Improve your hip strength and flexibility with a simple yoga exercise using a Yoga Block.
Many times we use Yoga Blocks to, as I like to say, increase the length of our arms, or bring the floor closer to us. When we use our props in such a way, it allows us to focus on more important things in our yoga practice – such as proper alignment. It brings stability into a pose when, without the blocks, we’d feel unstable if unable to press our hands into the earth. Using Yoga Blocks, isn’t just for beginners. We can use them when we challenge ourselves with new poses, or even just to bring more body awareness into a pose.
Here are a few examples of using a yoga block “to bring the floor closer to us”.
Pyramid: Blocks allow us to focus on squaring our hips instead of hinging fully forward.
Reverse Lunge: Blocks allow us to practice with a flat back without needing to hinge fully forward to support ourselves with hands on the floor.
Triangle Pose: Use a block under the hand to provide lift and focus on lengthening through both sides of the body and revolving the heart open.
In Twisting Poses yoga blocks help open our hearts and chest and revolve into the twist with more space.
A yoga block can be used in seated poses to lift our hips and take pressure off of our knees. Try a block in Hero Pose.
Yoga Blocks under our hands in Scale Pose give us more freedom and space to lift our hips and feet off of the floor.
Use a yoga block under your hand in Half Moon to focus more on rotating our hips open and building a strong core with less effort on maintaining our balance.
Yoga Blocks are generally available in two different sizes: 3″ Yoga Block or 4″ Yoga Block. They are offered in a variety of materials – foam blocks, cork yoga blocks, yoga blocks made of lightweight Balsa Wood, and even yoga blocks made of recycled materials. Choosing between the sizes depends on how you prefer to use your blocks – do you want stability (4″ block) or do you just need a ‘little’ lift (3″)? To choose from the materials ask yourself if weight of the block is important, or price, or do you want eco-friendly, or even more simply, is color important to you?
Wrist pain or strain can be a real challenge in yoga practice. Read on to learn more about why our wrists can add to a challenge of a pose and what we can do about it. Using your fists, a chair, yoga blocks or a yoga wedge are just some of your options to get relief. Placing the heel of your hand on the wedge helps reduce the angle of extension in your wrists or the pressure placed on your wrists.
We ask our wrists for strength and fexibility in yoga. Here are some pointers for keeping these complex joints safe and for rehabbing them if they’ve been strained.
By Julie Gudmestad / Yoga Journal
Almost every yoga class includes one or two people who complain of wrist problems. Perhaps their difficulties began with long hours at a computer keyboard, or with a hard fall on an outstretched hand, or even with doing asanas. Whatever the cause, the problem may be exacerbated by bearing weight on the hands in yoga.
Yet such weight bearing is a very important part of asana practice. If you’ve ever had a wrist problem, you know how much it can interfere with your yoga. Wrist injuries can be especially demoralizing if you prefer a vinyasa-based style, in which you place weight on the hands over and over again as you flow through the classic Sun Salutation series—which includes Plank Pose, Chaturanga Dandasana (Four-Limbed Staff Pose), Urdhva Mukha Svanasana (Upward-Facing Dog Pose), and Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog Pose). If your wrists are strained, such asanas can cause you pain and further injury. Fortunately, a careful and gradual approach to increasing wrist flexibility and strength can help most students avoid problems—or rehabilitate the wrist if necessary.
A Vulnerable Marvel
Weight bearing on the arms seems to bring out the wrist’s vulnerability. After all, the wrist is a relatively small joint, and a lot of rather delicate tissues are packed into this small area. These tissues include ligaments that knit the wrist bones together, as well as tendons that connect the forearm muscles to the fingers and help give the fingers their remarkable dexterity. Strain or irritation in these tendons can be a major factor in wrist pain.
To understand what causes this kind of pain, it’s useful to consider the structure and function of a normal wrist. The wrist helps with control of the fine motor activities of the fingers and thumb by positioning and stabilizing the hand, which allows us to accomplish uniquely human endeavors like writing, drawing, and sewing. Most of the wrist’s movement occurs at the juncture of the radius (one of the two forearm bones) and several of the carpal bones, which sit deep in the heel of the hand. Some movement also occurs at the junctures between the individual carpal bones.
The movements of the wrist include abduction (bending the thumb side of the hand toward the thumb side of the forearm), adduction (bending the little-finger side of the hand toward the little-finger side of the forearm), flexion, and extension. In yoga, by far the most important of these—and probably the one most likely to bring you grief—is extension. To feel this wrist movement, sit in a chair with armrests and position one of your forearms on an armrest, palm facing the floor. Cock your hand up, pointing your fingers toward the ceiling. Your wrist is now in extension. If you let your hand drape over the end of the armrest and your fingers point toward the floor, your wrist will be in flexion.
Most likely, you spend a lot of time every day with your wrist in mild extension. The hand has its most powerful grip in this alignment, and this position is the one we use most often in daily activities. So your wrist probably spends very little time in full flexion or full extension. Since the wrist, like any joint, will lose any part of its range of motion that isn’t used regularly, most people gradually lose the ability to move easily and safely into full wrist extension (a 90-degree angle between the hand and forearm).
But as soon as you take a yoga pose in which you bear most or all of your weight on your hands, you demand extension from your wrists. Several of the postures in Sun Salutation—Plank, Chaturanga Dandasana, Urdhva Mukha Svanasana—require full extension, so performing the series over and over can put a cumulatively heavy load on the wrists. Arm balances like Bakasana (Crane Pose) and Adho Mukha Vrksasana (Handstand) add insult to injury by pressing all of your body weight into your wrists while they are fully extended. Combining extreme range of motion with a heavy load and multiple repetitions can easily add up to strain.
Under such conditions, it shouldn’t be too surprising if the wrists send up a red flag: pain. I believe that a substantial part of yoga practitioners’ wrist pain is caused by soft-tissue strain that occurs when the ligaments and tendons are forced into extension beyond their customary range.
If your wrists have become sore from practicing poses in which you bear weight on your hands, you may need to eliminate these poses for a while to allow the inflamed tissues to heal. It will probably take several weeks for the pain and soreness to subside; then you can begin a program of gently stretching the wrists and gradually reintroducing weight bearing.
Before resuming the poses that require 90 degrees of extension—or before embarking on them, if you’re a beginning yoga practitioner—it’s a good idea to check the range of extension of your wrists. You can do this by coming to your hands and knees with the heels of your hands directly under your shoulders. Your wrists are now at 90 degrees of extension. Are they completely comfortable in this position? If not, you should work to gently and gradually increase your wrist extension.
An easy way to do this is to put your hands together in Namaste (Prayer Position) in front of your chest. Keeping the heels of your hands together and your fingers pointing up, gently press your hands down toward your waist. Don’t let the heels of your hands come apart; if you do, you’ll lose the wrist stretch. If you regularly hold this stretch for a minute or two as part of your daily routine, you’ll gradually be able to move the wrists into deeper extension.
Why should I consider buying a Cork Yoga Block or Yoga Wedge?
Cork is an environmentally friendly choice over the standard chemically-made foam found in most yoga props (such as Yoga Blocks and Yoga Wedges). Here are just a few reasons to consider buying cork yoga props:
- Cork is a renewable, sustainable material.
- There are no toxic chemicals in the harvesting or manufacturing process.
- It is harvested from the bark of Cork Oak. The bark naturally splits every 9 – 15 years and is harvested without harming the tree.
- Cork will safely biodegrade by nature when these yoga props eventually must be retired.
- A Cork Yoga Block or Wedge offers a soft texture that is easy to grip and is slip-resistant (similar to that of a foam block).
- Cork blocks are firmer than foam blocks.
- The drawback to the foam blocks is that they are chemically-made and can emit an odor when they are new (some people are more sensitive to these odors). Cork is odor-free.
In addition to offering cork products as part of our “Green” line of yoga products, you can also find yoga blocks made from bamboo, balsa wood, and recycled materials . Check out all of our Yoga Blocks and Wedges.
The following Prenatal Yoga video using a Yoga Ball is the second in our four-part series. If you missed last week’s video, you may wish to start with that 10-minute video before watching this 9 1/2 minute continuation of this practice offered by Sara Varona.
In today’s practice you will practice doing the ever-so-important-for-pregnancy squats in which you will use the Yoga Ball, but you may also wish to add a Yoga Bolster, Yoga Blocks, or a Yoga Blanket if you struggle with doing squats with your heels flat on the floor. This is also a great time to use Yoga Wedges which will offer that stable, sloped angle to raise your heels and still have the necessary support.
In addition to squats, you will perform some arm-strengthening exercises – perfect practice for carrying your new baby!
Adding props to your yoga poses will help you to stay in poses for a longer period of time to achieve their benefits. In this example, you’ll be shown how to practice Bridge Pose supported by either a yoga block or a yoga blanket(s). When setting up the block, play with the different heights to see which is most comfortable for you. Sometimes you’ll find you can raise the height after being at a lower level for a few breaths. Same with the blankets – some days you might want two, other days one blanket may be right for you.
Hero Pose can be a real challenge for some of us. Especially if you are an athlete with tight quads (like a cyclist). But I’ve found, that if something is a challenging pose for me that it’s probably the one I should practice more to help balance me out physically.
You can click on this image to visit Yoga Journal’s page on how to do Hero Pose if you’d like.
So, if you are challenged in Hero Pose, the idea of reclining or lying back in this pose can be awfully intimidating. This is where yoga props will be your best friend.
Follow the video to see how you can set up bolsters, blankets, blocks and more to get comfortable in this pose and enjoy it’s benefits. This is our fourth, and last, video in our Restorative Yoga session. Well, at least for this month…maybe we’ll add more in the future since props will almost always be used in restorative postures.
For the next four Tuesdays, we’re going to share with you some videos on using props in Restorative Yoga Poses. This first video shows an example of setting up a yoga bolster, a yoga blanket, and some yoga blocks. It’s a short video (<2min) so it is not all encompassing, but hopefully will give you an idea on how to incorporate the variety of yoga props on the market.
Yoga props can be used in many ways – to provide support and stability or to enhance a stretch in some poses. Yoga blocks, for instance, can be used to bring the floor closer to you in a standing pose, so you can focus on the proper alignment and still have stability in your pose. A yoga block can also be placed under your hip in Half Reclining Hero Pose to intensify the stretch in your quadricep. But yoga props are really fantastic in Restorative Poses because they help comfort and support you in any posture so that you can totally surrender into a pose for a longer period of time.
So, take two minutes to watch this video (and join us again in the upcoming weeks) to start getting ideas on how to use yoga props in some nice relaxation poses.
Props can be a major bonus for your practice.
When all you really need for yoga is yourself, props may seem extraneous but they could be a major bonus for your practice. Besides a mat, yoga props include blocks, blankets, and straps. Even the wall, floor, and chairs count as pose-boosters. It’s common to feel like you’re copping out when you use props, but our expert Sam Chase, a certified Professional Level Kripalu Yoga Teacher with a private yoga practice in New York who leads corporate programs for the United Nations and Equinox gym, will convince you that prop-using is yoga-boosting.
Props are not cheating
“It’s easy to get hooked on the idea that a pose is better, and perhaps that we ourselves are better, if we don’t need a prop to help,” says Chase. When you watch an expert yogi, they usually don’t use props to get into a Forearm Balance or stay stable in Half Moon. Don’t feel inferior-they’ve got years of practice (or circus training) so their bodies are primed for peak performance. You, on the other hand, might need a little boost. In fact, Chase says it’s better to think about a yoga pose as an action in time rather than a picture-perfect shape. So use what you see your teacher do as a base–watch where her legs are positioned and how she opens up her chest, but make the pose work for you.
Props make you a better yogi and a better person
“A good use of props allows ANY body to create the sensations associated with almost ANY pose,” says Chase. “However you modify a pose, that is the pose, and what ever shape it takes and whatever tools you use should be whatever supports you.” Think about it, would you rather use a block in Side Angle, get a deep opening, and feel revitalized, or cram your body into a bind and hobble away in agony? Having a strong yoga practice isn’t about doing the poses perfectly by the book; it’s about making the poses perfect for your body. It’s easy to have the same perfection-driven mentality in life. We think we have to cram into size 4 jeans and make six figures, when the reality is that our weight is healthy and we aren’t bound to an office 24/7. The key in both yoga and life is to find that balance and accept your abilities and limitations.
Props will expand your practice
Instead of avoiding Cow Face pose because you can’t reach your fingers, grab a strap in each hand and open those shoulders up. “If your practice is about exploring the range of possibilities in your body, then expect that range to change frequently. You’ll need props in some poses, but not in others,” says Chase. He sees students who use blocks and straps achieve poses they would’ve never tried (see below), and feel self-adjustments they can’t get enough of (like using a strap to keep your elbows aligned in Shoulderstand).
Strap: The Sling
This pose works with gravity so all you have to do is hang out. The weight of your legs allows you to release the tension in your neck (and upper back) while the weight of your head opens your hamstrings.
Create a large loop with your strap (about 3 feet). Sitting with your legs in front of you, place the strap so it’s around the arch of your right foot. The buckle should be on the right side of the strap, halfway between your foot and the opposite end. Loop the opposite end of the strap around the back of your head. It should be in the same position as where you’d wear a baseball hat- above the ears around the back of the head, not at the neck. Slowly lean back so that your body makes a “V.” You can use your arms to support you in any way that’s comfortable. Stay there for at least 2 minutes, for as long as you are comfortable. Repeat for the left leg.
Look for an 8-ft-long strap with a good buckle that does and undoes itself easily.
Block: The Pendulum
This pose feels like no work at all, but you’re opening your hips to help you stand a little taller!
Standing next to a wall, place the block on the floor about a foot from the wall. The block can be positioned at any height. Stand on the block with your right foot and rest your left hand on the wall for support. Slowly and gently swing your left leg back and forth. After a while, you’ll notice your foot begin to brush closer to the floor. If you want, bring the block to the next highest height and continue swinging your leg. Continue for at least 1-2 minutes, for as long as you are comfortable. Repeat for the right foot.
Find a block with a little heft to it that won’t squish under your hand.
Blanket: Mountain Brook
This chest opener will help you relax and improve your breathing. Plus, it’s so comfortable you could even do a Savasana! It requires 3 blankets (or thick towels), but it’s well worth the set up.
Preparing to lay down on your back, roll a blanket into a thick tube and place it under your knees. The second blanket also rolls into a tube placed across the middle of the thoracic spine, above the lower back but below the shoulders. The last blanket is used as a pillow, with a few folds rolled into a very small tube to support the back of the neck. There should be “valleys” between the blankets where your hips and shoulders rest. Stay at least 5 minutes..and enjoy.
Look for a thick, foldable blanket made of wool.
If you practice at a local studio, there’s no need to buy your own, but consider the basics for your home practice. Our recommendations are only suggestions, in a pinch you can use a towel, belt, and phonebook.
The following video from Yoga Journal teaches you how to properly practice Trikonasana, or Triangle Pose. When first learning how to do this pose, you may need to use a Yoga Block to maintain proper alignment. The goal is not to just touch the floor, but to maintain proper form while doing so. Placing a Yoga Block next to your shin and using that as your support helps. You may need to start with the block on it’s smaller edge first (at it’s tallest height), and then as you progress you can turn it onto it’s long edge or flat side to get closer to the ground. Eventually you’ll use your shin and then the floor. At each stage focus on the proper alignment of you knees, hips and spine. The strength, balance, and flexibility will come with practice.