Mat. Check! Mat towel. Check! Signed up for a class. Check! Block? What’s that? If you’re browsing yoga startup guides, you might come across a few recommendations like this. While the mat is technically the only mandatory item you need for yoga, a few other things can simplify the integration process.
The class will give you a foot in the door and start building your yoga foundation. The towel will be helpful in certain moves for varying purposes. The mat will provide a slightly cushioned place to practice safely without slipping. But what about the block? Do you need one?
The answer is no; you don’t need a block. That said, it can be a helpful tool for building your foundation. We’re here to explain, so stick around to learn more.
What Is A Yoga Block?
A yoga block is a small, rectangular (usually) shaped block composed of dense foam. Some manufacturers make blocks out of wood or cork, but the dense foam is one of the most common materials.
The whole purpose of using a yoga block is to gain stability in specific poses and make other moves and flows more accessible to more individuals. The block lessens the strain on muscles and joints (especially in challenging moves), which helps lower the chance of stress injuries.
If you’re trying to advance in yoga but cannot completely do a move yet, a yoga block can help you build your strength and ready your body to handle the complete movement. Using the block, you’re less likely to injure yourself by forcing your body into a pose that’s currently too much for your body.
Aside from these aspects, yoga blocks can also help you deepen your stretches, allowing you to challenge your muscles further. While yoga blocks are often associated with beginners, they can be a handy tool for any yogi looking to advance their skills.
Yoga Block Materials
As mentioned, yoga blocks come in a few materials, including cork, wood, and dense foam. Each option has its ups and downs, but the dense foam is usually the best fit for beginners.
Yoga blocks made of cork are a solid pick for individuals who feel foam is too light or not grippy enough. Cork is the second best option for beginners, as it offers sufficient grip without being too heavy. It’s excellent for overhead block holds, core work, and holds.
It’s more eco-friendly than a foam block and usually lasts quite a bit longer.
Foam yoga blocks are the go-to choice for most beginners. These blocks are ultra-light and very soft, making them an excellent choice for added support in specific postures. Many beginners find these to be the most comfortable, as they’re less firm than cork or wood.
Yoga blocks made of wood are ideal for more advanced yogis, as they’re hard and don’t offer much grip (when you’re sweaty). They’re not ideal for restorative poses, as they’re too firm for most folks to feel comfortable. Most wooden blocks today are made of bamboo, although a few other wood materials are available.
Wood yoga blocks will last many years, but they tend to be considerably pricier than the previous options.
Yoga Block Sizing
Yoga blocks come in several sizes, so individuals can choose which size works best for their hands. There are three typical sizes:
- 9” x 6” x 4: These blocks are wider than traditional blocks.
- 9” x 6” x 3: This is the average yoga block size.
- 9” x 6” x 2: These blocks are narrower than traditional blocks.
The best block size usually varies based on you. For example, if you have small hands, you might not want to use the thickest block size, as they’ll be hard to grip safely. Thinner blocks are usually the better choice as you build flexibility and don’t require much support.
However, the 9” x 6” x 3 is usually the best fit if you’re just starting. This size offers adequate support without being overly wide, so most folks don’t have any issue using it. You can turn the block in different ways to make it shorter or taller based on the pose.
Benefits Of Yoga Blocks
A yoga block can be the perfect way to slowly advance your skills without stressing your body. From bringing the ground closer to protecting you from injury, here are a few ways blocks can benefit your yoga practice:
Brings the ground closer
Some poses, such as a forward fold, can be challenging for newbies. Or maybe you did a killer leg workout, and your hamstrings are too tight to allow full extension. Either way, you can use a block to safely practice these moves by using the block as the ground. For example, in a forward fold, simply bend down and touch your hands to the block instead of the ground (if you feel comfortable doing so).
As you build your skills, a block can give you the confidence to try more advanced moves, like the Crow Pose. This pose is tricky to master since it requires balancing your entire body weight on your upper body. On top of that, you’ll fall face-first into the floor if you drop. So, put your feet on a yoga block to give you the extra height for practice, which will help strengthen the necessary muscles.
Tight muscles are nothing to mess around with, and stretching improperly can cause injuries. So, use a yoga block to support your body, sore muscles, and joints.
For example, in the Pigeon Pose, tight hips can prevent you from safely conducting the move, putting your front knee in a vulnerable position. To avoid injuring yourself, position the block underneath the hip on your forward leg side, which will support the hip and relieve pressure on the knee joint.
Yoga features dozens of advanced poses that require impressive strength. However, you should be able to relax in your posture without noticing pain or discomfort. Modifying some poses can be tricky but might be necessary if the entire move is too much.
So, try using a block to relieve tension through the pose. For example, let’s say your quadriceps and ankles are too tight to sit comfortably in the Hero Pose. Simply place the block underneath your seat to lessen the intensity of the stretch. Now, you can comfortably hold the stretch for longer.
Yoga blocks aren’t just for beginners. In some cases, some moves can only be so advanced without the assistance of a block. The block can give added height, allowing you to sink deeper into poses and stretches.
For example, consider the Bridge Pose. While you can always hold the pose without a block, adding a block can help you relax, allowing you to open the chest and create a deeper stretch. Position the block underneath your hips, then settle into the pose.
Should Beginners Use Yoga Blocks?
Yoga blocks aren’t absolutely necessary for practicing yoga, but they can up your game. Whether you’re just starting or have years of experience under your belt, a yoga block can be a helpful stepping stool.
Beginners may find yoga blocks are exceedingly helpful as they try to tackle more demanding moves, as the block makes certain poses more accessible. The block offers support and length and ensures proper alignment. Practicing yoga with improper form or alignment can lead to injury, so it’s essential to understand the moves and how to move through the flow effectively.
How Do You Stretch With Yoga Blocks?
Stretching with yoga blocks is a great way to build your skill and challenge your body. However, the blocks can also be a great way to support your body as you develop your skills. So, here are a few great ways for beginners to stretch with yoga blocks.
Remember to always listen to your body. Don’t force your body into those postures if you feel pain or discomfort. You could injure yourself, which will set you back further. So, take it slow, breathe deeply, and listen to your body.
The forward fold can be a challenging pose to begin with, especially if you’re new to yoga. The pose challenges your hamstrings to extend, allowing you to put your hands on the floor. Add a yoga block to “elevate” the floor to simplify the pose.
Manipulate the block into the best position based on how tight your hamstrings are and how far you can stretch. Instead of placing your hands on the floor, focus on your form and deep breathing, and place your hands on the block.
To advance the move, you can stand on the yoga block and challenge your flexibility and reach.
One of the most common mistakes in the triangle pose is overextending your front knee as you try to reach the mat—your knee locks, placing too much stress on that area and potentially causing an injury. You don’t need to touch your toes for a good stretch.
Use your block to relieve stress on your knee by simply reaching for the block. Place the block near your front ankle on the inside or outside. Try with the higher setting first, then work your way down to the lower setting once you feel comfortable.
If you’re just starting, try the pose with a bent knee and the block first. While you should avoid locking your knee, to begin with, it’s usually best to stick with a bent or soft knee when you first try the pose. Once you feel comfortable, straighten your front leg slowly, so you get a good stretch through your hamstrings. Remember to keep the knee soft – don’t lock it out.
Extended Side Angle
The extended side angle is an excellent stretch for the side of your body, through your obliques (muscles alongside your abdominal muscles) and up into your latissimus dorsi (the big muscles connecting your arms to your vertebral column).
To relieve stress on tight muscles, place your forearm on your thigh instead of reaching for the floor. Once you’re ready, advance the move by placing your hand on the block next to your bent leg instead of the floor. Eventually, you can put your hand on the floor next to your ankle for a deeper stretch.
While sitting down might not seem tricky, most of us struggle to do so with good posture, especially when we’re new to yoga. So, to build your strength and give tight muscles a break, use a block.
Set the block on the floor in the lowest setting, then sit on the edge of the block, allowing your crossed legs to sink to the floor. The block helps elevate your hips, relieving stress on tight hip flexors.
Holding a child’s pose is a great way to loosen and stretch varying muscles. To help relieve stress in your hips and knees, position the block underneath your hips. This raises your hips slightly, giving your knees a break.
Or, if you’d like to target your chest and triceps in the stretch, position the block in front of you where your elbows sit. Rest your elbows on the block, bending your forearms and hands backward toward your head and upper back. Place a second block under your hips for added support.
The drinking bird pose is another excellent exercise where the block comes in handy. Position the block underneath your heels, allowing your toes and the balls of your feet to remain on the floor.
This pose stretches the soles of your feet while simultaneously activating the stabilizers in your feet and calves. It’s an excellent way to challenge and strengthen your balance and stability.
Folks with tight hip flexors and a stiff lower back may benefit from holding the pigeon pose. These issues are commonly associated with long periods of sitting, where the muscles spend too much time in the same position.
While pigeon pose is an outstanding way to target these problems, many folks struggle to hold the pose due to tight hip flexors or the strain it places on the knee joint. To help relieve this strain, place a yoga block under the hip of the bent leg.
This takes the pressure off your knee, making the stretch much milder and more approachable. Once you’re ready, you can take it to the next level, either by removing the block entirely or switching to a narrower block.
As a common resting pose in yoga, downward dog is a pose you’ll likely hold or move through every session. However, for inflexible beginners, this pose doesn’t feel like a comfortable resting position at all.
Balancing your body weight evenly between your upper and lower body can be tricky, not to mention issues with wrist flexion and tight hamstrings. So, use a yoga block to ease your body into the move.
Position the yoga block beneath your hands, then rock back into a comfortable position. The block will take pressure off your wrists, allowing you to balance your body weight more evenly between your hands and feet.