March 10, 2017

Reach further in your practice: Four ways to use a yoga strap

Whether you’re a seasoned yogi or a complete newbie, there are times when we can all use a little help to reach further and go deeper in certain yoga poses. Meet the humble yoga strap - a simple and versatile prop that offers valuable assistance in many yoga poses.

The yoga strap is useful for achieving safe and true alignment in your yoga postures (asanas), particularly if you have tight muscles or your flexibility is a work-in-progress.

Here are four of our favourite ways to use a yoga strap:

The ‘Up n Over’ shoulder-un-huncher:

If you spend long periods crumpled up over a keyboard or steering wheel you’ll love this simple sequence! Designed to loosen tight, cranky shoulders, this strap-assisted move also opens up the chest for full, easy breathing and encourages good posture.

How to get loose with the strap:
Stand on your mat in tadasana (mountain pose)
Have the hands beside the body
Ground the feet down, grow the crown
Relax the whole face, jawline, eyes
Hold the strap with both hands in front of the body, a little more than hip-width apart
As you breathe in, raise both arms up above the head, keeping the strap taut
As you breathe out, arc the strap overhead and behind you
This makes one round - complete 5-6 rounds, moving with the breath

Pay attention to the position of your head; keep the crown in line with the tail to avoid the head jutting out
Widen the grip on the strap as feels suitable for you

The ‘Up n Over’ shoulder-un-huncher

Photo: Sally Bryan, Hatha Yoga Teacher, 432 Yoga Studio

The ‘reality check’ forward bend:

Touch your toes? Easy, right? Sure, many of us can reach the toes with a fanfare of grunts, groans, strains and red-faced splutters, but yoga asks us to be honest and gentle with ourselves and to honour our limitations. And let’s face it, who hasn’t sneaked a peek over to the neighbouring mat and thought,’Well, if she can do it, so can I!’ and almost blown a gasket trying to achieve the same pose!

This is the ego getting in the way - hindering proper alignment in an attempt to achieve what we think the pose should look like - often to the detriment of comfort and safety. Time to take a strap, practice self-acceptance and ‘get real’ about our capabilities!

In Pachimottanasana (seated forward bend) the aim is not to touch the toes, rather to move forward from the hips, tilting the torso toward the legs, finding a comfortable, suitable place for the hands to rest, (whether that be the thighs or the toes!) A yoga strap is an ideal assistant to achieve the primary aim of this pose while keeping the spine happy and keeping the ego in check.

How to get real with the strap:

  • Sit on the mat with the legs outstretched in Dandasana (Staff pose)
  • Maintain a tall back; consider sitting on a folded blanket to counter any slumping
  • Loop the strap around the balls of both feet (bend the knees to do this - we’re practicing kindness, remember!)
  • With the arms comfortably straight, take hold of the strap with both hands
  • Grow taller through the torso as you breathe in, as you breathe out, fold forward from the hips, imagining the torso is a hinged lid closing over the legs
  • Walk your hands down either side of the strap while maintaining length through the torso
  • Check for any roundedness through the spine; make any adjustments so the back is straight
  • Observe your breath - at every inhale, grow taller. At every exhale, explore ‘closing your lid’ a little more
  • When you find your maximum forward fold, practice contentment and enjoy several deep, mindful breaths

Ta-dah! - you’ve completed an honest, beautiful forward bend! No struggling or comparison required!

The luscious leg-lengthener

Photo: Keely Thomson, Hatha Yoga Teacher, 432 Yoga Studio

The luscious leg-lengthener
Perfect as an evening wind-down, this SuptaPadangustasana (Reclining big toe pose) sequence delivers welcome respite for stiff hips and tight hamstrings. Here, the strap allows the back to rest safely and treats the legs a wonderful stretch in three directions.

How to get softer and longer with the strap:

  • Lie on your back with the knees bent, feet firm on the mat
  • Lift your right leg up and loop the strap around the ball of the foot
  • As best you can, straighten the leg
  • As you inhale, descend the buttock while pressing the foot into the strap
  • As you exhale, yield a little to draw the leg closer to you

Using yoga strap for leg stretching

Photo: Sally Bryan, Hatha Yoga Teacher, 432 Yoga Studio
  • For more stretch, lengthen the left leg out along the mat and extend through both heels.
  • Stay for one or two minutes

Using yoga strap for stretching

Photo: Sally Bryan, Hatha Yoga Teacher, 432 Yoga Studio
  • Hold the strap in the right hand, anchor the left thigh with the left hand
  • Slowly take the right leg out to the side
  • Enjoy this b-i-g stretch through the inner leg for five to ten breaths

Leg stretching with yoga strap

Photo: Sally Bryan, Hatha Yoga Teacher, 432 Yoga Studio
  • Return to centre and switch the strap to the left hand
  • Take the leg slightly across the body for quite a different sensation!

Now try the left leg.

Notes: Keep the shoulders relaxed and grounded, draw chin to chest to lengthen the back of the neck.

The ‘Letting go total support’
Often saved for the chilled-out conclusion of class, restorative yoga poses are uber-relaxing. But sometimes it’s hard to surrender if you don’t feel secure and supported!

Here, our trusty prop friend comes to the rescue. For SuptaBaddhaKonasana (Supported Bound Angle Pose) the yoga strap promises to hold us so securely that busy thoughts can subside and the body’s natural ‘rest and digest’ mode can switch ‘on’, promoting deep rest and healing.

How to strap yourself in for deep relaxation:
(Grab a bolster and blanket for this pose)

  • Pop your bolster along the mat, add a folded blanket as a head-rest
  • Sit at the base of your bolster, bring the soles of the feet together, heels toward the groin
  • Loop your strap around the lower back and feet. This will keep the feet together and help the legs stay secure.
  • Pull the strap so that it feels comfortably firm.
  • Lower yourself over the bolster, let the legs fall out to the sides
  • Rest the arms out to the sides, palms up
  • Allow yourself to melt, knowing that you are being lovingly ‘held’ by your props
  • Cover the eyes if desired, and luxuriate here for ten minutes or more - aahhhh…

Deep Relaxation using Yoga Strap

Photo: Keely Thomson, Hatha Yoga Teacher, 432 Yoga Studio

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