Think of a yoga strap as an extension of your arms. Like the yoga block, a strap is a tool used to assist the body in the physical practice of yoga, asana. As I said in my blog about the block, using props in yoga should not be looked at in a negative way. Think of props as an opportunity to expand your practice by giving you more options and choices in postures.
We use these straps to create length to improve reach and increase our range of motion. This in turn helps our practice in so many ways such as improving our flexibility and posture. Plus, using a strap correctly in our asana practice will help prevent injuries caused by overreaching.
A great example of when a strap can be the perfect tool is in a seated forward fold. This is where we are sat on the floor, both legs forwards on the mat, toes dorsiflexed to the sky, and fold forward over the legs. If we have tight hamstrings and hips, we may not be able to come forwards very far. Let’s be honest, we’ve all wanted to touch our toes and get our head to our knees! This should not be the goal and if we strive for this we could end up causing injury. The tendency is to round the spine just to get the head near the legs. This does not help the body, or the mind and soul for that matter. If we introduce a strap in this posture, we can assist the body into a much better position.
Holding the ends of the strap, hook it around the balls of the feet, keeping the toes up to the sky. Keep the strap taut. You can adjust the length of the strap by changing the position of your hands. Lengthen and straighten the spine, lift the chest to the sky and, pulling on the strap, fold at the hips, always keeping the spine straight. If you need to, have a slight bend in the knees.
Here the strap is helping to create traction, create length, deepen the stretch and open up the back of the body whilst preventing injury.
A yoga strap is also a great tool to use for shoulder opening and stretches. Hold the strap taut in the hands past shoulder width. Keeping the strap tight and the arms lengthened, lift the strap up and over the head.
Yoga straps will tend to come with a metal or plastic buckle or D-ring. Using these you can create a loop in the strap to assist in a pose.
A strap in Natarajasana, Lord of the Dance pose, can help us with accessibility, balance and alignment. Come to standing. Put a loop in the strap. Bend the knee and hook the loop around your foot, bringing the strap up behind you and over your shoulder. Using one or both hands pull the strap up behind the head, elbows bent towards the sky. Tilt the body forwards, simultaneously pulling the strap with your hands and kicking the foot away from you. You can then begin to walk your hands down the strap, closer to the foot.
Yoga straps are typically made from cotton and can come in different lengths depending on your needs. 180cm (6 foot) tends to be the most universal option, but do take into account your height and arm span as you may want to go for a longer strap.
Straps are inexpensive and roll up nice and small to throw in your yoga bag. Or better yet, double it up as a yoga mat sling. Then you’ll never be without it!