Whether you’re new to practicing yoga or you’ve been practicing for years, you’ve likely seen or experienced using different props during class.
It seems that often times, props can get a bad reputation, with some practitioners feeling that they seem weak by using them.
Some people might even feel that props are meant only for new or inexperienced yogis. This, however, couldn’t be further from the truth! Props are fantastic tools in helping to enhance a person’s practice, and yoga blocks are some of the best, most versatile props you can find.
They have so many different purposes and can enhance a yoga practice in so many ways. Most studios supply them for their students, but many people have their own at home as well—just in case!
For newbies, we recommend the lightweight, moisture-proof Reehut high-density foam yoga block (from Amazon). It’s also 100% non-toxic, eco-friendly and reliable.
So what do you need to know about yoga blocks before you purchase them for yourself?
In what ways can they be used? What’s the best way to clean them? What are some of the best yoga blocks you can buy?
Keep reading to find out all you need to know!
Where Did Yoga Blocks Originate?
Yoga blocks—along with many other yoga props—originated around the early 1970s and were really brought to light by B.K.S. Iyengar.
Born in India in 1918, this master yoga teacher started his teaching journey in 1936 in India. From Mysore to the US, Iyengar brought awareness to the Eight Limbs of Yoga highlighted in the Yoga Sutras.
This eightfold path that leads toward self-realization consists of inward restraints, outward actions, physical postures, breath control, withdrawal of the senses, concentration, meditation, and oneness with all.
Iyengar’s style of teaching revolves heavily around physical alignment in the body and intentional placement in each of the poses.
Iyengar yoga also takes out the flow component in a vinyasa class—there is no flowing from one posture to the next, but instead, intentional placement to bring you to the next pose.
There are also much longer holds in each posture than in a typical vinyasa class which helps to build strength and heat throughout the body.
Iyengar’s teaching style has since drifted over into the United States, and the use of props is now popular in most teaching styles. You’ll find yoga blocks as well as other props like straps, bolsters, and blankets in most studios.
You’ll also often notice teachers encouraging the use of props to help enhance your practice!
What Is the Purpose of a Yoga Block?
Yoga blocks, like other props, are simply meant to help a practitioner enhance their yoga practice.
While blocks can certainly help make many postures more accessible, it can also help provide length and space through the body, ultimately helping a practitioner advance or feel the full effects of a pose.
There are so many different ways to use yoga blocks, and they can provide so many benefits to your practice. Some practitioners use yoga blocks as support underneath one or both hands in a pose.
This can be helpful in many situations to create a little more length through the spine as well as added stability.
For instance, placing a block underneath the hand in triangle pose can allow more length through the spine and torso, ultimately creating space through the ribs as opposed to crunching down with the lower hand rested on the floor.
In a forward fold position, you might place one or both blocks under your hands if there’s tightness through the hamstrings or back. This allows the practitioner to feel the benefits of the pose without overstretching or pushing past their edge.
In bridge pose, you might place a block between the thighs. This helps the practitioner feel the internal rotation of the thighs while still working the thighs parallel with each other. Often times in bridge, you’ll notice a practitioner’s knees dropping away from each other and rolling to the outer edges of the feet.
Bringing a block between the knees or thighs can help keep drawing everything in toward the midline.
Also in bridge pose, you might rest a block underneath the low back for support. Again, this allows the practitioner to reap the benefits of the pose while taking a more gentle, supported option.
You might also start or end your practice by bringing one or two blocks underneath the shoulder blades or along the spine to help create space through the front of the body for heart opening.
Part of the beauty of yoga blocks is that you essentially have three different heights to choose from. You can place the block whichever way feels best for you, and it will likely be different depending on the pose.
What Is the Standard Size of a Yoga Block?
The standard size of yoga blocks is 4” by 6” by 9”. You’ll almost certainly find blocks that are both a bit larger and a bit smaller than this, however. The weight of a yoga block can range anywhere from 3 oz. to 2.5 lbs. depending on their material.
What Are Yoga Blocks Made Out Of?
Many of the yoga blocks commonly seen at studios are made from foam. These can weigh anywhere from 3 to 12 oz. While these are slightly softer than other materials, they do have less density.
They can be a bit more comfortable to rest underneath your back, but if you’re hoping to apply a little more pressure or use them for support, you might prefer a denser option.
Cork yoga blocks are a great option—particularly if you’re using them in a heated yoga room. These are incredibly sturdy and typically weigh about a pound or two.
For advanced practitioners, these blocks might be used to work on inversions or tricky transitions. Many people who are working on jumping from downward facing dog to a seat with the legs extended out in front might place a cork block underneath each hand in the downward facing dog.
This allows them to have a little more space underneath their seat while they cross the ankles, tuck the knees in toward the chest and jump between the hands to a seat.
Some blocks are also made out of wood or bamboo. The weight of these blocks really varies, as some of them are hollow. Typically they can range anywhere from 1.5 to 2.5 lbs. Again, with these heavier wooden blocks, you can play around a bit more with using them for support.
How Do I Clean My Yoga Blocks?
You can clean foam blocks in the same way that you would wash your dishes! Just place a drop of dishwashing soap on your block and scrub it with a cloth or sponge.
Rinse off the soap and then set them out to dry. Most foam blocks can even be placed in the washing machine on a gentle cycle. Check with the manufacturer’s instructions for any specific information.
Cork yoga blocks are antimicrobial, and you might simply remove stains with a wet cloth. You can also use an organic cleanser for a deeper cleaning.
Wooden blocks can be cleaned the same way as foam blocks. Soap and water to clean the surface are all that you need! Set them out afterward to fully dry.
What Are the Best Yoga Block Exercises?
There are so many different ways you can use blocks during your practice. They can provide support and stability, help create space in the body and they can help advance your practice through strengthening.
Check out these five ways you can use blocks during your practice.
1. Mountain Pose: Tadasana
The Tadasana (mountain pose) is essentially standing in the anatomical position. As simple as this sounds, placing a block in between the thighs can help create so much engagement throughout the body.
You’ll find the thighs internally rotating with a neutral pelvis, the low belly drawing up and in toward the spine, and the heart-lifting slightly with the crown of the head reaching toward the sky.
2. Puppy Pose: Uttana Shishosana
Start by stacking the hips over the knees and walking the hands forward, letting the heart sink down toward the earth for puppy pose. If you’d like more support here, try bringing a block underneath the forehead instead of bringing the chin toward the earth.
If you’d like an even more intense chest opening than puppy pose already provides, try bringing a block underneath the elbows. Press the palms together and bend the elbows, reaching the thumbs toward the back of the neck.
3. Extended Side Angle: Utthita Parsvakonasana or Triangle Pose: Trikonasana
With the extended side angle (Utthita Parsvakonasana) or triangle pose (Trikonasana), the block can work the same ways in both of these options. In both postures, think about lengthening through the spine, keeping the core engaged to create space between the ribs.
Essentially, thinking about lengthening the entire body as opposed to crunching down as far as we can go. To help create that length and space, practitioners might rest a block on the earth beneath the hand. This can help lift the body to lengthen the spine.
For more of a core workout, however, try holding onto the block with both hands and reaching the biceps by the ears. It’s tougher than it sounds!
You can even try the same technique, squeezing the block between the hands, for warrior 1, warrior 2 or warrior 3, and anything else with the arms reached by the ears.
4. Surya Namaskar A
If you’re working toward jumping back from Uttanasana to Chaturanga in your sun salutation, this can be an awesome way to find core engagement like never before.
Start in tadasana with a block between the thighs and starting moving through your namaskar. Reach your arms toward the sky and fold forward for Uttanasana with the block still in place.
Inhale to lift halfway and lengthen through the spine. Fold forward again and plant the palms, then lightly float all the way back with bent elbows to Chaturanga. To keep the block in place, the core and inner thighs must be working hard!
On your inhale, lift your heart to find a backbend for cobra or upward facing dog. Keep internally rotating the thighs and engaging the low belly to send the hips high for the downward facing dog. Gaze forward on your inhale, and float the feet between the hands on your exhale.
Lengthen through the spine for your half-lift, fold forward on your exhale, and roll all the way back up to tadasana on your inhale. You’ll be surprised at how engaged the entire body has to be to keep the block in place for an entire namaskar!
5. Handstand Prep
Advanced practitioners working toward inversions can use the blocks in preparation for handstands. Start in the downward facing dog with your block close by.
Step one foot about halfway up the mat and place the block between the thigh and torso. Keep squeezing the block in place as you find little hops, working toward stacking the hips over the shoulders.
Send the straight leg up toward the sky with each hop and keep hugging the bent knee in toward the chest, without letting the block drop. This helps create tons of core engagement!
What Are the Best Yoga Blocks to Buy?
There are many different brands that make fantastic yoga blocks. Gaiam, Manduka, Hugger Mugger, and Lululemon all make high-quality blocks of different materials.
When deciding on the blocks you’d like to purchase, consider the ways in which you’ll be using the blocks. Foam blocks are typically much less expensive than cork, wood or bamboo, as well as much more comfortable.
However, the denser qualities of cork, wood, and bamboo, make these blocks much more durable and more reliable for certain transitions or advances poses.
If you have more of a gentle practice where you’ll likely be using the blocks to lay on or rest underneath your head, you might prefer foam for their comfort. If you plan on using your blocks to work toward arm balances by placing the blocks underneath your hands and putting your whole body weight on them, you might prefer something a little more heavy duty than foam, such as cork or wood.
No matter which blocks you decide work best for your practice, you’ll be glad to have them! Yoga blocks help create space through the body, lengthen the spine, increase flexibility and strength, and they provide support and stability—enhancing your practice in so many ways!