It is true that props can be very helpful for beginners and people working with limitations. I can’t count the number of times I’ve offered a prop to a student who was obviously struggling, and if the student accepts the prop her experience improves. But props aren’t a temporary modification from which you work toward independence. Instead, they can be in integral part of a deepening practice, and a signal of maturing self-awareness. If you had flubber shoes that let you jump really high, would you dream of the day you’d jump that high without them? No way, you’d just wear them more often and enjoy your advantage!
Props can also be used therapeutically to do things that are impossible without them, such as deeper self-massage. We’ll start there today, talking about using a roller to loosen a sore upper back and shoulders. It’s the ultimate in anti-hunch therapy.
Start by sitting on the floor and placing the roller horizontal behind you. Lay down on top of the roller, so that the roller is directly underneath your shoulder blades. Cup your hands lightly behind your head for support and point your elbows straight up to the sky. The first step is to relax your head toward the floor so that your head and your hips are lower than your chest. After many times practicing this, you might be flexible enough to allow your head to touch the ground and your arms to rest by your sides with the palms facing up. At all times, you should be able to breathe comfortably, so you might recruit a pillow to put under your head if your breath is labored.
In this static rest, gravity will act on your shoulders to pull them back and down, allowing the chest to open. The upper back will be supported upward, in the opposite direction of its typical kyphosis (forward curve). Relax and breathe deeply while supported by the roller; enjoy the stretch across your whole front torso.
For a little self-massage in the upper back, again support your head and point elbows sky-ward. Lift your hips off the floor and plant your feet. Begin to roll yourself a few inches forward and back on the roller, keeping the roller in the vicinity of the shoulder blades the whole time. Do not roll into the neck vertebrae or too far toward the lower back vertebrae. The rolling sensation can be intense, but with perseverance will feel like it’s realigning your spine after too many hours hunched in front of a screen.
Foam rollers are easy to find online and at sporting goods stores. They best ones for most yoga applications are about a foot in length. Keep one in your office and enjoy rolling around a bit during breaks.