Yoga blocks: love 'em? Or leave 'em?
I remember when I first started practicing yoga, upon stepping into the studio I would proudly set up a yoga mat next to my water bottle and smile with pride because that was all I required — no strap, no blankets, blocks or other props to clutter my practice space.
The thought of using a yoga block in my eyes screamed, "Yoga newbie in the room!"
Oh, ego. You show up in sneaky, sneaky ways.
Fast-forward eight years, and I am now more proud than ever to say I love using yoga blocks to help deepen and strengthen my practice.
So why the change in heart?
Once I was ready and able to let go of the ego-based "How does this make me look?" mentality, I was able to shift into the "How does this feel in my body" approach. The assist of the block helps my body to be in a more effective shape of the posture on most given days.
Here are my five favorite poses to use a yoga block. Please note that modifications and options for using blocks in your practice will vary for each practitioner.
Bridge Pose (Setu Bandha Sarvangasana)
How: Place a block lengthwise between the feet and press down evenly through the soles of your feet and lift the hips. Lengthen your tailbone to the backs of the knees and your heart toward your chin.
Breathe deeply for 5 inhales and exhales, lower down and repeat twice more.
Why: Using a block in this pose helps to keep the feet or the legs from splaying out too wide when you press up from the ground. If your legs move out too far to the side, it can place extra stress in the sacral area below the navel, as well as torque the knees.
Wheel Pose (Urdhva Dhanurasana)
How: Place a block on its middle height between your thighs (a few inches above the knees usually does the trick), and ground the soles of your feet. Position your hands by the ears with fingertips facing in toward your shoulders. With your elbows stacked over the wrists, press down through the feet, lifting the hips coming up to the crown of your head.
Pause, then check that the elbows are over the wrists as you hug your shoulder blades in toward your ribs. If there is room to go further, using your next inhale, lift up to a full Wheel Pose.
Hold for 5 breaths, lower down, and repeat 1-2 more times.
Why: Similar to Bridge Pose, placing a block between the thighs prevents the legs from splaying out wide as you lift up into the pose.
This also encourages you to use your inner thighs for strength, sacral stability, and for lifting in to your backbend, rather than trying to access the pose by only using your arms.
Revolved Triangle (Parivrtta Trikonasana)
How: Beginning with Warrior I (Virabhadrasana I) on the right side, lengthen the front leg and step the back foot in a few inches.
Place your right hand at your hip, extending left arm overhead. Hinge from the hips until your torso is parallel with the ground. Without losing the length of your waist, lower left hand to the outside of your right foot on top of the block (you can play around with the height of the block here, depending on your range of motion).
Scissor the inner thighs together, rooting down through the big toe mounds. Inhale and lengthen through the crown of the head, exhaling to twist from the core and torso.
Hold for 5-10 breaths.
Why: Using a block in this pose adds that little extra height underneath the lowered hand that creates the "hypotenuse" of the triangular shape we're gearing toward. The triangle shape of the lowered arm, with the front leg and torso extended creates greater stability, structure and opening.
Revolved Half Moon (Parivrtta Ardha Chandrasana)
How: A very similar setup to Revolved Triangle (Parivrtta Trikonoasa, see above), except your left hand in placed under your left shoulder, keeping your right leg extended behind you. Press through the big toe mound (demi-point) of your right leg and lengthen through the crown of your head. Inhale, lengthening through the crown of the head, exhale, twisting from the core and torso. Hold for 5-10 breaths.
Why: Whether your arms are long or short, this posture is hard to hold! It's a sweet, deep wringing out of the abdomen, and lungs, with lots of internal juiciness!
The block allows for added length, not only in the arms, but also to keep the natural length in your lower back.
How: From Downward Dog, place a block on its middle height between your thighs. Inhale, shift forward into a high plank position and then forward onto your tiptoes as the heart expands forward.
Hugging the elbows in toward the ribs, lower into a low pushup position. Keep squeezing the block and lengthening tailbone to the heels. Inhale, press back up to plank, and exhale back to Downward Dog.
Repeat 3-5 times to build strength. *Note: you can lower to your knees when transitioning from high to low plank for a modified variation.
Why: I like bananas, but I prefer them in my smoothies. Using a block helps to develop the strength and body awareness to take the "banana back" out of your Chaturanga.
It's a gentle reminder to use the legs in a transition so we can arm muscle our way through Chaturanga without dropping our hips. Remember, your high to low plank activates your chest, core, legs, back and arms! Phew, no wonder it's so hard to do!