Yoga straps are simple yoga props that can make a world of difference to your asana practice. So, how do you use one?
One way is to simply let your yoga strap be an extension of your body. Generally, yoga straps are a boon for those of us with shorter arms. They are also helpful when your body feels tight and your feet seem a long way away. Straps provide the extra reach and space needed to help enter an asana without over-straining or losing your alignment.
A great way to use a strap is by looping it around your foot to take a reclining hamstring stretch, head-to-knee pose or heron pose. Here, the strap lets you extend your leg without compromising your back, shoulders or knees. As your flexibility increases, you may find your hands slowly walking a little closer to your foot along the strap. You can also loop it around your foot in dancer’s pose before taking your arms over your head so you can practice moving into a full backbend.
The key is to always use your strap in the same way you would use your arms. The strap is there for gentle guidance and reach, not to haul or bounce your way into an asana. Forcing your body into a pose is as dangerous and potentially injurious with a yoga strap as it is with your arms. (Learn more in Yin Yoga: There's Power in Surrender.)
Yoga straps also help build strength. Looping the strap around your upper arms near your elbows in order to keep them shoulder-width apart helps maintain safe alignment when taking chaturanga and can give you a good measure of how low to the ground you should go. Some yogis like to bind their arms with a strap to prevent their elbows from splaying out in a forearm stand.
Finally, yoga straps are brilliant for releasing tight shoulders, which so many of us who work with computers or drive a lot suffer from. Holding a strap between your hands and making dynamic circular movements, backwards and forwards or side-to-side with your arms over your head are all great ways to help open your shoulders. You can then use the same strap to ease your way into cow face pose if your shoulders aren’t flexible enough to hold your opposite hand behind your back. (Read more in 5 Best Poses for the Workaholic.)