I truly discovered the benefit of props when I started to study at an Iyengar studio. I had been taking Vinyasa and Hatha classes for years and was feeling in a rut - I felt good about my meditation and Pranayama but my asana practice was stagnant. I struggled with recurring injuries and just couldn't get comfortable in many "basic" postures. Then I read BKS Iyengar's Light on Life - it changed my life and practice. In many ways it was the beginning of my path towards Yoga Therapy.
After I read Light on Life I HAD to try an Iyengar class and sought out one of the most experienced teachers I could find. The studio required EVERYONE take a 6-week foundation course before graduating to level 1. I had been practicing regularly for almost 10 year and was reluctant at first but I respected the Guru behind this lineage and signed up. In 6-weeks I learned more about my asana practice then I had in the 10 year before. And, I discovered props! It wasn't the first time I had used a prop. In most classes the teacher will offer props if you feel it is needed. And, many teachers are great about encouraging students to use them. Somehow props felt like a crutch - like I wasn't "doing" the pose. Does that sound familiar?
In the Iyengar tradition props aren't an offer they are an extension of the pose. In my 6-week foundation class I very quickly discovered what ease within the poses felt like. I made subtle changes to my alignment and corrected patterns that had been causing discomfort for years.
This week I was asked about using props for balance poses - Is it better to use a prop or to keep moving in and out of the poses for a short period, eventually building to a longer hold? My feeling is that using props to stay in challenging poses longer allows you to play with dynamic movement and taste the full expression of the pose - including proper alignment and the energy flow in the body. It also helps strengthen the muscled needed to hold the pose.
In short, I love props! In most of my classes I teach the way my Iyengar teacher taught me...use the props, and when you feel 100% comfortable set the prop aside and see where your body takes you.