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Lengthen, Expand, Relax: 6 Ways to Use Blocks in Your Yoga Practice
If you’re new to yoga, you may be curious about the blocks you see on the prop shelves at your local studio. What are they and why would you want to use them? A yoga block is shaped like a brick and made of foam, cork, or wood. Blocks come in a few different sizes, but the average block runs about 9 x 4 x 6 inches.
Many beginners shy away from using blocks because they’re either not sure how to use them, or they think that doing a pose with a block is the “easy” version of the pose, not the “real” pose.
Nothing could be further from the truth. If you think of each pose not as a goal to be attained, but rather as an opportunity to awaken awareness and experience your body, mind, and soul in progressively deeper ways, then blocks are simply helpful tools that facilitate that process.
Blocks enhance your experience of asana (posture practice) in so many ways. They can:
make a pose more accessible.
allow for a different perspective in a pose.
enable a soft, gentle, supported opening in restorative poses.
Here are six ways to use blocks in your yoga practice:
1. Support Tighter Hips in Seated Poses
If your hips aren’t already flexible, it can be an uncomfortable challenge to sit on the floor in some of the seated poses, such as Sukhasana (Easy Pose). Placing one block underneath each of your outer thighs gives your legs something to rest on. Your hips no longer have to grip to hold the thighs in place, which releases tension in these joints and also relieves strain in your back.
With your hips and back happy, you’re better able to experience the ease that the name of the pose implies.
2. Give Space to Uncomfortable Knees in Kneeling Poses
In order to kneel on the ground, your knees must bend. In anatomical terms, this is called knee flexion. Some knees don’t feel too happy about the amount of flexion that is required to kneel in a pose like Virasana (Hero’s Pose).
By placing one or two blocks on the ground between your heels so that you can sit higher up, on the blocks, the flexion required is reduced. This eases strain on your knee joints and makes kneeling positions more accessible for those of us with achy knees.
3. Gradually Find Your Balance in Standing Balance Poses
Balancing on one leg can be tricky. Sometimes it helps to have a little more support at first, then gradually work your way toward balancing with less assistance.
For example, you could try using blocks when you practice Virabhadrasana III (Warrior III Pose). With your arms reaching toward the ground, wrists directly below the shoulders, place a block underneath each hand. As you practice this way for a while, you’ll develop strength, steadiness, and confidence.
In time, you might feel ready to take one hand away from the block. Eventually, you’ll be able to take both hands off the blocks and balance with the alignment and strength you’ve cultivated with the support of the props.
4. Bring the Floor Up to Meet You In Standing Poses
Some standing poses, such as Uttanasana (Standing Forward Bend), and Parsvottanasana (Intense Side Stretch Pose), involve bending forward and touching the floor. Depending on the flexibility of your spine and hamstrings, this may feel impossible. You might find yourself hunching your back, bending your knees, or torquing your spine in order to do so. Why not bring the floor up to meet you instead?
Blocks essentially do this. As in Virabhadrasana III, you can place blocks under your hands to make it easier to practice these poses with a straight spine. Remember that the blocks have three heights: low, medium, and high. When using the blocks for this purpose, take the time to experiment and figure out the height of the block that makes sense for your body—the height that allows you to maintain your alignment without unnecessary strain.
5. Shift Your Perspective in a Pose
Sometimes blocks make a pose more accessible. At other times, they enable you to shift your perspective in a pose and feel something you’ve haven’t felt before.
Perhaps you’re one of those people who can easily bring their fingertips to the ground in Trikonasana (Triangle Pose). However, that doesn’t mean you must do it that way every time. Nor is getting your hand to the ground necessarily the goal, or the “perfect” way to do the pose, or the “full version” of the pose. It’s really just one version of the pose.
By placing a block underneath your bottom hand, your perspective in the pose changes. Your alignment is slightly different. Maybe you feel something opening or lengthening or engaging in a way you never felt before. It can be interesting to play with using blocks to experience a pose in a new way and to see how your body, mind, and spirit respond to this new set of circumstances.
6. Create a Gentle Opening in Restorative Poses
Restorative poses are intended to create the conditions in which your body and mind can completely relax and restore. A block can serve as a resting place for various parts of your body in these poses, so your body can let go and remain in the pose with a minimum of effort.
Let’s look at Setu Bandha Sarvangasana (Bridge Pose). When you come into Bridge Pose without any props, your muscles must work to hold your body in place. You engage your glutes, hamstrings, rectus abdominus, erector spinae, and adductors.
In Salamba Setu Bandha Sarvangasana (Supported Bridge Pose), your hips are raised but the back of your pelvis rests on a block. By using a block to hold your body in place, you give yourself the opportunity to surrender all of your efforts. Your body can gradually let go into the support of the block and the ground, creating a restorative atmosphere and allowing for deep rest and rejuvenation.
Do you need more helpful yoga practice tips-this time to counteract too much sitting? Read this article from Christine Malossi and YogaUOnline - 6 Yoga Poses to Counteract the Effects of Sitting.
Christine Malossi began practicing yoga in 1999. Based in New York City, she offers an alignment-focused, slow Vinyasa practice that cultivates awareness and equanimity. She is currently enrolled in an 800-hour course on the History, Literature, and Philosophy of Yoga (taught by Brenda Feuerstein, designed by the late Georg Feuerstein). Christine is a Registered Yoga Teacher with Yoga Alliance, and has additional certifications in Therapeutic Yoga, Restorative Yoga, Accessible Yoga, and Functional Anatomy for Movement and Injuries. She attended the University of Pennsylvania and NYU, and also spent many years studying classical ballet. Find her at christinemalossi.com.