According to Patañjali’s definition, all practitioners of yoga are undergoing a form of therapy, whether it is for a spiritual ailment, a mental misapprehension or a physical illness. In the practice of Iyengar yoga, the therapeutic and meditative benefits are derived through a progressive system involving the sequencing of the asanas (poses) and pranayama (yogic practice involving breath control), attention to the alignment and technique of the practices and the timing in the practices. In the example of the treatment of physical and psychological illness and disease, the therapeutic branch of Iyengar yoga often employs sophisticated props to help the student/patient along the path.
Yogis in India have utilized basic yoga props for centuries. Yogis who traditionally practiced in ashrams in forested areas would hang from ropes tied to thick tree branches. The use of sticks and belts as supports to yoga practitioners (to help maintain an upright seated posture with the spine erect, even at rest) is commonly depicted in ancient Indian art and temples. B.K.S. Iyengar has furthered the usage of props to enhance the yoga practice through the development of many new props with specific uses, especially in the field of therapeutic yoga.
When B.K.S. Iyengar first started teaching yoga as a young man, he quickly realized that the vigorous practice that had been taught to him as a teenager was not appropriate for all of his students. Even though he had effectively healed himself from debilitating illness and disease (typhoid and tuberculosis), he had not been exposed to the therapeutic practice of yoga for students of varying ages and abilities. Having observed and experienced improvement in his own health and in the health of his students, Mr. Iyengar developed faith in the healing power of yoga. He started to adapt the poses to the ability of each of the students so that all could benefit from the therapeutic properties of each asana.
In his experiments with his own intensive practice, B.K.S. Iyengar began to use household and found objects to help him improve. He gradually refined and developed props specifically constructed for use in yoga. Today, many of Mr. Iyengar’s innovations with props are commonly seen in the yoga marketplace and their applications are widely used. Perhaps one of the most basic modifications in wide use today is the effective raising of the floor with a block for students, who due to stiffness cannot reach the floor in Trikonasana (Triangle pose).