Have you tried using yoga props like blocks, belts or bolsters for your yoga practice? Props are usually associated with styles like Iyengar, Restorative or Yin Yoga, but they can be used by everyone to improve asana alignment and balance, deepen stretches or relaxation, irrespective of which style of yoga you practice.
Blocks are amazing props that help us build strength, understand the alignment and get deeper into the postures. If you have been struggling with problems like lifting your own body weight in arm balances, relaxing the head in forward bends, sitting on the floor for too long, wobbling in standing asanas, etc., then blocks can be your best friends.
Even advanced practitioners find blocks useful to explore the asana anatomy or use them for deep relaxation. It is best to invest in a pair instead of one block because it adds to the number of ways you can use them.
Blocks are available in foam, wood and cork and we recommend use of cork blocks because they are lightweight yet provide great stability and are highly durable. Also, no trees are cut to make them and they are 100% natural. The following are a few suggestions on how blocks can help you improve and enjoy your yoga practice a little more!
Helps you improve alignment
Problems like knee caving-in in bridge pose or squats, difficulty in keeping the knee aligned with the ankle in standing poses, or difficulty in keeping the spine straight, etc., are all alignment related problems. If we take the hip abductor muscles which are responsible for lifting your thigh out to the side, using the block will help engage the muscles properly, which in turn helps align the hip, knees and spine and also keep them strong.
A good example is holding the blocks between your thighs in a bridge pose, boat pose or in utkatasana practiced with wall support. The block supports the abductors and helps you achieve proper spine alignment and at the same time it helps strengthen the thigh muscles and avoids the knee from splaying. Understanding the movement of muscles that bring your legs towards the midline of your body, is crucial for people with joint issues or muscle imbalances.
Helps understand internal and external rotation
Do you feel lost when your yoga teacher speaks about rotating your thigh muscles internally or asks you to rotate shoulders externally? Well, all they are trying to do is increase your awareness on muscle movement, especially in hands, legs, hips and shoulders, so you can achieve proper alignment and avoid injuries.
For example, let us take the common downward dog posture in which your arm bones are plugged into your shoulder allowing the shoulder blades to draw down the back. This is achieved by externally rotating your arms and pressing firmly through the base of the little finger and thumb.
You can experience this by holding a block in your hands as you lift the arms overhead. Press firmly into the block and notice your biceps move closer to the ears and towards the back and your triceps should feel like they are moving towards the front. This helps you broaden the shoulders and create more space around the shoulder and neck. Rotating the arms inward builds up tension around the upper-back, even in poses like Warrior 1. Thus blocks can really help understand the difference in external and internal rotation and practice the asana with more awareness.
You can also try and understand the muscle movement in a standing posture. Place the blocks between your thighs and press firmly into the block and move it towards the back. This is internal rotation of your thigh muscles. When you press and move the block forward, such that your shin muscles move in, this is external rotation of your thigh muscles. You can extend the technique to postures like Trikonasana where a strong external rotation of the front thigh prevents hyperextension of knees.
Brings the floor to you
The struggle of trying to bring the hands to the floor in standing asanas can be overcome only with practice, one step at a time. So make-up for the distance by using the blocks vertically or horizontally, and avoid the wiggle wobble.
It is very helpful in finding your balance in asanas like triangle pose, twisted triangle pose, extended side angle pose, or even poses like warrior 3 where you can rest both your hands on the blocks (in front) and find stability. This also helps avoid straining hamstrings or curving of the spine and of course helps you ground your feet firmly into the ground and lengthen the spine. Likewise you can use the blocks in camel pose by placing them under your feet. This allows you to push the hip forward.
Helps you stay in the posture for long
Holding yoga poses for long helps build strength, stamina, flexibility and also helps achieve therapeutic benefits of the asana. A block can give you the stability and support required to hold the posture, stay calm and breathe.
Styles like restorative yoga recommend the use of props because it helps you get all the benefits of the asana without really exerting yourself. You are able to hold the posture for long comfortably. For example, placing the block underneath your sacrum in an inversion like viparita karani asana can help you hold the posture for extended period of time and unwind.
Similarly, you can unwind in a bridge pose with the block underneath your sacrum. It helps stretch the lower back muscles.
Allows you to deepen the stretch
Placing your hands on the blocks give you support and allows you to get deeper into the pose. As a beginner, you can place the blocks between your feet in baddha konasana. Pressing your feet firmly into the block will encourage the opening of your hips, inner thighs and groins.
You can ease lower back pain in an asymmetrical standing forward fold by placing the block (at its lowest height) under one foot.
You can also use it as a chest opener in a reclined hero pose variation by placing the block under the upper back, between your shoulder blades. It not only gives you a deep stretch but also encourages deep breathing and relaxation.
Using blocks in standing twists like revolved triangle, irrespective of whether you have tight hamstring or not, creates a stronger lift through your side waist and allows you to revolve and lengthen a little bit more.
Super comfortable to sit on
Sitting cross-legged or simply sitting down on the floor becomes very challenging if you have tight hamstrings. The knees are usually up in the air and the spine tends to hunch. This is a common problem with beginners. However, you can overcome this by sitting on a yoga block. You can also sit on a block in child’s pose or hero pose and maintain a straight spine.
In seated forward bends like paschimotthanasana, sitting on a blocks allows the pelvis to achieve an anterior tilt and free up tension in the lower back, which is usually the cause for a hunched upper back.
Provides support in deep relaxation
In standing forward bends, you can place the block under your head as it provides support and calms the nervous system. This helps stay in the posture for long and relax. In seated forward bends, the blocks can be placed on your legs and you can rest your head on the block.
Lets you have some fun with arm balances
For arm balances you need a strong core, strong arms and flexibility. It takes time to build a strong core but you can certainly lift yourself off the mat with the help of a block and learn how to engage and re-engage your core in arm balances.
If you want to learn how to swing forward back from a downward dog, getting comfortable with lolasana will really help. Placing your hands on the blocks gives you the height and space to lift your body and also allows you to swing forward and back with ease. With practice, you can learn to hold the position without blocks.
Helps you explore yoga postures
Blocks are useful for beginners as well as advanced yogis as it helps you explore various asana variations. You can lift a little more in a downward dog by placing your hands on the block, you can explore a camel pose by placing the blocks in between your thighs or by placing the blocks under your feet.
Try a crescent lunge variation by placing the front foot on a block and allowing a deep stretch on the back leg. Or explore a full wheel pose by placing the blocks under your hands and feet! Have you tried completing Ashtanga Surya Namaskar (A) cycle with a block placed between your thighs, right above the knees? Which other asana have you tried with blocks? Share your tips as comments below.