When I first started practicing yoga, I couldn’t bear being someone who needed blocks. Only after I was able to set my ego aside was I able to understand the value of allowing this support into my practice. My relationship with blocks slowly progressed from pretty casual to sort of noncommittal and, eventually, to utter devotion.
More than a decade later, I rely on blocks in most poses in my personal practice as well as in the classes I teach. I almost always ask students to take two blocks to their mat. I don’t cue them to reach for blocks only on an “if you need them” basis. I prefer to normalize using them. (Heck, you could even use them as a nightstand.)
It’s our nature as humans to underestimate the value of simple things. Blocks can assist even the most quiet and still moments in our practice, including during breathwork and meditation. One of the most effective ways I cue students to use a block is to ask them to lie on their backs with a block resting on their lower belly. This helps them become more aware of their breath. I also rely on blocks to reinforce and refine my and my students’ alignment in poses that we’re working on—even those we may be hesitant to try. Blocks provide support as we’re learning how to engage our muscles and our mind—the kind of help that we sometimes struggle to accept. In this capacity, blocks allow us to evolve our perspective so we can surprise ourselves with what we can achieve and hold ourselves in the integrity of a pose even when it’s challenging.
The moment we release what we think we know is when we begin to learn. This is true about anything—including yoga. We can find inspiration in the resources available to us. Simple things—in this case, blocks—tend to reveal their inherent value when we think a little less and look a little harder.
16 creative ways to build your yoga practice with blocks
With the support of blocks, we can better understand how to align and engage the body in any posture. Eventually, that knowledge allows us to access the awareness, strength, and poise we need to hold ourselves in the pose on our own.
Skandasana (Side Lunge or Pose Dedicated to the God of War)
Block benefit: Having support beneath you enables you to sit upright rather than lean forward. It also helps the heel of your bent leg remain on the mat without overtaxing your knee.
How to: Find a wide-legged squat with your feet angled out at about 45 degrees. Stack a couple of blocks beneath your sit bones. Straighten your right leg. Bring your palms to touch at your chest. Lengthen through your back. Rotate your outer thighs down in external rotation. Keep your left foot grounded as you turn both knees toward the ceiling. Optional: Take your right hand to your right foot or take a bind around your left knee. Breathe.
Purvottanasana (Reverse or Upward Plank Pose)
Block benefit: Squeezing the block between your legs engages your inner and outer thighs and relaxes the glutes to help release tension in your lower back.
How to: Sit with your legs straight in front of you. Put a block, with the narrow side pointing up, between your thighs. Place your hands behind you, shoulder- distance apart, fingers pointing toward your hips. Press your hands into the mat and straighten your arms as you squeeze the block. Lift your hips (and the block!) and broaden through your chest. Reach the bottoms of your feet toward the mat and press down through your big toe mounds. Turn your thighs in slightly. Breathe.
In Reverse Plank, it may be tempting to externally rotate your thighs, pushing the block upwards in space, which can strain your lower back. Instead, roll your inner thighs down just enough so the block remains in a neutral position between your thighs.
Padangusthasana (Toe Stand)
Block benefit: Relying on blocks for support helps your balance and, when you press into the props, relieves pressure on your knees and low back.
How to: Start in Mountain Pose. Shifting your weight into your left foot, lift your right knee, and bring your right foot to your left thigh in Figure-4 Pose or to your left hip crease in Half Lotus. Bend your left leg and sit your hips back, as if in Chair Pose, as you hinge forward, bending at your hips. Lower yourself down and bring your hips toward your left heel as you balance on the ball of your left foot. Bring your fingertips to the mat or blocks. Slide a block on its lowest position under your left knee. Bring another block in any position under your right knee. Press down into the blocks and hover your hips above your heel. Stack your shoulders over your hips and bring your palms to touch at heart center. Breathe.
Utthita Trikonasana (Extended Triangle Pose) Variation
Block benefit: Holding the block between your hands with your arms extended alongside your ears engages the abdominals and strengthens the obliques, pectorals, triceps, biceps, and serratus anterior muscles. It also encourages a stretch throughout your entire side body.
How to: Start in Warrior II with your right foot forward. Take a block between your palms and bring your hands overhead. Straighten your front leg, shift your hips to the left, and start to lean over your right leg, hinging at your hips. Reach your chest away from your hips to lengthen through your side body. Squeeze the block between your hands as you widen the space between your shoulder blades. Draw your front ribs in toward the spine. Breathe.
Parsva Bakasana (Side Crane or Crow Pose)
Block benefit: Starting with your feet on the block enables you to bring your legs onto your arms with more ease and allows you to practice the shape of the pose without needing to take flight.
How to: Step both feet onto a block that’s on its lowest level. Bring your feet and knees together in a squat and take your hands together at your chest. Twist to the right until your shoulders are perpendicular to your hips. Place your hands on the mat, shoulder- distance apart. Bend at your elbows to create a shelf for your right thigh with your upper arms. Shift your weight into your hands and lean forward until your right thigh is on the back of your upper arms. Start to lift your feet. Actively squeeze through your inner thighs. Breathe.
Astavakrasana (Eight-Angle Pose)
Block benefit: Bringing blocks beneath your hands creates more space to lift your hips off the mat and lean your chest forward.
How to: Sit in a cross- legged position. Place a block on the lowest position just outside and a little in front of each hip. Cradle your right shin in your arms, bringing your knee inside your right elbow crease and holding the bottom of your right foot with your left hand. Reach your right hand under your right shin and grab your right ankle. Nudge your right knee on top of your right shoulder. (Imagine your right leg as a backpack strap over your shoulder.) If your leg doesn’t make it over your shoulder, try to get it as high up your right arm as possible. Bring your right hand to the right block, fingers pointing forward. Squeeze your right knee against your body. Place your left hand on the left block. Lift your left leg and hook your left ankle over your right, keeping your feet flexed. Start to lean forward toward the mat. When you can’t shift forward anymore, firmly press your hands into the blocks and lift your hips. Come into Chaturanga Dandasana arms. Straighten your legs to the right, pushing through your heels and hugging your inner thighs toward one another around your upper right arm. Breathe.
Ustrasana (Camel Pose)
Block Benefit: Bringing your hands to blocks allows you to create the shape of the pose but with a less intense backbend. This ensures you don’t compress your lower back while trying to reach your fingers to your heels.
How to: Stand on your knees. Place a block on the tallest height outside each ankle. Rest your palms on the back of the pelvis where your low back and your seat meet, fingers pointing downward. Use your hands to gently press the tailbone down toward the backs of the knees as you lift your heart and sternum toward the ceiling. Release one hand at a time onto the blocks. Keep your thighs perpendicular to the mat and your hips reaching forward. If your glutes are clenching, try to soften a little by rolling the inner thighs up and in. Keep the back of your neck elongated and your gaze toward the tip of your nose or, if it’s comfortable, release your head back without compressing your neck. Soften the muscles of the throat. To safely come out of the pose, bring your hands to your low back and use your core muscles to lift your chest. Lead with your heart and lift your head last. Breathe.
Urdhva Dhanurasana (Wheel or Upward Bow Pose)
Block benefit: Placing your hands on blocks creates more space in your upper back, which helps you to straighten your arms and find alignment and expansion in your upper back without putting too much strain on your wrists.
How to: Start lying on your back with 2 blocks on the mat just behind your shoulders. Bend your knees and plant your feet on the mat, hip-width distance apart, with your heels as close to your seat as possible. Reach up and back and bring your hands onto the blocks, fingers pointing toward your shoulders. Press your heels into the mat and start to lift your hips. Bring the top of your head to the mat but do not rest your weight on it. Draw your elbows toward one another so they point straight toward the ceiling. Press your hands into the blocks to straighten your elbows and lift your head off the mat. Move your chest away from your hips. If you feel compression in your low back, lift your heels to create more space. Breathe. To safely come out, gaze up to the ceiling and slowly lower onto the back of your head, then lower your hips.
Adho Mukha Vrksasana Variation (Handstand with Bent Knee)
Block benefit: Keeping a block between your bent leg and chest strengthens the core and hip flexor muscles, and teaches you to engage the necessary muscles to keep your balance.
How to: Start in Mountain Pose. Place a block high on your right thigh and hinge forward at your hips, bending your right knee as much as you need to in order to hold the block securely. Place both hands on the mat, shoulder-distance apart, index fingers pointing directly forward. Stack your shoulders over your wrists and gaze directly between your wrists. Engage your core and slowly lift your left leg toward the ceiling as you squeeze the block with your right leg. Press your hands into the mat to straighten your arms. Shift your weight forward, coming high on the ball of your right foot and stacking your hips over your shoulders. Shift forward—or take baby hops if you need to— until your right foot lifts off the mat; avoid moving or swinging your left leg. Continue to hug the block with your leg and draw your elbows toward one another. Breathe.
The more you engage your core in any Handstand variation, the more stability you’ll find in the pose.
Ganda Bherundasana (Chin Stand or Formidable Face Pose)
Block benefit: Using blocks reduces rotator cuff strain and trains your muscles to engage so that there is less pressure on your cervical spine.
How to: Start in Chaturanga with a block on the lowest or medium position underneath each shoulder. Lift your hips and walk your feet toward your hands to come into a shape similar to Downward-Facing Dog. When you can’t walk your feet any closer, hug your elbows in toward your sides. Keep your gaze slightly forward. Lift your left leg toward the ceiling. Let your hands support most of your weight and gently rest your shoulders on the blocks. Come onto the ball of your right foot and slowly lift your right leg to meet the left. Squeeze your thighs together. Breathe.
Bakasana (Crane or Crow Pose)
Block benefit: Practicing with a block beneath your feet allows you to come into the shape of the pose without leaving the ground until you’re ready. It also enables you to lift your knees higher onto your arms, which creates more stability.
How to: Start in a standing forward bend with your feet on a block on its lowest position, big toes touching. Bend your knees and plant your hands firmly on the mat, shoulder-distance apart. Place your knees as high on the backs of your arms as possible. Start to bend your elbows as you slowly shift your weight forward, gazing down and slightly ahead. Come onto the balls of your feet. Press into the mat with your hands, draw your elbows toward one another, and round your upper back.Try to lift one foot from the block. Lower it and then lift the other. Work up to lifting both feet at once, bringing your heels toward your glutes. If you can, start to straighten your arms. Breathe.
Supta Virasana (Reclining Hero Pose)
Block benefit: Supporting your upper body eases tension in your thighs and knees. It also allows for a greater stretch in your chest and more opening in your back.
How to: Set a block on the medium position at the back of your mat. Set another block on the highest position a foot in front of it. Start in Hero Pose, facing away from the blocks, with your knees bent and your ankles by your hips. Walk your hands back and lower onto your forearms. Adjust the blocks so the closest one rests between or just below your shoulder blades and the other one sits under your head. If you feel strain in your neck, turn the back block to the highest position. Bring your hands to prayer position at your chest or rest them by your sides, palms facing up. Draw your tailbone toward your knees and turn your inner thighs downward. Breathe.
In Reclining Hero, turn the block beneath your shoulders in either direction. Wide (shown in photo) will offer more support. Narrow will create a deeper stretch.
Laghu Vajrasana (Little Thunderbolt Pose)
Block benefit: The block lifts the ground to meet your head, providing support for your neck and requiring less of a backbend.
How to: Start by standing on your knees as you would for Ustrasana (Camel Pose). Place a block on its tallest position between your big toes. Bring your hands to prayer position at your chest. Keep your hands together as you reach them overhead and back, following them with your gaze. Draw your shoulders down, lift your sternum, and keep your hips pressing forward as you backbend. Bring the crown of your head onto the top of the block. Reach your tailbone toward the back of your knees and press your shins into the mat. To create more expansion across your chest, bring your hands to the fronts of your thighs. Soften the muscles of the throat. Breathe. To come out safely, bring your hands to your low back and use your core to lift first your chest, then your head.
Little Thunderbolt Pose, supported with a block, is a helpful pose for working your way toward Kapotasana, which brings your forearms to the mat and your hands to your feet.
Eka Pada Galavasana (Flying Pigeon)
Block benefit: Being supported by blocks helps minimize the fear of falling as you become more comfortable with shifting your weight forward. You can place the blocks against a wall if you need additional reassurance.
How to: Start standing in Mountain Pose with a block in its tallest position (or stacked on a second block) a couple feet in front of you. Shift your weight into your left foot, draw your right knee toward your chest, and bring your right foot to your left thigh in Figure 4. Shift your hips down and back as if sitting down into a chair. Turn the outer right thigh toward the mat to find external rotation in your hip. Bring your palms together at your chest, lean forward, and bring your hands to the mat, shoulder-distance apart. Adjust the position of the block so that it is about a foot in front of you . Bend your elbows and shift your weight forward into your hands, creating a shelf for your right shin with your upper arms. Flex your right foot and hook your toes around your left arm. Bring your right knee as high as you can on your right arm. Lean forward and bring your forehead onto the block as you lift your back toes off of the mat and draw your left heel toward your seat. Bring your forearms perpendicular to the mat. Keep your weight evenly distributed between your hands, trying not to put too much weight on the block. Play with pressing into your hands enough to lift your forehead off the block, hover, then lower yourself back down. Extend your left leg straight behind you by engaging your core, hips, and upper back. Reach from the crown of your head through the ball of your left foot. Roll your outer left hip down, working the left hip point parallel to the right. Again, play with lifting your head off the block to hover and lower it.
Bhujapidasana (Shoulder-Pressing Pose)
Block benefit: Using blocks beneath your hands helps to lift your thighs higher on your arms, a position that can be challenging if you have tight hamstrings. Blocks also make it easier to lift your feet off the mat if you are not ready to straighten your arms.
How to: Start in a wide-legged squat position and place two blocks in their lowest position behind your heels. Lift your hips, keeping your knees bent, bringing your chest toward your thighs. Grab the back of your right ankle with your right hand and shimmy your right shoulder as close to the back of the right knee as you can. Repeat on the left side. Toe-heel your feet closer together so your inner thighs are snug against your sides. Place your hands on the blocks, fingers pointing forward, and bend your elbows. Lean your hips against your upper arms and hug your inner thighs toward your body. Walk your feet toward each other until they lift off the mat, and hook one ankle over the other. Press your hands into the blocks and start to straighten your elbows. Gaze forward. Breathe.
Tittibhasana (Firefly Pose)
Block benefit: Bringing blocks beneath your hands helps to lift your legs higher on your arms, which can be challenging if you have tight hamstrings. Blocks also make it easier to lift your feet off the mat.
How to: Start by coming into Shoulder-Pressing Pose with blocks. Straighten your elbows and contract your chest muscles to create as much space as you can between your shoulder blades. Work to get your inner thighs as high on the backs of your arms as possible. Begin to straighten your legs, continuing to squeeze your inner thighs into your body. As your arms fully straighten, you can try to lower your hips, lifting your heart higher and gazing forward. Breathe.
Jenny Clise, C-IAYT, is a certified yoga therapist who has been teaching yoga since 2012. She lives, surfs, and leads classes in San Francisco and is a regular contributor to Yoga Journal as well as the author of the e-book BLOCKASANAS.