Is there a neglected strap or two in your yoga bag? You may not realize that a yoga belt, especially one at least eight feet long, can offer some excellent therapeutic options. And you may find that using a strap to address your tight areas is so enjoyable that it will find its way into your regular practice.
So let’s get to it.
1. Reclining Dandasana and Upavistha Konasana
These strap-supported supine variations are great for stretching tight hamstrings and inner thighs while preventing your back from rounding (as it otherwise might in a standing or seated forward fold).
For reclining dandasana (staff pose), begin sitting on the floor. Make a large loop with your strap. Bring the strap up over your head and slide the back end of the loop down your back so that it’s against the top of your sacrum (you are sitting inside of the loop). Bring the other end of the loop over the arches of your feet. Adjust the strap so that the buckle is not against your sacrum or the soles of your feet. It should be in a place that is easily accessible to you when you lie on your back in case you need to tighten or loosen it.
Lie on your back and aim the soles of your feet skyward for a sustained hamstring stretch. The strap should be buckled snugly with no excess slack, supporting you in the stretch.
Press your sitting bones toward the floor and allow your lower back to curve in slightly, creating a small space between your low back and the floor. Resist the urge to flatten your lower back or to allow your hips to curl up away from the floor.
If you still don’t feel a hamstring stretch, you can draw your feet in a little closer toward you—creating more of an 80-degree angle (rather than a 90-degree angle) between your legs and the floor. Tighten your strap so that it remains taut, and maintain the space between your lower back and the floor.
For a variation, you can try a strap-supported reclining upavistha konasana (wide-legged forward fold), with your legs in a straddle position. (Unless you have a super-long strap, buckle two straps together into a giant loop.)
Hold either variation for ten breaths.
2. Two-Strap Supta Padangusthasana
This is similar to practicing supine hand to big toe pose with the foot of the bottom leg pressing into a wall. Pressing your foot into the wall encourages maximum reach through the bottom leg, while the floor provides an anchor for it. In this version, the two straps substitute for the resistance of the wall and aid the anchor of the floor—plus you won’t tire out your hand gripping the strap!
Begin seated, and make a large loop with each strap. Loop one strap around the top of the right thigh at the hip crease and around the arch of the left foot, extending the left leg on the floor. Loop the other strap around the top of your sacrum and then around the arch of your right foot (this is similar to the setup for reclining dandasana above).
Lie on your back and aim the sole of your right foot skyward. Cinch the strap to keep the leg at something close to a 90-degree angle with the floor, and make sure the strap that’s looped around the right hip crease and left foot is taut as well. You’ll likely feel a downward pull on the right hip.
Remain here for ten breaths, and then switch sides.
3. Ardha Parsvottanasana
You’ll need a couple of blocks or a chair for this half pyramid pose variation.
Make a large loop with your strap and from tadasana (mountain pose), step onto it with your left foot so that one end of the loop is right under your left arch. Turn your left foot out slightly, as you typically would for pyramid pose or warrior I. Then step your right foot forward through the loop, so that there is about one leg length of space between your right foot and your left foot, and bring the other end of the loop up and around the top of your right thigh.
Tighten the strap. Keep your left foot pressing into the strap, and hinge forward from the hip crease, bringing your hands onto two blocks or the seat of a chair. Keep your spine long.
The strap helps to draw the front hip back as you stretch your hamstrings—it should feel like you’re giving yourself a manual asana adjustment. It may feel similar to the manual adjustment your yoga teacher gives you when she draws your front outer hip back in this pose.
Remain for five to ten breaths, and then switch sides.
4. Posture Backpack
Unloop your strap and find its center. Place the center of the strap across the tips of your shoulder blades, and then draw the ends of the strap under your armpits and up over your shoulders. Slip the ends under the strap behind your back, and tug down to draw them taut. This action alone is a nice way to reposition your shoulder blades medially (i.e., to draw them toward each other).
Remain for five or more breaths.
5. Head Hammock
To relax completely, you’ll need at least an eight-foot strap for this one (up to ten feet if you’re over six feet tall).
Make a large loop with the strap. Lying on your back, loop one end of the strap around the occipital ridge of your head (where the base of the head meets the spine), and the other end around the arch of your right foot.
When you straighten the right leg, it should be at about a 90-degree angle to the floor. The other leg should be extended and relaxed on the floor. The weight of the lifted leg tractioning the back of the neck can help to relieve head and neck tension.
When you are in this pose, you should experience a deep sense of ease.
Remain for ten breaths and then switch sides.
As a variation, you can tilt the head slightly to one side or the other, creating a stretch along each side of the neck.
While all of these poses can be practiced together as a sequence, they can also be done individually as needed for your specific areas of tightness. They will most assuredly give you a great reason to pull those straps out of hiding and put it to good use.