Welcome to our ‘How to Yoga’ prop series! In this series of posts, we’ll be going through some of the different types of props you might be able to use in your yoga practice, and ways to use them. This isn’t by any means a definitive guide, because your prop use is only limited by your imagination! Everyone will find different things helpful for their practice, so take these ideas as inspiration to get creative in your own body.
And remember, under no circumstances does using props make your yoga ‘less’ than a yoga practice without props. They’re not aides or training wheels, they’re tools for you to explore. People at every stage of their yoga journey can use props to help support or extend their practice, and everyone deserves to do yoga that feels comfortable in their body.
In this first post, we’ll be talking about one of the most commonly used props: the block.
Yoga blocks tend to be a standard sized rectangle, usually measuring about 7.5 x 15 x 23cms. You can find them in an endless range of materials, colours, and textures, from foam, to cork, to fabric.
One of my favourite things about a block is that essentially has 3 ‘settings’: the lowest height when the block is laid flat, the medium height when the block is on the long side, and the highest height when the block is stood up on its short side. This means that you have three times as many possibilities! It makes them suitable for a wide range of poses, and it allows for adaption on days where you may feel like you need more or less support.
Blocks are generally inexpensive, and fairly widely available. But if you don’t have a block, never fear! You don’t actually need to spend any money at all to get the same benefits of using a block. There are plenty of household alternatives, like:
A stack of books
Pots (garden or kitchen)
Use your imagination!
So now that you’ve found some blocks or block-like objects, how are they supposed to help you do yoga? Let’s look at 5 ways you can put these bad boys to good use.
1. Bring the floor closer to you
One of the best uses for a block is as an extension of your arms. There are plenty of poses where bringing your hand or hands to the ground might not be possible or might not feel right in your body. Especially in poses where your leg is between your body and the floor, like in lunges, folds, and extended warriors.
Rather than straining to put your hands on the floor, or hanging your body without any support, putting your hand on the block gives you the stability of the floor, but at a better height for you.
Once you’re supported, you have so much more room to explore the expression of the pose. You might be able to lengthen your spine, lift your chest, or open your hips a little more, and you can usually stay in the pose comfortably and safely for a longer period of time.
2. Grounding and activating
Grounding basically means that we’re bringing our attention to the physical sensations that we can feel in the present moment. This is a really important part of yoga and mindfulness practice, and sometimes we can use props to help us with that.
One of my favourite ways to do that is by placing a block between your knees or feet. You could either tie it on with a strap, or lightly squeeze to hold it there. The pressure gives a firm sensory feedback point to focus on. The stability of the block can be a great point to anchor attention on, particularly if you’re having stressed or anxious thoughts.
It can also be a great tool to build body awareness and activate those muscles. For example, in mountain pose, either standing or seated in a chair, the block at the feet or knees activates the leg muscles and makes the rest of your body active in the position. Body awareness is a skill that can be developed but it takes time and practice. A block or firm object can be a really helpful tool to work on both activation and awareness.
3. Lifting hips
Sitting is a pretty core part of yoga, especially if you’ve ever been in one of my classes! But sitting can actually be pretty harsh on some bodies. Tight hips, knee issues, and back pain can all make sitting poses really challenging, and without the proper support, could put you at a higher risk of injuring yourself. If you notice that sitting cross-legged gives you pain, causes your knees to lift up, or curves your spine, you might benefit from sitting on something to lift your hips. If you look at the photos below, you can see the (exaggerated) difference between sitting on the floor and sitting on a block.
Using a block or two (or more) to sit on can really be a game-changer when it comes to any sort of seated pose. Lifting the hips up give you so much more space for your knees and hips to open, and for your spine to lengthen. Play around with the height and width of the blocks until you find an option that helps you feel more open.
You can sit on blocks in positions like a simple crossed leg sit, forward folds, seated twists, and any other position where you find yourself needing some extra room for your legs.
4. Balancing poses
Balance sometimes gets a bad rap in yoga for being too difficult or intimidating, but it doesn’t have to be! Balancing poses are a fantastic way to strengthen your smaller stabilising muscles and can be quite meditative when you’re focusing really hard on not falling. And balance doesn’t have to mean a free-standing balance with no support, most poses that require balance can be supported by props.
And no, this isn’t cheating! If using a block to support you means that you can really focus on the alignment of the pose, allow you to stay longer, and build your confidence, it’s adding to your practice, not taking away. As you build your practice, you might find that you can get those benefits without the prop, and that’s great too! Both practices are equally valid, and you might find that your body needs different supports from day to day.
There are heaps of ways to support your balance poses. It might mean resting your toes or fingers on a block, using it to help support your weight, or just having it on standby to help with the wobbles.
5. Restorative support
One of my favourite uses for props is restorative practice. This means that we hold the poses for a really long time, and the aim is to be in a pose that is comfortable and restful, to allow your mind space to meditate. Props mean that we can hold ourselves in positions that would usually take too much strength or energy to relax in.
Three of my personal go-tos are in the pictures below: reclined butterfly, bridge, and fish. In any restorative position, you should still be listening to your body, and only staying as long as it still feels comfortable. You can start with holding for a minute or less, and then build your way up to 3-5 minutes if it feels alright, and poses like reclining butterfly you could stay in for as long as 15 minutes if you wanted to!
What's your favourite way to use a block? Let me know in the comments!