how to use yoga blocks

Why Every Athlete Needs Yoga Blocks

Beginners aren’t the only ones who can benefit from this basic tool.

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It's a common scenario: You look around the yoga studio, see others getting deeper into a pose, and then you force yourself to go just a little bit further despite what it does to your form in the process. While this may seem like a good way to enhance your flexibility, it’s usually a bad idea, warns Los Angeles-based yoga instructor Derek Beres, who created Flow Play for Equinox.

“People go into a yoga practice to gain flexibility, but it’s actually more about improving joint mobility and strength. So when you see a posture, it’s easy to get confused about its purpose," he says. Here's an example: in side angle or forward bend, you focus on trying to get your hands to the ground when it’s really about engaging your core, elongating your spine, and softening your knees. Blocks are a great way to help fight that, says Beres. "I consider myself flexible but I still always use them in my practice, and encourage everyone else to use them when I’m teaching, because the benefits of yoga are greater when you’re truly elongating,” he explains.

Here are three instances when you should grab a block or two during class, per Beres: 
1. If you cannot touch the ground in a pose, then you should place one under each hand.
2. If your knees are pulling apart but should be internally rotated (as in bridge or camel poses), place a block between your inner thighs. Pressing against the block will create an isometric muscle contraction that helps instantly correct your form and improve your posture, notes Beres.
3. If you start to notice your shoulders hiking up when your arms are extended in front of you, try holding one between your hands and pressing against it.

The following progressions show another creative (and effective) use of the yoga block. You can place it under your foot to gain extra elevation for arm balances and an increased range of motion in your hips. “Our hip flexors tend to be short because we sit so much throughout the day,” says Beres. “Lifting your leg up a few inches will help eliminate some of your normal tightness and mobility limitations. It also makes it easier to propel your body forward into balances.” Pick the sequence that best matches your experience and comfort level, and then see what a difference having the block there makes.


how to use yoga blocks

Progression 1 

Start in downward dog (palms flat on floor, hips lifted toward ceiling, body in an inverted “V”), with ball of left foot on top of a yoga block. Shift forward into plank position, lifting right leg up to hip level. Bring right knee in to elbow, and then shift hips toward ceiling as you lift leg behind you (coming into 3-legged dog). Lower leg back to start. Do 3 to 5 reps; switch sides and repeat.


how to use yoga blocks

Progression 2

Start in 3-legged dog (palms flat on floor, hips lifted toward ceiling, right leg lifted diagonally behind you), with ball of left foot on top of a yoga block. Lower onto left forearm, with elbow under shoulder, and place right hand under shoulder, bending elbow behind you. Slowly lean upper body forward, bringing head and chest toward floor, as you rest right knee on top of right elbow. Once you find your balance, lift left leg up behind you. Reverse movement back to start. Do 3 to 5 reps; switch sides and repeat.


how to use yoga blocks

Progression 3 

Start kneeling beside a yoga block. Move into downward dog (palms flat on floor, hips lifted toward ceiling, body in an inverted “V”), with ball of left foot on top of the block. Shift forward into plank position, lifting right leg up to hip level. Bring right knee in to elbow, and then shift hips toward ceiling as you lift leg behind you (coming into 3-legged dog). Lower onto left forearm, with elbow under shoulder, and place right hand under shoulder, bending elbow behind you. Slowly lean upper body forward, bringing head and chest toward floor, as you rest right knee on top of right elbow. Once you find your balance, lift left leg behind you. Slowly lower back down to start. Switch sides and repeat.