Props in Yoga – Yoga Blocks – How to use them and why

Props in yoga, something I think a lot of us have a chequered past with. I think we can all be honest enough to say that when we started our yoga practice props were seen as a sign of weakness or not being able to do something “right”. I know that is definitely the case with me.

In my eyes props are there to enhance and help a pose for your body rather than make your pose look “correct”. If your body requires some assistance or addition in order for the pose to feel right in your body then why wouldn’t use that help? It would be like going back to an old school non wheeled suitcase when you go on holiday, sure it does the job of holding your clothes but wouldn’t you rather have the assistance of the wheels gliding your stuff around and life just to feel a little simpler?

It’s the same when it comes to props in yoga. If you are in a wide legged forward fold and your hips feel stuck coming forward why stay there feeling stuck and annoyed at yourself when you could raise your hips onto a block to help your pelvic tilt? Or if you’re moving towards Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana and can’t quite reach you toes with your leg straight then maybe make your arms a little longer with the use of the strap. Even if you’re living in an open body props can be useful and as in taking Paschimottanasana maybe try making your legs a little longer by popping a block on the end. These are not signs of weakness they are most definitely signs of listening to your body and enhancing what you need to to enhance your practice.

So what are the most common props in yoga and why should we use them?

The most common props we come across as yoga students are:

  • Bricks and Blocks
  • Straps
  • Bolsters
  • Wheels
  • Blankets
  • Eye Pillows

Through this series of posts on the Yogipod journal I am going to explore each of these groups of props and give you some ideas of how and when to use them starting with bricks and blocks.

Bricks and Blocks

Probably the most common prop and the one which most studios and gyms have to hand. Blocks and bricks vary in size and thickness from an inch thick and wide enough to sit on to higher and a little narrower.

These are such a versatile prop and can be used to create extra height in the body, help balance, activate certain muscles or support a more relaxed restorative position.

Some of my favourite ways to use blocks in class are:

  1. Boat (Navasana) – To help to activate the deeper core muscles and pelvic floor. Bend the knees and pop your feet flat on the floor with a block between the thighs, just above the knees. Keeping a squeeze of that block begin to hover the feet away from the floor. Let the feet lift so the knees are at a right angle or maybe even straighten the legs bringing yourself to boat pose. Fingers are reaching towards the toes. Notice whether you feel more deep activation when you squeeze the block compared to when it is not squeezed as much
  2. Restorative Bridge (Setu Bandha Sarvangasana) – Laid on your back bring your heels close to your bottom, so that you may be able to lightly graze the backs of your heels with your fingertips. Make sure you have a block or a brick next to you. Press into the soles of the feet and begin to roll the pelvis up away from the floor. As the pelvis lifts, keep the glutes engaged by squeezing your bum and slide the block under your sacrum. What height you pop the block under is completely up to you but let it lay onto the flat bit between the bottom of your back and top of your bottom. Let the muscles release and the body be supported by the block.
  3. Half Moon (Ardha Chandrasana) – From Extended Side Angle bring a block to the inside of your front foot and let the hand come to rest onto it. Bring the yoga block gradually further forward of the foot until you feel the weight transfer into the front leg, let the back leg hover away from the floor. Opposite hand comes to the opposite hip and use this to guide the hips open. As the body turns towards the side project into both legs and reach the top arm up to the ceiling
  4. Raising the hips in seated – This works for any seated position whether it be a classic easy seated pose, a twist or a fold. If you feel tight into the back or the hips try raising your seat with a yoga block. I find one the flatter wider blocks perfect for this but if you only have one of the more brick shaped blocks then that’ll be fine too.

So those are some tips of the ways blocks can be used but why are they being used?

Yoga blocks are usually used to either help support the body or help it work a little harder, when you next use one see which it seems to be doing. Support comes often when we are sat on them or using them to help balance whereas activation is when we bring a little resistance against the block. By using the blocks in either of these we can challenge the body in a way that otherwise it may not be able to achieve. Blocks and bricks are also a great way to stop your yoga practice becoming stale by adding them into poses we often do such as chair or plank they can add that little bit extra to stop often practiced poses becoming procedural.

My Yoga Block recommendations

  • Who says a block cam’t be pretty? A good size for most uses these Yogi Bare marbled blocks are not just supportive they’re good to look at too
  • Looking for the perfect way to life your hips and sit a little higher, this Yogamatters Block will sort you right out
  • A narrower more brick shaped block, this Yoga Matters cork version is neutral in tone if you’re not quite as colourful

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