There is the old Iyengar yoga joke: Question: How many Iyengar Yogis does it take to screw in a light bulb? Answer: One, but you also need a mat, a chair, three blankets, a bolster, 2 blocks, a wall, and a belt. This joke becomes very relevant when as an Iyengar practitioner you are packing your bags to take a trip and trying to determine what props, if any, you should pack.

My approach has varied over the 5 and ½ years I have been practicing. In the beginning I would pack two blocks and my mat in my suitcase with a belt, and then securely strap my bolster to the top of my suitcase. As you can imagine this resulted in having very little room to pack anything else, and also wheeling around a very cumbersome, unwieldy suitcase.

My approach has now become very minimalistic. I now pack my mat and a belt only, and instead of carrying props along with me, I approach each new travel resting spot on the look-out for impromptu props.

Here are some ideas for impromptu props usually found in motel, hotel, or cabins that you may find yourself in:

Need a bolster?

  • Take the bedspread and roll it up tightly and secure with your belt. Voila! You have a bolster.
  • If the size or texture of the bedspread does not work, try rolling up the bath towels. It will probably take several towels. Many facilities will give you extra towels if you ask.
  • Test the cushions on the armchairs or sofa by squeezing them. Many are too soft to serve as bolsters but some do work.
  • It has been my experience that generally blankets are not firm enough to create a bolster, nor bed pillows.

Need a chair?

  • Well, we all know the folding backless chairs are best, but for many asanas using a chair of any variety will work. Doing chair twists? Instead of putting your legs through the back of the chair, sit “side-saddle” and twist toward the back of the chair. Do you wish to do a back extension over a chair? Place any sturdy chair near a wall on your mat and then place a folded blanket over the chair back. You have just what you need!

Need blankets?

  • It has been my observation that bed blankets are rarely stiff enough to serve as Iyengar blankets. Instead bath or beach towels will often work very well. Stack them together just as you would blankets.

Need a Halasana bench?

  • I have found that many beds serve as excellent Halasana benches. Yes, it’s true that your head most likely will be peeking under the bed, but the complete support of the thighs and legs makes it quite restful and satisfying. Actually, I find the darkness of my head under the bed adds to the restfulness of the pose.

Forgot your belt?

  • Do you or anyone traveling with you have a trouser belt? It’s not perfect but will work. Or, if the room provides a robe often it is tied with a belt. Again, not perfect, but can be workable. In desperate straights you can also tie a sweatshirt’s arms together creating a belt-like device.

Need a trestle? Try the bathroom vanity. If there is sufficient room it will help support you in standing poses.

Additional opportunities:

  • Heavy pieces of furniture can be used in reclining asanas to create traction in the back as you grasp the furniture legs and lengthen your body toward your feet.
  • Doorways can be used as shoulder-opening props, as can table and counter tops.
  • Doorways can also be used as aids in walking up into Adho Muhka Vrksasana.
  • Got steps? Use steps instead of blocks to open up your chest and shoulders in Adho Mukha Svanasana and Urdhva Muhka Svanasana.
  • Fold-out suitcase holders can also serve as Halasana benches.
  • Short step-up stools can be used as a Viparita Karani lift under the buttocks.

I imagine that when camping there is a whole world of natural impromptu props. Inside or outside let us know about impromptu props you have discovered.

About Patti Martin

PATTI MARTIN is a regular student at IYISF. She is also a recent graduate of the 500-hour Teacher Training program and an indefatigable member of the IYANC Board of Trustees.

Thoughts on Practice

By August 28, 2012

In the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali devotes three sutras to asana. In the first
of the three, Patanjali says, Sthiram sukham asanam, II.46.
Sthira means steady, stable, unwavering, not oscillating.
How to achieve stability Patanjali gives the clue in the next sutra, II.47,
Prayatna saithilya ananta samapattibhyam. Prayatna, continuous effort.
Each day we have to put the efforts to do. Not just doing, but be with the
asana, let your mind get absorbed. Be in the pose and reflect. See what
comes today. What understanding comes today. Be patient with yourself.
Approach the practice with a cheerfulness. At the end, let go. Surrender
to the Divine. The Bhagavad Gita says give the fruits of your efforts to the
Lord. Tomorrow you begin again. Today see if its possible to do better.
Is it possible to further penetrate and refine the pose.
Geetaji says our approach should be to become sattvic. Sattva-pure,
luminous, white.
Guruji says we are aiming for a perfect pose. Ananta samapattibhyam
unity with the infinite being. Geetaji says, ananta samapattibhyam,
total oneness with the Lord who is existing eternally.

About Kathy Alef

KATHY ALEF has been a student of yoga since 1976 . Certified at Intermediate Junior III, she is inspired by the profound and sensitive teachings of yoga master B.K.S. Iyengar. As the faculty chair of the Iyengar Yoga Institute’s Advanced Studies/Teacher Training program, Kathy teaches and supports the Institute as an inspiring fountain of classic yoga knowledge for dedicated students. Kathy teaches a weekly back care class at IYISF on Tuesday afternoons as well as level 1-4 classes at IYISF on Tuesday and Thursday evenings.