Yoga props first came into use in the 1960s, when yoga guru B.K.S. Iyengar noted that the reason all yoga practitioners couldn't accomplish the same poses was due not only to poor training but to physical limitations. The yoga block was one of many props born out of the Iyengar tradition and is used to teach proper alignment to beginning students and advanced yoga practitioners alike. This article examines the dimensions of the blocks, as well as some of the ways they can be used during a typical yoga practice.
Yoga Blocks--Sizes, Shapes and Materials
Yoga blocks are made of either extremely firm foam or cork. The dimensions of smaller yoga blocks are 3" x 6" x 9" and the dimensions of larger blocks are 4" x 6" x 9". Many yoga poses require the use of two yoga blocks, while others require only one. When using the yoga block to assist in a pose, the "stable" side of the block is placed against the floor, giving practitioners an added height of either 3" or 4" when doing standing poses such as downward-facing dog, or arm balances such as scale pose, described below.
Yoga Blocks & Mountain Pose
Mountain pose, or Tadasana, is the first standing yoga pose taught to beginners. On first glance, it may seem as though the yoga practitioner is simply standing in place, exerting no particular effort. However, this pose is a challenge, as part of establishing a proper mountain pose is firming the thigh muscles. One yoga block can be placed between the thighs, width-wise (3"or 4"), so that the length of the block is perpendicular to the floor. The thighs should merely "grasp" the block, neither squeezing too tightly nor allowing the block to fall to the floor. This simple exercise using a yoga block can help perfect even the most remedial pose and give beginning students the opportunity to experience the sensation of firmer thighs.
Yoga Blocks & Downward-Facing Dog
Another beginning pose is downward-facing dog, or Adho Mukha Svanasana. Advanced yoga practitioners can easily perform this pose with straight knees; however, beginners often find that once they put their palms on the floor, their knees lack flexibility. One way to allow new yoga students to perform downward-facing dog is to use yoga blocks under the hands to give the beginning practitioner more arm length, thus allowing for straighter legs. When using yoga blocks to perform this position, it's important to never place the narrow ridge of the block on the floor, as this can lead to instability (the sides of most yoga blocks are beveled) and then wrist injury.
Sun Salutations Using a Yoga Block
Once beginners get a feel for how the yoga block is used to create just the right amount of tension between the thighs, it can be incorporated into a series of yoga moves that comprise a sun salutation. A typical sun salutation starts in downward-facing dog; the practitioner's legs spring back so that she is in four-limbed staff pose (Chaturanga Dandasana), which is followed by upward-facing dog (Urdhva Mukha Svanasana). To make yoga more challenging and ensure that firm thigh muscles are maintained, many yoga instructors will have students keep the block between their thighs during this entire sequence.
When first learning and performing arm balances, the importance of the yoga block cannot be overemphasized. Even the most dedicated yoga practitioner may still find the need to use yoga blocks when performing scale pose, or Tolasana. This pose begins in a seated position with the legs in lotus position, the arms at the side of the body, palms on the floor. The goal is to raise the lower body off the floor; however, practitioners who lack adequate arm length require the use of the yoga block under each palm to give them more clearance when raising the lower body from the floor.
Yoga Blocks for Inversions
It may not seem as if a yoga block could be used when performing inversions such as handstands and headstands and other advanced poses. However, inversions that rely on putting all the body's weight on the forearms practically demand the use of a yoga block to ensure proper alignment when the pose is first being learned. Feathered peacock pose, or Pincha Mayurasana, begins by placing the forearms on the floor,a shoulder width apart, palms down. Placing a yoga block between the hands so that the thumbs and fingers form an "L" shape around the block permits proper distribution of the body weight after the legs are kicked up against the wall. Simply using the dimensions of the block as a point of reference can enable the yoga practitioner to ascertain if her elbows are turned too far inward, or if they jut too far outward. Yoga blocks are also helpful as a yoga student parlays peacock pose into scorpion pose (Vrschikasana), in which the knees are bent to that the toes touch the top of the head.