I’m always amazed by how many people think yoga blocks are for beginners. In many of the conversations I have with students, they think that the blocks have something to do with ability. Or, in other cases, they just don’t understand why it would make sense to use one. I typically suggest at the beginning of class that students have a block or even better two, but I also add several cues that include the use of a block.
Many students need to know when to use a block and how. For most students, they’ll grab one and it’ll sit, sometimes towards the back of the mat, for the entire class. Blocks are great to integrate with your practice and as such, it’s best to put them up towards the front of the mat, on the side, so you can grab it quickly and blend it right into the practice. So, why would you want to use a block?
Blocks can help you create steadiness where there is none.
Think of the block as another way to create a really good foundation. Consider the foundation of the pose to be whatever is at the floor, helping you create a solid base from which to build your posture. It doesn’t matter if you’re in a standing pose or one on the floor but in most cases, we’re talking about standing postures. Blocks can help you create a more solid base so you’re able to experience the benefits of the posture. Think about it; if you’re doing some sort of twisting pose, and you’re finding that your balance is challenged and you’re wobbling around, if you were to use a block and could create more steadiness in the pose, would your experience of the posture change? I’d say most likely yes, and for the better.
Blocks can help you create length when the muscles you’re trying to lengthen might be shortened from overuse.
Think about a pose like Twisting Triangle. One of the aspects of the pose is that it opens the front line of the body so muscles like the pectoralis minor, major and subscapularis, all internal rotators of the shoulder, are lengthened. Now, depending on how shortened your pecs are from hunching, weight lifting, running or anything else, you might hunch in this pose too. And, because so many students drop their lower hand way down their front leg, due to their shortened chest muscles, they will fall forward as well. Using a block behind the front leg literally lifts the person up higher and gives those shortened muscles the extra length they need by sort of making the arm on the block appear longer.
Blocks can create leverage for twisting poses.
I like to say, “Once you create foundation, you can create rotation.” This refers to the use of a block in something like Crescent Lunge Twist, Prayer Twist or Twisting Triangle. I never quite understand why, despite cues, people choose to let their lower hand just flap out there, with no support, leaving them to leverage their shoulder for the twist (not so great for the muscles of the shoulder, mind you). But again, as a teacher, we’re not there to force anyone to do anything, so all you can do is make the suggestion. With a block at the inside of the rooted arm, you stack the joints of your arm, the block gives you a little lift (see above issue applying here too) and you have a steady foundation. Once that’s in place, you can create the rotation from your thoracic spine instead of having to force it to happen from your shoulder (as above) or worse, your neck.
Blocks can be used to support the head.
Ever go into Pigeon pose and just let your head flop down? In that position, you’re basically re-creating that all-too-familiar position of hunching over your phone. I’m convinced that’s why most people don’t notice it. It feel familiar. It’s where their head and neck are all day. Well, at the end of yoga class in that final pose (if Pigeon is the final pose), think about using a block to support your head. You won’t have to work to hold your head up, the extensors muscles of the cervical spine won’t be working hard and your cervical flexors won’t be passively lengthening.
A few other thoughts: Some studios have foam blocks and some have cork. With the foam blocks, the harder you lean into the block, the more it will collapse. Regardless of the block’s composition, it should be used to push off of and shouldn’t be use to lean into. Think about it; if I use a block in Twisting Triangle and I’m just relaxing into gravity and falling towards the block, leaning into it, that’s a passive action and the block will start to “smush” under the weight of my arm. But, if I’m using the block to push off of, using it to increase my leverage, and I am also using other parts of my body (rooting into the floor, using my core, etc) then the block won’t collapse but will provide me with support.
For teachers, think about integrating the use of a block with your cues. So, you might say, “Coming into the twist, place the block under your right hand…..” In that way, you just include the block in the pose’s instructions so people are clear about when and how to use it.
I go into these concepts a lot more, plus many others in my most recent book, “Structure and Spirit: Moving Smarter Both On and Off the Mat.” You can read reviews and purchase the book on Amazon.
If you like to learn anatomy, I have a class on Vimeo that includes a breakdown of the anatomy as you practice. This is much more in the way of anatomical cueing than you would get in a regular class. You can get the class for only $10 here.
I have a Facebook group called The Bare Bones Yoga Anatomy Workgroup. If you’d like to join, just send me an invite.
Thanks for reading!