Yes, they can. It is pretty common when we start doing yoga we often lack the flexibility required to perform asanas or yoga poses correctly. Yoga straps are designed to “extend” our arms and legs, thus making it possible to maintain the proper spine alignment while doing the asana. But do they really help?
When I started learning yoga I had no yoga pros such as yoga straps or yoga block. I only had a yoga mat. So some asanas were pretty difficult for me to do them right. But, I need to say that although the straps can help, it is always good to do the asana without them once you feel you have achieved some progress. Why? Because naturally yoga gives you a balance in your body and mind development, so when you do yoga poses without any other equipment, your body is proportionally developed. But, when you start, it is often recommended to use straps or blocks to create the right foundation for your asana performance; when you know how your spine should be aligned, how your body should move, and then it is easier to do the posture properly when you do it without the props.
Now, I want to show you a practical example of how to use yoga straps for stretching. Among the so called ‘core’ asanas there is a sitting forward bend or paschimottanasana. The asana is simple in essence, but often difficult to perform for the beginners. Also it is one of the most powerful asanas for your spine and for general forward stretching. The technique requires you to reach the toes with your fingers and ultimately lie on your hip with your belly. In this asana is it especially important to stretch the hip region, and for this you need to ‘sag’ your spine a bit, which is difficult to impossible in the beginning, because your arms will not reach your toes. To help with it you can use a strap: just wrap it over your feet and grab the ends with your hands, and pull gently, bending forward and keeping the spine straight.
What are yoga straps used for besides stretching? Actually there are many yoga straps postures, or in other words, you can use the straps in many exercises and in virtually every yoga pose your feel difficult to do it fully and which requires stretching, bending or keeping a certain balanced position. The straps use is safe unless you don’t follow common safety measures.
OK, I’m using the straps but how my flexibility will improve? It will improve over the time. The mechanics behind the stretching process is simple: our body is always adjusting to the ever-changing conditions. If we, for example, strain certain muscles they will become stronger as a response to the changing conditions. The same is with stretching – if we do stretch little by little, we get more flexible.
But if I want to increase my flexibility faster? It is natural to desire obtaining good results faster but I would not recommend doing that. The idea is that if your body gets stretched gradually and over the extended period of time, it will remember and recognize the conditions and be able to adapt; but if you push it hard, trying to achieve good flexibility in a short period of time, your body will see this as a ‘stress’, or artificial condition against which it should protect itself (obviously to avoid injury), so once you finish your ‘power stretching’ your body will tend to return into its original condition without much adaptation. And if you try to stress it again, more and faster it may respond by muscle and joint pain. That is why it is important to do the stretching gradually, and yoga straps can help you with that.