Almost every yoga studio will offer you a strap to support your practice—to provide traction, extend your reach, or stabilize your limbs. But a dowel offers some of the same benefits—and more.
Like a strap, a dowel can be used to close kinetic chains of force. A kinetic chain includes the parts of your body that have an effect on one another when you move. Moving your foot, for example, affects your ankle and other parts of your leg. An open kinetic chain is when a body part moves freely and isn’t in contact with any stabilizing force. Think, raising your arms up in Virabhadrasana I (Warrior I). A closed chain is when the body is connected to something else. In Warrior, your feet and the floor represent a closed chain.
Closing a kinetic chain gives you more feedback to increase your proprioception—your ability to know where you are in relationship to your environment. For example, if you hold a dowel and reach your arms up overhead, you have a better sense of where your hands are in relationship to each other than if you reach up without the prop.
A dowel also gives you something to pull on to create intrinsic force. You can isometrically squeeze, pull, or rotate it as you practice.
In this practice, planting the dowel on the floor gives you additional stability and leverage. It acts like a third limb and can be used to create a closed kinetic chain that connects your force to the earth. Holding the dowel in both hands connects force between your arms. That feedback and support is then leveraged into increased mobilization of your shoulders, thoracic spine, and hips as we play with creative variations of some familiar poses.
More from Rocky Heron: Use Your Tools! How Yoga Props Can Deepen Your Practice
Standing Trunk Stability
Stand comfortably in a way that feels stable. Hold the dowel in front of you and anchor it to the earth. Initiate a gentle Ujjayi breath and breathe for 5–10 cycles. Use each exhale to press your feet and the dowel into the earth and stand taller. Focus on toning your pelvic floor and deep abdominals and elongating of your neck, then relax and recoil back to neutral. (5–10 breath cycles)
Hold the dowel horizontally in front of you with a wide grip. Straighten your arms and pull gently outward on the dowel as if to stretch it out. Raise the dowel overhead. Stabilize through your trunk and straighten your elbows. Keeping your elbows straight, continue “flossing” your shoulders by circling the dowel all the way behind your back. Then reverse and return to the starting position. A wider grip on the dowel decreases the range of motion needed in your shoulders, while a narrower grip increases the range of motion. The closer your hands are on the dowel, the harder this movement is. Adjust your grip according to your capacity. Complete 5–10 shoulder flosses.
Place the dowel across your shoulders and hold each end in your hands with your elbows bent. Prepare to make a full circle with your spine. Bend to the right holding the dowel evenly behind your shoulders. Rotate your spine until you are facing the floor with your knees bent. Continue moving through the center to a side bend on the left side. Straighten your knees and rotate your trunk toward the ceiling. Continue the movement, circling back into a slight backbend, and then rotate your trunk toward the ceiling on the right side. Return to standing. Repeat the movements starting on the left side. Do 3 circles in each direction.
Squats with Stick
Stand with your feet slightly wider than hip width and turn your toes out slightly. Connect the dowel to the floor in front of you with your arms straight. Press your feet away from each other, as if to stretch the floor between them. Keeping this action, inhale and shift your hips back and bend your knees into a squat. Exhale to press up, using your legs and pressing down with the dowel. Complete 10 squats.
This time, as you bend your knees and squat, shift your hips back and and to the right. Press into the heel of your right foot to activate the outer hips as you press back up to standing. Repeat on the opposite side. Continue alternating on each side. Complete 5 diagonal squats on each side, for a total of 10.
Holding the dowel for support, transition to a kneeling position. With your arms straight out, press the end of the dowel into the floor in front of you. As you inhale, bend at your hips, shift your pelvis back, and lower your chest toward the floor. Find a slight arch in your back as you press the dowel away from your body. To come up, press down on the dowel, lift up from your lower ribs, shift your hips forward, and roll your spine back to the starting position. Complete 5–10 waves.
Kneeling Side Waves
If it feels tolerable on your knees, lift your feet and shins off the mat and, much like the diagonal squat, shift your hips back and the right as you swivel your feet to the left. Press the dowel down and to the left, for a side bend on the right side. Return to center and repeat on the opposite side. Complete 3–5 waves on each side.
Virabhadrasana I Stick Stirs
From your kneeling position, use the dowel for support as you step your right foot forward into a lunge. Lift your left knee and place your left heel down into Virabhadrasana I (Warrior I). Stand tall, pressing the dowel into the floor to elongate your spine. Begin circling the stick in one direction. Let the circles get bigger as you explore more movement in your hips, spine and shoulders. As you reach the dowel away from you, allow your pelvis and spine to follow the movement. Complete 3–5 circles in each direction. Switch sides.
Stand up and, if using a mat, turn to face the long edge. Step your feet into a wide position and, holding the dowel in both hands, reach up. Separate your hands slightly wider than shoulder width. Turn your right foot out to the right so your heel lines up with the big toe of your left foot. (You can progress this pose by stepping your right foot out further). Press your feet in to the floor to firm your legs. Side bend to the right and place one end of the dowel on the floor behind your right foot, adjust your hands as necessary. Press your tailbone forward and stretch your top arm back.
Diagonal Trikonasana Waves
From Trikonasana, use your inhale to stretch your right arm back, turn your chest up and press your pelvis forward. Keeping a grip on the dowel, exhale and shift your right arm forward and down reaching the right end of the dowel toward the floor as you shift your hips back. Your chest and shoulders will be parallel to the floor. Reverse that trajectory, pulling the hips forward as you twist open and lift the right arm up and back to the Triangle position. Move back and forth 3–5 times. Switch sides.
Set up your feet as in Trikonasana (Triangle Pose), taking a slightly wider stand. Bend your right knee and side bend into this Parsvakonasana (Extended Side Angle) variation. Press the end of the dowel on the floor for more support and leverage. Hold the position.
Diagonal Parsvakonasana Waves
From Parsvakonasana, explore the same movement pattern as in Trikonasana—pulling the right arm forward and down toward the floor, then back up into pose. Pressing the right arm back and twisting the torso up toward the ceiling. Repeat the waves 3–5 times. Switch sides and repeat the movement.
Step your right knee forward into a lunge and lower your left knee to the mat. Hug your legs in toward each other. Place the dowel behind you and hold it with your right arm overhead and your left hand behind your back. Press the dowel into the floor as you open your pelvis and lengthen your spine. Pull down on your bottom hand to straighten your elbow, and deepen the bend of your top elbow. Bend your right knee forward and lift your chest. Hold for 5–7 breaths. Switch sides.
Sit down and bring your legs in front of you. Use both hands to hold the dowel in front of you, horizontal to the ground. Let your grip be wider than shoulder width. Lean back slightly, bend your knees, and lift your feet off the ground. Pretend the dowel is a paddle and “row” to the left, straightening your left leg. Then row to the right and straighten the right leg. Paddle side-to-side 10 times.
From Paripurna Navasana Paddle Rows, paddle to the right, straightening the right leg and twisting your spine to the right. Keep your left leg bent with your foot on the floor. Holding the top of the dowel with your left hand, anchor the right end of the dowel to the floor behind your right hip. Press the dowel and both feet into the ground to lift your hips and stretch your top arm over head. Pause. Lower to seated position and repeat on the left side. Go back and forth as many times as you like. Return to a seated position.
If possible, hold the dowel horizontally in front of you and, without using your hands, arrange your legs for Parivrtta Janu Sirsasana. To do so, straighten your right leg and bend your left, allowing it to open out to the left side. Widen your legs, bringing your bent knee further to the side, and feeling a stretch in the inner thighs. Make any adjustments needed to sit upright on your pelvis. Firm your legs, lengthen your spine, and turn your torso toward your left knee. Side bend toward your straight leg, anchoring the dowel to the floor inside your calf/ankle. Allow your pelvis to tip to the side, lean your top arm back and stretch your side body. Stay for about 5 breaths. Transition to Janu Sirsasana.
Lift the dowel off the ground and rotate it and your chest down toward your right straight leg. Stretch and reach the dowel forward. If possible, hook it around the sole of your foot and pull gently to increase the forward bend. Stay for about 5 breaths and then sit up and switch sides, beginning with Parivrtta Janu Sirsasana.
Straighten both legs in front of you and separate your feet hip-width apart. Bend your knees as much as needed to shift your weight toward the front of your sitting bones. Hold the dowel horizontally in front of you, lift your chest, and fold forward from your hips. If possible, hook the dowel in front of your feet. Attempt to bring your ribs to your thighs, bending your knees more if needed. Pull gently on the dowel to increase the stretch, and straighten your legs as much as is possible while maintaining your rib to thigh connection. Stay for about 5 breaths and come up.
From a seated position, place the dowel behind you and pin it flat to the floor with both hands. Gently “pull apart” on the dowel as you lift your chest. Place your feet on the floor in front of you with your knees bent. Press your feet into the floor and lift your hips up to the height of your chest. Keep lifting your chest up while pulling on the dowel. You can choose to keep your gaze forward or to let your head lean back. Stay for a few breaths and slowly lower back to seated.
Spend a few minutes either in seated reflection or rest fully in Savasana.
More prop-supported sequences from Rocky Heron
Over the next few weeks, we’ll explore how to use props to enhance your practice, whether by regressing or progressing your movements. Here’s what you might have missed (and what’s coming up):
About our contributor
Rocky Heron is an internationally acclaimed yoga and movement educator, artist, and musician. Known for his uncanny wisdom and in-depth understanding of human anatomy, Rocky’s teaching is informed by years of study in many yoga styles and movement modalities. Considered a “teacher’s teacher,” Rocky works worldwide and online facilitating trainings and continuing education for teachers. Rocky works in collaboration with Noah Mazé as a faculty member and key contributor to the curriculum at the Mazé Method, and as a featured teacher on Yoga International. Rocky enjoys a rich and dynamic life with his magnificent community of artists, and is a founding member of the Queer Wellness Collective, which seeks to promote well-being to members of the queer community. Students steep themselves in Rocky’s teaching for his intelligence, humor, and innovative approach to movement, as well as his ability to make complex concepts accessible. Follow him on Instagram @rockyheron.