Ironically, my new favorite yoga prop has been in my possession years before I even owned a yoga mat — or had any idea what Child's Pose was. I'm talking about a simple folded towel or blanket. And even though I've always had one at my disposal, I only recently started adding it into my practice for the sake of my joints.
Every yoga instructor I've ever followed has advised those with sensitive knees in the class to cushion their joints with towels or blankets during certain weight-bearing poses. I actually have that very concern, but I've ignored the tip, thinking it couldn't possibly make my experience any more enjoyable. I'll also admit I never wanted to look weak in front of my peers.
Doing yoga exclusively at home — and really diving into the motivation behind my personal practice — helped me conquer so many of my insecurities. After I reached for that towel and tucked it under my knees during Camel Pose, I finally got to feel that glorious stretch in my lower back and shoulders without painful pressure in my knees. I only wish I took advantage of my instructors' advice sooner — it was only there to help me.
Tess Koenig, a yoga instructor based in New York City, prefers that students use props rather than force a posture or deal with pain in a pose, and offers the use of a towel or blanket in positions where the bone may be supported by the ground in weight-bearing positions.
"Towels and blankets offer that support to help you maintain your breath on your knees, as does a mat folded over twice if those props are not available to you," Koenig says.
While there are many poses that could benefit from a folded towel or a blanket as a prop, Koenig specifically mentions Cat/Cow, Modified Push-Up or Chaturanga, and Camel Pose.
"Typically we see Cat/Cow in the beginning of practice, when our bodies are still warming up, which is even more so a reason to use padding instead of forcing your way through discomfort as your body is lubricating for practice," Koenig says.
During Modified Push-Up or Chaturanga, Koenig says you're rolled onto the front of your kneecaps during optimal alignment: "That can be a lot to maintain for many repetitions or during Vinyasa."
To make Camel Pose more comfortable, Koenig recommends evenly laying out a towel or a blanket and kneeling on it with your knees — hip width-distance apart — before settling into the posture.