Aisling Conn, who teaches in The Yoga Room and My Yoga Body, talked us through the benefits of props in your yoga practice. She also talked us through the versatile uses of the simple yoga bricks and yoga belts, which gave us lots of poses to try in your next class or home practice. This time she’ll be examining ways blocks can lift and support us in seated, standing and inverted poses.
AISLING’S GUIDE TO YOGA BLOCKS
A yoga block is a fantastic support in your asana and pranayama practice. They are safely stackable to provide any required sitting height, and just squishy enough to be a comfortable surface for knees, shoulders, sit-bones, etc.
Here are just a few of the ways I use them in both my personal and teaching practices.
In seated poses, like Sukhasana, where we might spend a few moments on breath awareness or meditation before a class, using support is essential, even for the most seasoned practitioners. A block, or stack of blocks, allows the hips to be higher than the knees, and the spine to be neutral. This means less tension around the hips, and a more comfortable sit. We then get to focus our attention on the breath. It’s much easier to pay attention to something as evasive as the breath, when you’re not fixated on an aching upper back or pressure in the knees!
In any of the seated forward bends which use the general blueprint of Dandasana, having a foam block wedged just under the bony base of the pelvis (sit-bones), helps to create a much better angle for your spine to fold forward from. The hamstrings tendons attach to the sit-bones. When they are strong or tight they tend to pull the pelvis back (posterior tilt), this puts a strain on the lumbar spine. The tendency to pull forward with the arms sets you up for further strain on the lower back, increasing the risk of weakening & damaging the connective tissue. Getting help to tilt the pelvis forward (anterior tilt), means we can concentrate on finding the subtle balance between lengthening and bending the spine.
Virasana is a fantastic seated pose that stretches the front of the thighs and ankles. When comfortably held, it provides an easy place to find a lengthened, neutral spine and a sense of abdominal spaciousness. I love to use this steady base to explore the breath and spine, and to stretch and open the shoulders. Unsupported, it’s a very deep flexion for the knees. I always get students to sit on at least one, but usually two or three stacked blocks. The extra height the blocks give overcomes the pull of tight muscles, allowing you to sit right on top of the sit-bones. This way the spine can be in a neutral position, the back muscles in balance, and the legs in good alignment.
Another pose that can be torture for problematic knees is Anjaneyasana. A block under the back knee provides some welcome cushioning, even though there is not a lot of weight on it, especially if you’re staying there for more than a couple of breaths.
Eka Pada Rajakapotasana prep is a deep hip stretch, specifically the hip-flexors of the back leg and the groins. For plenty of us, getting the outside of the front-leg hip all the way to the floor is so much of a struggle, we sacrifice torso and shoulder alignment. Try slotting a block under the front hip, so that the pelvic bones can be supported, and feel the tight hip muscles release into hip-opening bliss!
Just about everyone can benefit from practicing Salamba Sarvangasana on a raised support - 4 foam blocks arranged in a rectangle. The large stable surface here provides extra height to the shoulders and arms, protecting the neck and lifting the spine. Precise positioning is key here, if you haven’t tried it before be sure to recruit the guidance of your yoga teacher.
There are heaps of other ways to use blocks in your yoga practice, the ones above are just a selection. Think about anywhere in your practice where you could use a little cushioning or support and grab a block before class so it's there if you need it - even if you just end up sitting on it! Next up is ways to use a yoga strap/belt.
Aisling teaches yoga on Tuesdays, 9.45am in The Yoga Room, Sundays, 10am & 11.30 in My Yoga Body, and pilates on Mondays & Wednesdays, 9.30am in My Yoga Body. She is also available for private and small group classes by arrangement. To contact Aisling email at firstname.lastname@example.org or send a message on Facebook