One of my favorite yoga classes in town is a prop-based class, which means that along with our mat, we come to the studio armed with blocks, blankets, straps and bolsters. Using those props, we’re able to get into deeper versions of the poses we usually flow in and out of quickly, and as it turns out, that kind of restorative yoga is exactly what my body craves.
For today’s fitness tutorial, Kate joins us to focus on how to use what is probably the most popular yoga prop of them all: the block. Try out these 9 poses separately or sequenced together to unlock your hips, open your shoulders, and free your spine.
Place your block next to you and lie down flat on your back with your knees bent, feet hip distance apart. Take a few deep breaths, then press your feet and upper arms down into the mat and inhale as you lift your hips, then spine, up into a gentle bridge pose. Place the block widthwise directly underneath your sacrum, the triangular-shaped bone at the base of the spine. Start on the lowest block height and, if that feels comfortable, either stay here or consider raising the block up another level. Once you choose the height that is most comfortable, allow the full weight of your hips to drop into the block.
This is a great place to stay, but if you’d like to try the variation pictured here, start by bringing your right knee in towards your chest and clasping your hands behind your knee. Slowly extend your left leg out in front of you maintaining contact between your heel and the floor. Press forward through your left heel as you gently hug your right knee in towards your chest. Stay here for 5 – 10 breaths.
Now, release your hands, bring your right foot to the floor, then bend your left knee bringing the foot to the floor. Pause for a few breaths then repeat on the second side.
To come out of the pose, plant both feet into the mat, press down as you lift your hips away from the block. Slide the block out from underneath you and slowly roll down one vertebrae at a time.
Downward Facing Dog Variation
Start by coming down onto your hands and knees towards the front of your mat. Place two blocks lengthwise on the lowest level in the top (left/right) corners of your mat – make sure the blocks are fully on the mat to avoid slipping. Place one hand on each block making sure your palms are flat on the surface of the block with the base of your palm towards the bottom edge of the block. To stabilize your grip, wrap your pinky fingers around the outer edge of the blocks and your thumbs around the inner edges.
Inhale here and, as you exhale, tuck your toes under and lift your hips up and back into Downward Facing Dog. Press your hands into the blocks, wrap your outer upper arms (biceps) down toward the floor, lift your hips up and back and sense the length in your spine. Press the top of your thighs back and your heels down. If you feel any strain in the lower back, take your feet wider and/or bend your knees. Continue to press your hands into the blocks and lift your hips up and back. Take slow, deep breaths and stay here for 1-2 minutes. To come out, lower your knees to the floor and rest in Child’s Pose for a few breaths.
Upward Facing Dog Variation
Repeat the Downward Facing Dog Variation from the previous pose. From this position, inhale and come forward into Plank Pose – your hands will still be on the blocks and wrists should be directly underneath your shoulders.
Untuck your toes so the tops of the feet are in contact with your mat. Simultaneously, begin to drop your hips toward the floor. Keeping your arms straight, press your hands strongly into the blocks and lift your chest. Widen across your collar bones and lift your thighs up and away from the floor. Tone your lower belly in and up as you lengthen your tailbone down towards your heels. Stay here for 3 – 5 breaths then tuck your toes under and lift your hips up and back into Downward Facing Dog. Lower your knees to the floor and rest in Child’s Pose for a few breaths.
Crescent Lunge Variation
Start by coming down onto your hands and knees towards the front of your mat. Move your knees back so they are slightly behind your hips. If you have any sensitivity in your knees, be sure to place a towel or blanket underneath your knees.
Place one block lengthwise on the lowest level just inside your right hand. Carefully, bring your right knee forward and step your right foot up onto the block. Make sure your heel and the ball of your foot are well supported. Your left knee should be behind your hips. Place your hands on your right thigh and allow your hips to come slightly forward in space. Tone your lower belly in and up and reach your tailbone down towards the floor. Stay her for 5-10 breaths.
To come out of the pose, bring your hands down to the mat on either side of the block. Press the hands down and gently slide your right foot off the block brining your right knee back to meet your left. Rest in Child’s Pose for a few breaths, then repeat on the second side.
Stand in Mountain Pose towards the front of your mat and place a block on the highest level just outside of your right foot. Bring your hands onto your hips and step your left foot back about 3 ½ feet. Line up your heels and make sure your left heel is facing the front left corner of your mat. Keeping your hands on your hips, square your hips toward the front edge of your mat.
Inhale, bringing your left arm up alongside your ear. As you exhale, hinge at your hips bringing your torso parallel to the floor as you reach forward through your left fingertips. Bring your left hand to the block outside of your foot and keep your right hand on your hip. Do your best to line up the crown of your head with your tailbone. Inhaling, lengthen forward through the crown of your head. As you exhale, begin to turn your torso to the right, turning first from the belly, then the ribs, then the chest.
The right hand can stay on your hip as you gaze at the wall to your right or consider lifting the right arm towards the sky and turning to look up at your right hand. Stay for 5-8 breaths.
To come out of the pose, exhale and unwind from the twist. Bring your hands back to your hips. Press down through your feet and inhale up to stand. Repeat this pose on the second side.
Reclined Hero Pose Variation
Note: This is an intermediate pose. Do not perform this pose unless you can sit with relative ease with your buttocks on the floor or on a folded blanket between your feet.
Start by kneeling on the floor. Come into Hero Pose by bringing your inner knees together and your feet slightly wider than your hips, tops of the feet on the mat. If your buttock is lifted slightly off the floor, fold a towel or a blanket and place it under your seat. Otherwise, rest your buttock directly on the floor.
Place your block lengthwise on the highest level about 1 ½ ft behind you (this distance will vary depending on your height). Bring your hands behind you and carefully lower yourself down onto your elbows. As you come to lie back, the block should make contact with your upper back/spine between your shoulder blades. Once your upper back is supported by the block, interlace your hands behind your head, hug your elbows in towards one another and slowly lie your head back – your head and neck should be off of the block.
If this is going well and your neck is healthy, consider the next step. Draw your chin towards your chest so the back of your neck lengthens. Slide the crown of your head towards the wall behind you. Maintaining this length in your neck, release your hands, stretch your arms back alongside your ears and gently lay your head back. Wrap your outer upper arms towards the ceiling, turn your palms toward one another and stretch back through your fingertips.
Stay here for 5 – 10 breaths.
To come out of the pose, interlace your hands behind your head (if you have taken the arms back), use your hands to help draw your chin towards your chest. Keep your chin drawing towards your chest, bring your hands along side your hips, press down through your shins and tops of your feet and slowly rise up to sit. Rest in Hero Pose for a few breaths.
Bridge Pose Variation
Place your block next to you and lie down flat on your back with your knees bent, feet hip distance apart. Place the block – the narrow width – between your inner thighs. Squeeze your inner thighs into the block and lengthen your tailbone towards your heels. Take a few deep breaths here then press your feet and upper arms down into the mat and inhale as you lift your hips up into a gentle bridge pose.
Wrap your right shoulder and your left shoulder underneath you and either interlace your hands behind your back or keep your palms pressing flat into the mat. Roll your inner thighs towards the block and continue to draw your tailbone towards the backs of your knees. Stay here for 5 – 10 breaths.
To come out of the pose, release the clasp of your hands, untuck your shoulders and gently roll down one vertebrae at a time until your hips make contact with the mat. Remove the block and rest here for a few breaths.
Viparita Karani Variation
Place your block next to you and lie down flat on your back with your knees bent, feet hip distance apart. Take a few deep breaths here then press your feet and upper arms down into the mat and inhale as you lift your hips up into a gentle bridge pose. Place the block width-wise directly underneath your sacrum, the triangular-shaped bone at the base of the spine. Start on the lowest block height and, if that feels comfortable, either stay here or consider raising the block up another level. Once you choose the height that is most comfortable and supportive, allow the full weight of your hips to drop into the block.
Keeping your arms on the floor alongside you, inhale and as you exhale and bring your right knee in towards your belly and then your left knee – you will be balancing your hips on the block. Stay here for a few breaths, then straighten your right leg towards the ceiling and then your left. Bring your legs together, stack your heels over your hips and flex your feet. Leave your arms as they are with your palms facing down or interlace your hands around the back edge of the block. Continue pressing your upper arms into the floor as you lift your chest.
Stay here for 1 – 2 minutes.
To come out of the pose, bring your knees back into your belly. One at a time release each foot to the floor. Plant both feet into the mat and press down as you lift your hips up and away from the block. Slide the block out from underneath you and slowly roll down one vertebrae at a time. Rest here for a few breaths.
Reclined Twist Variation
Begin by placing your blocks next to you and lie on your back with knees bent, feet flat on the floor. Exhale, draw both knees in towards your chest. Place one block on the narrow width in between the knees –the block should make contact with your inner/lower thighs, as well. Place your second block between your feet. Gently squeeze your knees and feet into the blocks to keep them in place.
From here, extend your arms out to a T shape, palms up. Shift your hips a few inches to the right and, on an exhale, drop both knees to the left until they rest on the floor. Be sure that both shoulders stay connected to the mat. You may need to place a folded blanket under the legs/knees if the right shoulder is lifting off the floor. Stay here for 1 minute and gently come back to center. Repeat these actions on the second side taking hips to the left and the legs to the right.