutes, depending on your level.

This practice of long holds accesses the joints. There, the long holds create a small amount of stress on the connective tissue, helping them to become more flexible over time. This means that a regular Yin Yoga practice focusing on deep stretches will gradually improve your flexibility and mobility, reducing the risk of injury.

As I was taught in my yoga teacher training, Yin Yoga operates on the basis of three main principles:

  1. Find your edge (find the point that you might feel discomfort but never pain)
  2. Resolve to be still (sit with the discomfort without becoming restless so that eventually the discomfort dissipates)
  3. Hold the pose for a while (surrender to the discomfort so that the connective tissue can experience the stress and the mind can adjust and eventually quieten).

What is the Purpose of Yoga Props?

Props, in almost every style of yoga (be it Yin, Ashtanga, Restorative, Vinyasa, and so on) are there for three main reasons:

  1. Add length to short or tight limbs.
  2. Bring the floor up to meet tight body parts.
  3. Provide additional support to sore or tight body parts.

For many of us just starting out with yoga, a lot of yoga asanas (yoga poses) quite literally seem out of reach.

This could be due to having a long torso (or short arms) compared to the teacher on the screen. For example, in Runners Lunge (Utthita Ashwa Sanchalanasana), reaching your hands down to the floor may feel quite difficult. Therefore, using yoga props are a great way to make asanas more accessible.

In my case, my arms are short in comparison to my torso and legs, so I have to bend deeper to get my hands to the ground. Therefore, I place a couple of blocks under my hands to essentially lengthen my arms. That gives me more space to lift my chest up off my front leg and focus on nice deep breaths.

When sitting in Easy Pose (Sukhasana) for breathing or meditation practice, if your knees are higher than your hip points, then you can sit up on a block or folded blanket until they come in line with or lower than your hip points. This releases tension in the knees. For extra support, placing a block under each knee (or a cushion) helps the knees to relax.

What Types of Yin Yoga Props Are There?

In Yin Yoga classes, the same props are used as in other asana classes. This is because the yoga poses, though they have different names, are the same or similar to those in Hatha yoga.

You could use yoga blocks, a yoga blanket, a yoga bolster, and a yoga strap. However, you don’t actually need to purchase any of these. Many of them can be substituted with regular household items. You don’t even need a yoga mat.

Do I need a yoga mat?” is something I’m frequently answering. If you do decide to purchase a mat, check out this guide all about non-toxic yoga mats.

  1. Blocks – choose something sturdy, like cork yoga blocks. Alternatively, hardback thicker books (think Oxford English Dictionary) or a robust water bottle will work just as well. Avoid foam blocks as they can buckle when you press down into them.
  2. Blankets – conventional Mexican yoga blankets are wonderful, but be careful not to buy from fake vendors. Go directly to the source. Alternatively, a large towel, throw, or blanket you have at home will suffice.
  3. Straps – Use something that doesn’t stretch and therefore provides some pull resistance. Alternatives to yoga straps include a belt, a scarf, a stole, a shawl, or even a towel.
  4. Bolsters – good yoga bolsters can get pricey. Opt for a darker color as the lighter colors show all the dust, dirt, and sweat marks! Alternatives include an extra blanket or using a sturdy cushion or pillow. Hugger Mugger has some great options with a variety of prices.

You probably won’t need all these props in one class. However, a one-hour yin yoga class might include longer holds for each pose, so having more props within reach will help.

How to Use Yin Yoga Props?

This section will look at how to use props for eight common Yin Yoga Poses. The name of each pose is linked to a set of instructions and a visual, from tumee.com (I highly recommend signing up to this site for free so you can explore poses at your will).

When you click each link you might notice that the pose name is different on Tummee – this is because they use the translations used in Hatha Yoga. Yin Yoga uses different names for the poses. Some more information about each one can be found in Gemma Clarke’s wonderful blog post.

In Child’s Pose (Balasana): 

A rolled-up blanket behind the knees helps reduce the pressure on the knees if they don’t like to flex that much. Alternatively, sitting with a bolster between your legs so your bum is resting on the bolster can also help.

When folding forward, placing a block under your head to begin the floor up to meet you can reduce strain on the lower back.

In Hatha Yoga, these are Baddha Konasana (Bound Angle), Agnistambhasana (Firelog), and Gomukhasana (Cow Face) respectively.

Placing blocks or cushions or a folded blanket under knees that are elevated quite high (a sign of tight hips) helps the knees to relax without any undue strain on the muscles around the joint that a hip opener runs the risk of doing.

In Dragon Pose (Anjaneyasana or Low Lunge): 

A blanket under the back knee provides some padding if the joint feels sore on the mat or floor.

For people with a long torso or long legs, placing blocks under each hand so you can lift your chest off your front thigh helps you to breathe deeper and focus on finding your edge with the stretch in the hip flexors.

You can adjust the block height to level one (lowest), level 2 (mid-level), and level three (highest) to suit you.

In Swan Pose (Pigeon Pose or Kapotasana): 

If one hip is more elevated and rotating out to the side than the other (this is usually the hip of the back leg), then place a folded blanket or block under that hip so it has support, encouraging it to face forwards toward the short edge of the mat.

In Caterpillar Pose (Forward Fold or Paschimottanasana): 

In contrast to traditional Hatha yoga asana, a rounded back is acceptable in this pose. However, you might feel like your neck or lower back is straining a bit.

If so, place a block or two under your forehead so it has something to relax into, and sit your bum on the edge of a folded blanket or cushion so it is elevated a little, taking the pressure off the lower back and allowing the rounding to happen in the upper spine.

In Reclined Twist (Supta Matsyendrasana II):

Pad the head with a thinly folded blanket, and place a block or bolster between the knees so they stay in line with the hips.

If you notice your shoulder lifting off the ground, place a block under the lowest knee so the shoulder can stay grounded and you can relax into the block accessing the twist a little more.

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A woman in whote leggings and a white tank top is using yin yoga props (including a yoga block and a yoga strap) to perform a seated forward fold.


1. What props do I need for yin yoga?

Prepare a couple of yoga blocks, a couple of yoga blankets, a bolster, and a strap within reach of your mat or practice space.

2. Can I do Yin Yoga without props?

Yes, but focus on the first rule of Yin Yoga  – find your edge. Props help a lot with this, but it’s doable without them. Really listen to your body, not the ego, and always back out of the pose if you feel any sharp or sudden pain. If you’re a beginner, try shorter classes with shorter holds of each pose.

3. What are the benefits of Yin Yoga?

Yin yoga is an excellent complement to other systems of asana and other forms of movement and exercise. The long holds of each pose allow for the connective tissue in joints (tendons, tissue, and fascia) to gradually and safely stretch, improving overall flexibility and mobility.

4. How to use yoga props?

Place blocks under your hands in lunge poses to prevent the chest from collapsing over the front leg. Sit up on blocks to keep the knees in line with or lower than the hip points in seated cross-legged poses. Place blocks under elevated knees in poses like Easy Pose, Firelog Pose, or Cow-Face Pose.

Use blankets and bolsters under the backs of the knees in supine poses to support the lower back.

Use straps to increase flexibility in the hamstrings in forward folds, and to increase flexibility in the upper back in binds and backbends.

5. Where can I do yin yoga online?

Yoga with KassandraBoho Beautiful Yoga, and Travis Eliot are hugely popular YouTube channels. Each provides a wide selection of videos for different levels, meridians, and flexibility targets.

Final Thoughts

Props are not the enemy. Yin Yoga can help develop a great connection to the body through the use of props. Yin Yoga props are the same that you’d find in a Hatha Yoga class but used with more regularity.

Props are there to help you get deeper into a pose mindfully, and therefore develop a deeper, healthier connection to your body and mind.

Home practice can get lonely sometimes. Props don’t have to be your only yoga friends. Follow me on Instagram for more yoga tidbits, and join my Facebook Group for a supportive yoga community.

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Until next week, much love,

Ellie xx