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Think yoga blocks are just for beginners? Think again. Yoga blocks allow you to practice integrity of form in yoga postures, ensuring you get the most out of your yoga practice. They assure proper alignment that allows for proper muscle memory to be built (which decreases chance of injury), and most importantly, open channels for the breath – or prana – to flow freely.
Are yoga blocks necessary? Yes, yoga blocks are absolutely necessary. Yoga blocks make poses more accessible to you by providing length, support, and ensuring proper alignment. They also help yogis looking to advance their practice by acting as a tool for strength building and balance in more advanced postures.
Yoga blocks help beginners go “lighter,” but also help advanced practitioners enter, and advance into, postures that would otherwise be inaccessible. When your body is attempting to enter a pose that’s (currently) past its limits, your muscles tense up (in the wrong ways – not in the muscle-building ways), actually keeping you from going deeper into the pose.
What are yoga blocks good for?
A lot of people don’t realize just how important yoga blocks actually are, and therefore completely disregard them in their practice. Whether you are a beginner or a long-time yogi, yoga blocks are a great tool to use and can benefit your practice greatly. Here’s how:
1. Releasing Tight Hips in Seated Postures
If you’re in a seated position and your knees rise above your hip line, your hips are screaming for a block! Sitting on a block in the following poses will provide space in your hips to sit comfortably, so that you’re not stressing your joints or your psoas:
- Half Lotus
- Easy Pose
2. Bringing the Floor to You
Can’t reach the floor? Use a block to bring the floor to you.
- In standing forward fold positions, if your hands don’t reach the mat, place a block under them, in poses such as:
- Standing Forward Fold
- Standing Split
- Warrior III (if you cannot balance with hands off the mat)
- Upward Forward Fold
- In standing forward fold positions where the crown of your head is reaching toward the mat, place a block underneath the crown of your head to allow the head to rest atop the block – not only will this completely alleviate tension in your neck, it will also allow you relax deeper into the pose. Try a block under your head in these:
- Humble Warrior
- Wide-Legged Forward Fold
- In lateral fold (side bend) positions, place a block under your “floor” hand to ensure you’re not “crunching” the side body:
- Side Angle
- Revolved Side Angle (intermediate to advanced)
- Revolved Triangle (intermediate to advanced)
- Half Moon
- Revolved Half Moon (intermediate to advanced)
- In seated forward folds you want your nose to touch the mat – not your forehead or the crown of your head, as is popular consensus! This ensures that your spine is lengthened and there’s no tension in the neck. To achieved this, reach for your blocks in:
- Seated Forward Fold
- Wide Angle Seated Forward Fold (aka Straddle): this is a super deep one, don’t be afraid to use 2, 3, even 4 blocks! To ensure you’re folding forward with a lengthened back, place a block underneath your sternum/chest in addition to underneath your forehead.
- In lunging positions, use blocks on either side of you to bring your hands to the floor without “sinking” into the hips and/or losing the integrity of an upward lifting chest and spin:
- Twisted Lunge
- Crescent Lunge, back knee on the floor
- Split Preparation
- Full Split
3. Maintaining Proper Alignment of Your Knees
Knees are one of the easiest joints to injure, partly due to incorrect placement but also due to weak muscles responsible for protecting your knee joints. And when you’re not in the correct placement, you’re not training the correct muscles… vicious cycle! But good news – blocks remedy both of these issues in postures such as:
- In Camel: More often than not, your knees shift wider apart than necessary in Camel – which not only places stress on the knees, but also the lower back. Your knees should be no wider than hips’-distance apart, so placing a block between both your ankles (behind you, likely in the “flat” position – its widest) and your thighs (in its thinnest position) and visualizing activating the muscles to hold the blocks in place will strengthen the muscles responsible for protecting your knees while ensuring you maintain alignment.
- In Chair & Twisting Chair: Placing a block between the thighs/knees engages the muscles and ensures the joints stay in one plane – especially in twisting chair. One of the most common mistakes in Twisting Chair is that one knee likes to “slide” further forward than the other – not good!
- In Bridge: placing a block between the thighs/knees in bridge pose and visualizing pressing into the block while lifting the chest and hips upward allows you to get the most out of Bridge Pose.
4. Maintaining Proper Alignment of Your Arms and Shoulders
Blocks can be used in any position where your arms should be shoulders-width apart to ensure that they truly are the proper width apart, and to bring awareness to muscle engagement in the upper body. One block is placed (longways) between the palms as the palms press into the smallest sides of the block to engage the triceps and biceps without tensing the shoulders. Try this out in:
- Warrior 1
- Side Angle (intermediate to advanced)
- Tree Pose with arms lifted
Do not allow the pressing of your palms into the block to cause your shoulder blades to rise up to your ears – visualize your shoulder blades gliding down your back, making your neck long; the block is solely to get your placement and arm activation, not to tense your upper back and neck.
5. Eliminating Fear in Crow Pose
“Time to practice crow!” – does that expression immediately instill fear in your heart chakra? Honestly, half (or more) of the difficulty of getting into crow pose is the fear that’s holding you back – and blocks can help. Placing a block directly on the ground in front of your forehead (or a pillow) immediately alleviates the “OMG I’m gonna smash my face” fear.
Additionally, you can simply lean all the way forward, rest your forehead on the block, and then lift your feet up to enter crow – similarly, you can place your feet on a block behind you to give you a little boost into crow, and play with simply lifting one foot of the block, then the other, until you feel comfortable bringing them both off of the block.
6. Relaxing Into Poses
Blocks are the kings and queens of restorative yoga; they’re used to let your body truly melt into relaxation:
- Supported Fish: one block will be at your bra line, the other underneath your head, allowing your heart and shoulders to soothingly open
- Supported Bridge: a block is placed directly under the pelvis to surrender sweetly into the pose
- Supported Bound Angle: blocks are placed under the knees (between the knee and the floor) to support the hip opener
- Neck Release: not exactly a yoga pose but rather a myofascial release technique, you rest the back of your head on the block at its medium or tallest height, and gently roll the neck left to right so that the edge of the block to dissolve tension in the muscles in the back of the neck.
7. Help Moving Into Advanced Postures
Think of it this way: you don’t run straight from crawling; you crawl, then stand, then walk. Yoga blocks provide that stand-and-walk before you run, so that you don’t stress your body (or worse, throw or tweak something out) attempting to go straight from a “crawling” posture to a “running” one:
- Jump-through support
- Dolphin support for proper shoulder alignment and shoulder girdle engagement
- Forearm Stand support for proper shoulder alignment and shoulder girdle engagement
- Support entering Grasshopper
- Support entering Full Split
- Support to work into Sleeping Tortoise (that pretzel position where your ankles reach behind your head)
Ok, I’m sold – I need yoga blocks. How many yoga blocks should I get?
We recommend 2 yoga blocks (or more), considering you have 2 sides of your body to work evenly. Also, many restorative poses utilize two blocks to support multiple areas of your body to allow full relaxation in the pose.
What one yoga block can be used for:
- Length support in one sided poses such as Triangle, Extended Side Angle, and Half Moon
- Comfort support in poses such as Hero, Fish, and Pigeon
- Balance and alignment support in poses such as Crow and Boat
You need two yoga blocks for:
- Length support in two sided poses such as Full Split, Downward Facing Dog, and Camel
- Strength building exercises such as L Sit and Chaturanga
- Comfort support in two sides poses such as Reclined Bound Angle
- For extra support in restorative postures such as Bridge and Fish chest openers
- If you are extra tight on one side and need extra length
If you were to ask me, I’m definitely going to say you should go ahead and get a set of two blocks. The benefits of having two just seem like a no-brainer and it is really not that much more expensive- and you will have them for years to come to assist you in an endless amount of ways to advance your yoga practice!
What size yoga blocks should I use?
Smaller blocks aren’t for more advanced yogis; nor are larger blocks for beginners. Block sizes go by what fits your body best. The standard yoga block size of 4” x 6” x 9” will do the trick for most exercises, but if you are doing a lot of work with the blocks between your thighs and you have a smaller body frame, you should consider purchasing (just 1 is enough) a thinner block at 3” x 6” x 9”.
What type of yoga block should I get?
The 3 most common types of yoga blocks are:
- Wood: Heavy and not quite comfortable, these are best used solely for help in balancing
- Foam: Lightweight and affordable, but sometimes are too lightweight, becoming flimsy under bodyweight. It’s best to look for harder foams so ensure body weight support.
- Cork: Think of cork like a midway between wood and foam; they’re still pretty heavy like blocks, able to support an endless amount of body weight – but as a result are sometimes uncomfortable in restorative postures. Cork does not get slippery when wet (something to think about if you sweat a lot or practice in a heated yoga studio).
To check out our recommendations and the yoga blocks we personally use, check out our Yoga Block Buyer’s Guide.
Can I use household items as yoga blocks?
Yoga blocks are ideal, but if it’s not in the budget, some household items can help achieve similar results:
- For hip support, use a thick, folded towel or a dense pillow or cushion
- For balancing and/or “bringing the floor to you,” use a thick, sturdy book (like a textbook).
Yoga Block Related Articles
- 12 Different Ways to Use Yoga Blocks
- A Quick 10 Minute Flexibility Yoga Routine for Beginners
- 10 Yoga Safety Tips All Beginners Should Practice
Previously a dancer, Ashley has been practicing yoga for over 15 years and teaching for 5.
She balances an executive-level “corporate” position during the day with healthy, mindful wellness practices in her free time to stay grounded; she lives on celery juice and cold brew, and can’t live without her dark chocolate!