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Three Unique Ways to Use a Yoga Strap in Standing Poses
The yoga strap is one of the most underutilized props in yoga. Yet with a little knowledge of how to use it, a yoga strap can help clarify alignment concepts for students. Straps are particularly useful in standing poses.
Whether you are working on where to place your feet in a standing pose or understanding the relationship of the pelvis rolling over the head of the femur in a forward bend, straps are a versatile yoga tool that can awaken your yoga practice.
A Sensory Experience for Your Feet: How to Align Warrior II
In standing poses, we generally place our feet in a certain way and then arrange our bodies to mimic a specific shape. For example, in Virabhadrasana II (Warrior II Pose), we separate the feet approximately the distance of the length of one of our legs. Then we orient the feet and bend the front knee.
At times where it’s appropriate to change the ordinarily cued alignment, placing the strap on your mat can help direct a student visually. It can help them understand where we want to situate the body and how we want to do it.
I remember practicing Trikonasana (Triangle Pose) with the feet aligned wide to the midline of the mat and also crossing the midline years ago with Carrie Owerko, a senior Iyengar teacher. This investigative inner bodywork through the change in alignment allowed me to experience this pose in ways I’d never imagined.
As I began to teach different alignment of the feet, I saw that it was more difficult to indicate precisely where I wanted students to place themselves. The strap was an excellent indicator of how to arrange the feet. I found these two setups particularly useful:
Lay the strap over the center of your mat, running lengthwise on the mat.
Lay the strap diagonally from the top left corner to the bottom right corner of your mat. (shown above)
The first setup helps you move the feet away from the midline so that you aren’t placing yourself in heel-to-arch alignment. If you want to exaggerate the experience, the second option gives you a clear runway to put your left foot over the strap toward the top left corner, and your right foot over strap toward the bottom right corner.
Then once you adapt to the new foot alignment, use the strap as a sensory vehicle to energize the actions of your feet. It’s like a game. Feel the texture of the strap against your soles. Later, try lifting your arches away from the strap. The muscles of your feet will react differently, even if the arches do not physically lift away from the floor.
The Sometimes-Illusive Hip Hinge
We talk about the “hip hinge” in forward bends. We explain the hip hinge, and we may even demonstrate that famous hip hinge, but is there a way to experience the hinge in a way that the body will kinesthetically awaken?
Yes! We can strategically use a strap to accomplish this.
I often teach several standing poses, including Virabhadrasana III (Warrior III Pose) (shown below), Prasarita Padottanasana (Wide-Legged Standing Forward Bend Pose) and Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana (Extended Hand-to-Foot Pose) using the strap so that students better understand how to fold at their hips rather than starting the fold from their spine. (In Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana, it’s the reverse action: the femur moves relative to the hip.)
How to Use a Strap In Virabhadrasana III
Make a large loop with the strap. Starting in Tadasana, place one end of the loop under the heel of whichever foot you intend to lift, and the other end of the loop right under your anterior superior iliac spine (hip points). You will need to hold the strap in place below your hip points.
Then with the strap taut, bend forward from the hip joints and hover your back foot behind you.
You’ll feel the strap restricting your front thigh from moving forward, which helps the pelvis fold over the head of the femur.
Remove the strap, and you can still feel a clear spot on your body where you want to feel the fold to initiate from.
Using the strap in this way distinguishes folding at the hip from folding predominantly and, in some cases, purely from the lower back and then the rest of the spine.
A Shift of Awareness to the Torso in Standing Poses
The strap can also play a role for the upper body. Often in standing poses, concentration falls heavily on the actions of the hips and the legs. By incorporating a strap, you can bring awareness to more than just the lower half of the body. For this pose, remove the loop from your strap.
Take your strap in both hands and extend the arms straight outward at shoulder level, sliding your hands outward on your strap, so that it is extending along the horizontal line of the arms, behind your head and neck, and resting over your shoulder blades.
Pull the strap taut.
You can practice an array of standing poses with this setup. When your torso moves, you can feel when the upper back rounds and the arms come forward because you can feel the increased pressure between the strap and your upper back. You may also sense the strap more in places along your back and arms than in the initial position.
This awareness will then guide you into the place where you want to be. For example, if you are looking to keep your spine neutral, you’ll know that you’ve surpassed the place where you can maintain a neutral spine if you feel the back rounding into your strap.
A yoga strap can be used for more than just being an extension for your hand and foot to meet in forward bends. Incorporating the strap into your practice will allow for a deeper sensory experience and exploration. Discover the various uses of a yoga strap in your practice.
Allison Jeraci, E-RYT 500, RPYT, is a vinyasa-based yoga teacher, fascinated by the intricate relationship between the mind and body. She offers a range of alignment-focused classes touching on anatomy, philosophy, and creative propping with a mindful approach. In addition to teaching group classes and managing the Yoga Culture studio in Danbury, CT, she also teaches at Open Door Family Medical Center in Westchester, NY, empowering mothers-to-be with prenatal yoga classes and childbirth education. You can find her @allisonschleck on Instagram and www.allisonrayjeraci.com.