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How To Use Blocks In Your Yoga Practice

By Marissa Tolero

WED JAN 26, 2022

In my recent blog post about how yoga props transformed my practice, the first prop I mentioned was yoga blocks. These were the first props I was ever introduced to about ten years ago and it's likely you've seen (or even used) them before at your local gym or yoga studio. They come in different sizes and materials while serving so many purposes! The key to understanding how to use blocks so they enhance your practice really comes down to understanding their main functions.

The Main Functions of Yoga Blocks

There are many reasons to incorporate yoga blocks into your practice. These are the main four functions:

  • comfort
  • improving alignment
  • deepening a pose
  • support/stability

Comfort: Relaxation & Safety

What do I mean when I say blocks can be used for "comfort"? Well, this refers relaxation and safety in regards to injuries and sensitivities.

Certain poses are more active than others in that they require strength and/or flexibility. Essentially, you must have your nervous system and body turned "on" to engage with them. Poses such as Warrior 2 or Triangle (or any where you're on your feet) require activation of multiple muscle groups as well as concentration and endurance. There are also poses low to the ground that are very active as well. Take Fish Pose for example, where you're on your back and propped up on your elbows. Your head cranes backward so your chin is toward the sky, your gaze is behind you, and the crown of your head rests on the mat. Even though you're lying down, you're extremely engaged to stay safe. If you love the thoracic spine (upper back) arch and chest-opening that Fish Pose provides, but don't want/aren't able to take such an active, challenging version of it, there's Supported Fish Pose using blocks.

Supported Fish Pose
Supported Fish Pose

In this version of Fish Pose, both blocks are at their middle height. The two blocks form a "T" shape underneath you with the top block perpendicular to your body and holding your head up. The bottom block supports the spine and rests between the shoulder blades. This version provides the same benefits of traditional Fish Pose, but is very relaxing and comfortable. I take this pose almost every night when watching TV, listening to a podcast, or just winding down. It feels amazing because it counteracts the "hunch" of that part of the back!

This is one example of using blocks for relaxation/comfort. Another example is Supported Bridge Pose. Traditionally, Bridge Pose requires use of your glutes and hamstrings while lying on your back with knees bent in order to lift your hips off the ground. In a more relaxed version of this, you can place one block on it's low or middle height under your sacrum (the flat, wide bone just above your glutes).

Supported Bridge Pose
Supported Bridge Pose

As you can see with both of these examples, blocks can be used to create comfort and relaxation in a pose that might not usually be so relaxing. Because of this, blocks are often used in restorative and yin yoga, practices that primarily focus on rest and soothing.

The way blocks contribute to comfort is also creating safety for physical injuries or sensitivities. For example, if you have a knee injury (or just sensitive knees like I do), you can place one block under each knee in Butterfly or Bound Angle Pose. This is where the knees are bent out to each side and the soles of the feet are together. It can be painful if you have injured knees and placing blocks under each one can provide support for them.

These are just some of the ways you can use blocks to create comfort/relaxation as well as comfort/safety in your yoga practice!

Improving Alignment

Another purpose of blocks is to improve your alignment. You may have heard a yoga teacher say blocks can "bring the floor" to you or that they "extend" your arms - improving your alignment is exactly what they were referring to! Different poses are accessible to different bodies and how you're able to exist in each pose depends on your body's anatomy as well as how it's feeling that particular day. For days where your body is more stiff or for poses your body can't access, blocks can make all the difference in coming into that pose and reaping the benefits fully.

A common example is Extended Side Angle. Many folks don't have the flexibility in the hips or upper leg to place their lower hand on the ground completely. A block can be used on any of its levels to "bring the floor" to you or to "extend" your lower arm, so you're not compromising your body to get support. The problem with not using the block and forcing your hand down is if you don't have that flexibility, your back will stress and your spine will crash downward to reach the ground in a way that's unhealthy for it. In this pose you want your spine to be in one line as much as possible and a block can help you do that.

Extended Side Angle
Extended Side Angle

The same goes for a pose like Triangle. It's another one of those poses where your body is at a sharp angle and you want your spine in line as much as possible. Unless you are extremely flexible in the backs of the legs and hips, it'll be very hard to reach that bottom hand to the mat without damaging your alignment. So use a block here!

Triangle Pose
Triangle Pose

There are plenty of other poses where blocks can help get you aligned and the best way to find out what the healthiest alignment for a pose even means is to ask your yoga teacher or look it up on your own if you practice at home. There's so much knowledge out there about what postures and positioning of different body parts are most safe and you can then observe your own practice to see how blocks might help you achieve those.

Deepening A Pose

Another way blocks are helpful is they can deepen a pose. For example, in Puppy Pose (also known as Melting Heart or Heart to Earth Pose) where you're on all fours and your forehead comes to the ground with your arms extended long in front of you, you can instead bend your elbows and place them on the lowest setting of blocks. You will feel the much bigger opening in your chest and shoulders immediately. Another example is with an Easy Seat, in which you place a block underneath you. This creates a slightly deeper hip opening and can enhance any other movements you take in that seat, such as a side stretch.

Easy Seat with Block Under Seat
Easy Seat with Block Under Seat

You could also use blocks to deepen muscle activation and development in a pose by holding onto the block with straight arms in Chair Pose or while doing sit-ups. The block acts as a light weight that will certainly heat up and strengthen your arm and core muscles!

Support & Stability

The final and probably most well-known function of blocks is to provide support and stability. There is a lot of balancing and holding that happens in yoga and a block can add stability so you can focus more on the pose instead of wobbling or falling that might happen otherwise. Tree Pose is a great example of this. It's a pose that asks you to balance on one leg with the other one bent - many people will fall out of this pose and that's perfectly normal! A way to make the same shape with your body but still practice the balancing aspect is put the ball of the foot of that bent leg on a block. This may mean the hip is not compressing as much, but it's still the same benefits. See the picture below for what I mean.

Tree Pose
Tree Pose

Half Moon also requires a huge amount of balance. Between holding your upper body and lower body, there's a lot going on! A block underneath your lower hand can provide a third point of stability (as well as bring the floor to you!).

Half Moon Pose
Half Moon Pose

These are the four main functions of blocks, but they serve many other purposes! Going along with what I said about learning the healthy alignment for poses you're practicing, I generally recommend taking a look at your practice. Observe where you find yourself struggling with balance, reaching the floor, or perhaps where you might want to deepen your experience. Then consider whether a block could be used to help with any of these things!

Different Types Of Blocks

Believe it or not, there are several options out there for purchasing yoga blocks from size to material. I'll go over three common ones here.

Foam 9"x6"x4" Yoga Blocks

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The dimensions of this block are most likely what you've seen before. It's the perfect height on its highest level for that function of extending your arms for alignment while also being a very stable support for your hands, feet, or seat when turned on either the middle or low level. The foam makes it very lightweight and easy to carry with you or to use in those alternative ways I suggested (such as holding in Chair Pose). This particular block also features a non-slip surface, which is really important when relying on the block for stability!

Foam 9'x6"x3" Yoga Blocks

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Although these blocks are only an inch thinner, that one inch does change how you use it! You wouldn't, for example, want to use it on its highest setting when putting a lot of weight on it because it's so thin and therefore has less surface area. However, the 3" width makes it extremely easy to handle, such as for poses like Low Crescent Lunge where you're not putting your body weight on it, but you're using it for stabilization. When on it's lowest setting, it provides just-enough lift for purposes like Supported Bridge Pose, Easy Seat, and other poses where you want that slight support.

Cork 9"x6"x4" Yoga Blocks

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You'll notice the dimensions of this block are the same as the first one, but the material is cork. The main difference between the cork and foam is the cork is heavier and sturdier and therefore can have weight put on it. It also provides a wonderful grip and is more solid than the foam for a more firm seated meditation amongst other poses.

Whichever block you decide to go with (if not all of them!), I highly recommend buying a pair because you'll love having one for each hand in particular poses. These are affiliate links and I would not recommend products/brands I have not used and loved myself! And it's very possible you've seen other types of blocks before because these are only the tip of the iceberg.

Alternatives To Blocks

If you don't have the space or money for blocks, here are some items you probably already have in your home that can serve the same function:

  • Water Bottle - This would work for that extending-the-arm function, such as in Low Crescent Lunge, Triangle, or even just a Forward Fold where you don't reach to the ground. However, unless you have a thick and sturdy stainless steel bottle, do not put weight on the bottle like you would a block. A bottle could be used for those poses where you just need to lightly stabilize yourself, but not carry your body weight on it.
  • Pillow/Blanket - A thick pillow or rolled up blanket can mimic a block's function as well. This would be for the restorative or yin poses where you are seeking comfort, such as in Bridge Pose by placing a tightly rolled blanket under your sacrum or Butterfly Pose by placing the pillow or blanket under your knees.
  • Book - Like the water bottle, a book can be used as one very specific alternative to a block and it's the opposite to the water bottle. A book can be used laid flat as a slight lift for the likes of Puppy Pose (and placing each elbow on a book) or Easy Seat. I do not suggest using it "standing tall" as for obvious reasons this would not provide suitable support and would just flop open.

These are just some of the ideas for alternatives. Take a look around your home and see what you can get creative with!

This is a lot of information about yoga blocks, so I hope you find it all helpful! I now use blocks in virtually every practice I do, whether vinyasa, yin, restorative, or meditation. They have done wonders for enhancing my experience and I could not recommend them enough. As I've said throughout all of this, the most important thing for you is to think about what you need/want out of your practice and then see how blocks might be able to help you get that. Enjoy and Namaste!

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