One of the great things about yoga is that you technically don’t need any equipment to practice it. However, certain tools can drastically improve your yoga practice, such as yoga straps.
Although many yoga practitioners think of tools like yoga straps as crutches that only benefit beginners, this is far from true. Yoga straps can help even the most advanced practitioners get the most out of their yoga practice. Read on to learn more about how yoga straps can enhance your routine!
How Can a Yoga Strap Help Me with Yoga?
Yoga straps can be used in various ways, from helping you achieve challenging poses to allowing you to hold poses for more extended periods.
This section covers some of the ways that yoga straps can improve your practice. The following section will go over specific poses that might benefit from the use of a yoga strap.
1. Improve Your Alignment
If you’ve been practicing yoga for a while, you’re probably familiar with the concept that the practice is less about the poses you master and more about the way you approach the poses. If you force your body into a messy version of a position that it’s not ready for, your alignment will be off, and you won’t be getting the maximum benefit from the pose.
More importantly, doing poses incorrectly will lead to a lack of alignment in the position, putting you at risk for injury.
Tools like yoga straps can help improve your alignment in a pose as your body gets used to certain positions. Specifically, they can help to:
- Help you reach further in poses without collapsing your shoulders or spine
- Improve mobility and flexibility, which will result in better form
- Increase body awareness and full-body engagement, which will help you notice when you’re not aligned so that you can correct your form
Alignment and breath are two of the most essential things in any yoga practice, so make sure you’re practicing good form.
2. Extend Your Reach
When asked what a yoga strap does, most yoga teachers and experienced students will say something along the lines of “they extend your reach” or “they increase arm length.”
This is all fine and good on a conceptual level, but what does it actually mean?
At the most basic level, yoga straps are basically designed to allow you to reach further than you otherwise would be able to, without compromising your form. This allows you to get the maximum benefit from poses where lack of flexibility would otherwise limit you.
If you’re still having trouble picturing how to actually put this into practice, imagine just about any pose where you have to grab one or both feet or clasp your hands in a bind behind your body. A few examples are:
- Seated Forward Fold
- Dancer Pose
- Cow Face Pose
- Side Angle Bind
- Bow Pose
For poses where reaching a foot or both feet is needed, just wrap the yoga strap around the foot or feet and grab each end with your hands. This keeps unneeded pressure off your knees or spine, depending on the pose.
If you’re struggling to clasp hands in a bind, just hold the strap in one hand and grab the other side with the other hand; this will allow more space for tight shoulders.
3. Get a Better Grip
Maybe you’re just barely able to clasp hands in a bind or pose in a wide-legged forward bend, but struggle to keep them held through the pose. Or maybe your foot keeps sliding down your leg during tree pose.
This can be due to several reasons:
- Lack of adequate hand or finger strength
- Shoulder tightness, resulting in too much effort to keep hands in that position
- Sweat causing slippage
- Slick fabrics with no grip
Regardless of the reason for your grip problems, a yoga strap can help. The material is made to prevent slippage, so keeping hold of it instead of your hands or feet will keep your hands in place so you can focus on other aspects of the pose, like alignment and breath.
For poses like tree and cobbler, you can use the strap to lightly bind your leg or legs in place to counter slippery surfaces. (This will be explained in more detail in the pose examples a little later.)
4. Relax into Poses
Yoga straps are perfect for allowing you to relax more deeply into a pose, especially in poses like the ones mentioned above, where slippage and grip issues might otherwise require more of your energy.
If you’re not worried about forcing yourself into a pose or using an excessive amount of muscle tension to maintain it, you’ll be able to focus more on the breath and letting go. This will naturally help your muscles relax, allowing you to sink more deeply into a pose and get the maximum benefit from it.
5. Hold Poses for Longer
Along the same lines as being able to relax more deeply into a pose, yoga straps also allow you to hold poses for longer. This is especially true of poses that require a certain amount of muscle tension to retain since your muscles will tire eventually.
For this reason, yoga forms like Yin yoga often use straps and other tools to allow you to maintain poses for longer durations. (If you’re not familiar with Yin, it’s a restorative form of yoga in which poses are held for usually 3-5 minutes, rather than a few breath cycles or 30 seconds, like most other yoga styles.)
This allows your muscles to relax and stretch fully, resulting in spa-like relaxation.
Popular Yin poses that benefit from a strap are:
- Bound angle pose
- King pigeon
- Reclining big toe pose
6. Gain Stability and Control
It’s not uncommon for beginner yoga practitioners to lack stability and control in certain poses, especially the more strength-based ones like chaturanga and handstand.
The number one issue is having the arms splaying outwards, rather than being held close to the body as they should be. To counter this tendency, simply loop the strap around your arms snugly, either just above or just below the elbow (never use a strap directly on a joint). This holds them in place, training your muscle memory what the proper form feels like.
You can also do this around your thighs in bridge pose if your knees tend to splay out too far as you lift off the ground.
The alignment section above has a little to do with control as well, since forcing yourself into poses too deeply will naturally result in less control than mindfully listening to your body’s limitations as you move into a pose.
7. Helps You Work on Flexibility
As mentioned earlier, yoga straps are great for poses that require more flexibility than you currently have. But they improve flexibility too, often to the point where you’ll eventually be able to hold the pose without the use of a strap at all.
By allowing you to properly do poses that you otherwise wouldn’t be able to, yoga straps will enable you to work on flexibility at your own pace, rather than trying to force it. This reduces the chances of injury, of course, but also keeps you from getting discouraged about not being able to do the pose. It’s far better to practice using help from a strap than to skip the pose altogether.
8. Improves Mobility
Often confused with flexibility, mobility is super important to athletic performance and reduces overall alignment issues and general aches and pains.
The difference between the two? Flexibility is the ability of muscles to lengthen or stretch into a static position. Mobility is the ability of a joint to move freely in a full range of motion.
Yoga straps can be terrific additions to mobility exercises, in addition to being used in yoga poses.
9. Builds Strength
Although most known for helping yoga practitioners in flexibility and mobility, yoga straps are also useful in building strength. They do this in the following ways:
- Improving alignment, so you’re able to do more without injury
- Adding stability to poses like dolphin, allowing you to do more for longer
- Supporting one muscle group while another gains strength, such as keeping the legs in boat pose until the core gets stronger
- Providing resistance in much the same way as resistance bands
10. Helps with Balance
Yoga straps can help with balance, in both standing and arm balancing poses.
As we’ve mentioned, in standing poses, many beginning students will try too hard to get into a pose, throwing their alignment out of whack. This, of course, has a significant effect on your balance, so using a strap can make it just a little easier to land the pose so you can focus on remaining upright.
The ability of yoga straps to stabilize the arms during handstands and other arm-balance poses means that you’re able to spend less thought and energy keeping your arms in the right place and more on finding and maintaining your balance.
Your need for the straps will decrease the more you do these poses since your muscle memory will take over once the right form has been established.
11. Master More Advanced Poses
If a pose is just out of reach, it can be tempting to just skip it and move on to another, but with the use of a yoga strap, many poses that would otherwise be too difficult are now within reach.
Trying to force a pose because you don’t want to “cheat” by using a strap is a sure way to get injured or discouraged. However, the more open you are to using tools like straps in your yoga practice, the more likely you are to stick with your practice long-term, advancing to more challenging poses as time goes on.
12. Improve Your Posture
While not technically yoga in itself, this technique will benefit your yoga practice and daily posture.
Some call it “angel wings,” and some prefer “yoga strap backpack,” but this posture technique involves using a yoga strap to act as a posture corrector by pulling your shoulders back and down. It’s pretty easy to do and worth a try if you suffer from a lot of neck and upper back tension.
13. Build Core Engagement
We all know the importance of core engagement in our yoga practice and other physical endeavors.
The obvious way to build core engagement is to do poses that focus on the core, but one exercise, in particular, will help you make sure you’re engaging the deepest stabilizing core muscles. To do this exercise:
- Lay on your back with legs extended and your yoga strap underneath you. The ends should extend out from under your low back. (See visual model here.)
- Lift your feet a few inches off the ground, keeping the low back pressed to the floor. If you can pull the strap out from underneath you, your back isn’t tight against the ground.
- Slowly bend one knee and bring it up towards the hip level. Again, the strap shouldn’t be able to move.
- Slowly alternate legs for ten reps, checking each time that your lower back is pressing the strap firmly in place beneath you.
14. Increase Full Body Awareness
Especially if a pose is particularly challenging, it’s super easy to put all your focus on maintaining balance or engaging specific muscle groups. However, yoga poses provide more benefit if you keep the entire body engaged, and using a yoga strap can help with that.
For example, in poses like reclining big toe pose, teachers often remind students to keep the non-working leg engaged by flexing the toes. For many students, they’ve forgotten that instruction by the time the next breath cycle rolls around. But if you wrap a strap around the non-working leg and push that foot against it, it will provide a constant physical reminder.
9 Poses to Try with a Yoga Strap
Try using a yoga strap with a few of these poses, and see if it helps. If you don’t have a strap yet, a belt or towel will work in the meantime.
Seated Forward Fold
In seated forward fold, loop the strap around both feet and hold both ends with either hand. This will allow you to get a good stretch in the hamstrings while keeping your chest lifted.
Using a strap around the lifted foot, rather than straining to reach the foot itself, will help practitioners who struggle with this pose.
- Help alignment and balance
- Prevent knee and back strain
Cow Face Pose
If your hands don’t come together in cow face pose, try grabbing a strap instead. This way, you’ll still be getting a good shoulder stretch, without forcing it.
Side Angle Bind
A strap can be used for side angle bind in much the same way as in cow face pose. Just hold the strap with the top hand, and reach up to grab the other end with the free hand.
Bow pose presents many similar difficulties as dancer pose, with the danger of knee and back strain from forcing it. To make things easier, use a strap around the feet instead, and grab either end with both hands.
Bound Wide-Legged Forward Bend
Many practitioners struggle with the bound aspect of bound wide-legged forward bend, due to:
- Shoulder tightness
- Lack of hand strength
- Lack of grip due to sweat
Holding a strap instead will give you the benefits of the pose without having to fight so hard for them.
Bound Angle Pose
Bound angle pose is also known as cobbler’s pose. To add a strap to the pose, wrap the strap around both feet and the waist to secure your legs in position. This will allow you to relax the muscles fully while keeping the shape of the pose.
This can be done sitting or reclining and is an excellent hip opener.
Reclining Big Toe Pose
You can use a strap with reclining big toe pose in one of two ways:
- Wrap the strap around the lifted foot to extend your reach
- Wrap the strap around the non-active foot to remind yourself to keep it engaged
A yoga strap can be useful in tree pose if you’re wearing especially slippery yoga pants, and your foot doesn’t want to stay where you place it. Just loop the strap around your ankle and hold both ends with one hand, keeping the foot in place.
As you can see, yoga straps are not just for beginners! This versatile yoga prop can be used to enhance yoga practice in many ways. Start integrating a yoga strap into your practice, and you’ll be amazed at the results.