Why you absolutely need to use yoga blocks in your practicePosted by Dean Jerrehian on
I was hooked on yoga well before I ever learned what a yoga block was and what it was used for. In the early days of my practice, I had my hands full (metaphorically) trying to learn all the yoga poses. I wanted to look like I knew what I was doing, so I focused on listening to the teacher and watching the other students.
I learned a lot just by watching, but looking back, my practice would have developed much faster if I’d known just how useful yoga blocks are. After over a decade of practicing, I still reach for my blocks in every practice.
What is a yoga block?
A yoga block (or yoga brick) is a dense, rectangular prop that is used to make some aspect of a yoga pose either more accessible or more challenging. Like most yoga props, blocks can be used in a variety of ways. They come in different sizes and a variety of materials. However, the standard dimensions of a yoga block are 9 inches by 6 inches by 4 inches, and most are made of foam or cork. Foam blocks tend to be softer and less expensive. Cork yoga blocks are more sustainable, durable, and offer more stability.
The rectangular shape (with three different measurements) allows you to “adjust” the height of the block to accommodate different needs. As you advance in strength and flexibility, you’ll be able to use the blocks in new ways.
Are yoga blocks necessary?
You can absolutely do an entire yoga practice without blocks. There are times when you might not have access to one, and that doesn’t mean you should skip doing what you can. However, blocks add a new dimension to your practice. Even though you can practice without blocks, you may find that they feel necessary for certain poses.
I like to have a set of blocks close at hand whenever I’m on my yoga mat. You might start your practice with something particular in mind, and find that your body wants a different practice. Personally, I never really know if my ever-tight hamstrings or sensitive knees are planning to cooperate that day. Using yoga blocks give me more options in each pose — whether in my home practice or when teaching class.
So can you do yoga without yoga blocks? It’s possible. But if you want to go deeper in your poses while maintaining (and understanding!) proper alignment, I’d use blocks whenever possible.
Do yoga blocks help beginners?
As I mentioned earlier, I started using props a few months into my yoga practice. In truth, I would have benefited from using them from my very first yoga class. As it was, I didn’t start using them until I began branching away from hot and vinyasa classes. Practices like Pilates and Iyengar yoga taught me the nature and use of props.
I firmly believe that yoga blocks are helpful for everyone. From someone picking up their very first yoga mat to advanced practitioners, blocks can enhance every practice. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that — other than a yoga mat — the first thing you should get is a set of blocks.
When you’re new to yoga, the postures, sequences, strange terms, and even the classroom can feel intimidating. I teach a lot of beginners, and I know from experience that if you feel like a pose — or a class — is too far beyond you, you won’t come back in a hurry.
Blocks help students and yoga teachers break down poses from acrobatic to accessible. By learning to use blocks appropriately, you develop an understanding of how the body moves. You’ll begin to play more on the edge of difficulty in postures, because you’ll have more options of where to go — and more support in getting there.
What am I talking about? Let’s look at a common pose: standing forward fold (uttanasana). Beginners and advanced yogis alike tend to think that this pose is a race to the floor. Without support, there are two settings. Either your fingertips touch the floor, and whether you’re comfortable, properly aligned, or gnashing your teeth, you keep them there. Or, you hang over your legs, rounding your back in an effort to release the wall of cement that was the back of your legs.
There’s another way.
A yoga block brings the floor closer to you, and you can set it to different heights depending on how much space you need to create. With another point of contact to the floor, you can shift your attention away from the race to the floor. Have you ever, for example, noticed what your upper body is doing in forward fold? What’s up with your shoulders? Do they have to be so close to your ears? When you’re not rushing to reach the floor, can you tilt your pelvis forward and send some reassurance to your legs? Can you remember to breathe?
That’s not all a yoga block can do. Once you’ve worked through to the lowest setting on your block and your hands are flat on the floor, you can use the block to make the pose more challenging. Try standing on top of it to take the floor further away from you.
Poses to modify with blocks
In general, yoga blocks do one of four things:
- They make challenging poses more accessible by creating more space
- They make “easier” poses more challenging by creating resistance
- They support the body, allowing you to relax more deeply into a pose
- They can be used to stimulate the stretch reflex for myofascial release work
Here are some poses you might find them helpful in — but remember, you can use yoga blocks for any and everything. Remember that they should be helping you find asana (a seat) in a pose. Back away from anything that feels painful — blocks or no blocks.
1. Creating length
As mentioned before, if your hands, feet, hips, or anything else are further away from the floor than you’d like, you can use blocks to close the gap. Some examples include:
- Standing forward fold (uttanasana)
- Paschimottanasana (wide legged forward fold)
- Triangle pose (trikonasana)
- Extended side angle (utthita parsvakonasana)
2. Seated postures
Blocks are commonly used in seated postures to relieve pressure on the joints and create more physical space in small poses. You can try sitting on the block, or supporting the hands and elbows.
- Seated twist (ardha matsyendrasana)
- Cow face pose (gomukhasana)
- Lotus/half lotus (padmasana/ardha padmasana)
- Reclined hero pose (supta virasana)
3. Restorative yoga
One of my favorite ways to use yoga blocks is to support restorative poses. Laying across a block (with or without movement) can stimulate the stretch response. You can also use them under the shoulder blades, sacrum, or thighs to hold your body weight — letting the rest of you relax.
- Supported reclined bound angle pose (supta baddhakonasana)
- Supported fish pose (matsyasana)
- Supported bridge (setu bandha sarvangasana)
- Supported reclined spinal twist (supta matsyendrasana)
Whether you’re shopping for your first yoga mat or years into your yoga journey, the best gift you can give yourself is a durable set of yoga blocks. You’ll find them to be one of the most useful and versatile tools in your yoga practice.
Bio - Allaya is a yoga & mindfulness teacher, writer, mama, and founder of Yoga with Allaya living in New York City. Allaya has been published on a variety of parenting, lifestyle, and health platforms. She holds a bachelor's in Psychology and is a certified Integrative Wellness & Life Coach.