Yoga Blocks: How to Choose 'Em, How to Use 'Em
No matter what types of yoga you do or where you practice them, yoga blocks are among the most versatile pieces of yoga equipment you can use. And they can help advance your practice whether you’re just starting out or you’re a seasoned yogi.
“Blocks are for everyone,” says Stephanie Saunders, executive director of fitness at Openfit and a certified yoga instructor. “You can use them to assist with arm balances, advanced flexibility poses, or as a restorative tool.”
“Using blocks or other props is definitely not just for beginners,” says Renee Kennedy, RYT 200, a yoga teacher based in New York City. “Even advanced yogis may have body proportions that make it difficult to access certain poses. Yoga poses should be adapted to suit an individual’s body, not the other way around, and yoga blocks are one way to do that.”
Kennedy adds that, for her, yoga block uses are infinite: “adding height to my seat, adding length to my arms or legs, finding stability in balancing poses, or encouraging engagement in different muscle groups.” She also uses them in prenatal yoga classes, “since mamas need more clearance for their bellies and support for the pelvis.”
Here’s what you need to know before you buy yoga blocks.
How to Use Yoga Blocks
Yoga blocks are most commonly used to help keep the body in alignment. They’re common in practices like yin yoga, which involves longer-held and supported poses, as well as Iyengar yoga, which focuses intensely on alignment.
Yoga block uses include:
- Keeping limbs/joints separate and aligned (e.g. between the knees in wheel pose or the thighs in mountain pose)
- Maintaining balance (under the hands in splits or low lunge)
- Reaching the floor (under a hand in triangle or side angle pose)
- Avoiding overstretching (under each knee in bound angle pose or under the hips in pigeon)
- Building strength (in “lift-ups” or between the feet in inversions)
- Elevating the hips (taking pressure off the knees in any seated pose)
- Making a pose less intense (under the hips in bridge pose)
- Making a pose more intense (under the standing foot in tree pose)
“Think of blocks as an extension of your limbs — and not a separate entity,” says Saunders. “Whether you’re using them for balance or to lift, if they’re just considered a part of your arm or leg, your alignment will most likely remain in check.”
However, you can make mistakes when using yoga equipment like blocks, she cautions. The sides of a yoga block offer three different heights. The tallest setting might be perfect for balancing in half-moon pose, for instance, but too wide between the knees in bridge pose.
“Using too high or low a setting can really misalign a pose,” says Saunders. “Putting too much weight on the block when trying to balance can completely change which muscles you are focused on. And sometimes putting it in the wrong place altogether could mean an injury.”
Yoga blocks can make poses more or less intense. “I love using a block for a restorative bridge or fish pose,” says Saunders. She also integrates strength work by squeezing a block between the inner thighs in wheel and between her ankles in handstand.
What’s Best: Foam, Wood, or Cork Yoga Blocks?
There are pros and cons to all types of yoga equipment, and yoga blocks are no exception. They come in foam, wood, and cork varieties, and generally differ on the following measures: weight, durability, sweat-absorption, rigidity, and affordability. Neither option leads in all categories, so your choice of yoga block will ultimately come down to personal preference.
Foam Yoga Blocks
Foam yoga blocks are the most common type in the category. They’re lightweight — starting around 6 ounces — and the most affordable option (starting around $8 each). Foam blocks can be soft and squishy or firm and supportive, but even the firmest foam block is going to be softer and lighter than a cork or wood one.
“Foam blocks are nice to use in supported backbends since they’re softer and gentler on the spine,” says Kennedy. “They’re also less porous [than cork] and therefore easier to keep clean, and they travel easily.”
Firmer foam blocks are a better investment than soft ones, which wear out quicker and can’t support your body weight in certain poses. “If they’re too soft, you might put added pressure on joints, particularly your wrists,” says Saunders.
- Lightweight, best for travel
- Won’t get slippery due to sweat
- More comfortable when used for support
- Least durable option
- Least supportive option
- May dent or warp over time
- Made from plastic, therefore least eco-friendly
Wood Yoga Blocks
Wood (including bamboo) yoga blocks are the heaviest, most expensive, and most durable option. Starting around $18, a wood yoga block can weigh two pounds or more.
The smooth finish might become slippery during hot yoga, and “they can be a bit uncomfortable when putting a lot of weight on them,” says Saunders. Kennedy likes them under the hands in triangle and other poses.
Wood yoga blocks are ideal for those who prefer long-lasting, natural products, and will use them mostly for balance or as extension of a limb.
- Easiest to clean
- Most durable option
- Best for building strength
- Most expensive
- Heavy, not practical for travel
- Can get slippery due to sweat
- Can be hard on the spine and pelvis
Cork Yoga Blocks
Cork yoga blocks can be as heavy as wood ones, but they’re a little less expensive, starting around $15 each. Saunders likes very dense cork blocks, but adds that “you will discover what works best for you.”
The heavier they are, the more you’ll likely pay, but also the denser and more durable the cork will be. Kennedy says that heavier ones “will stand up to long-term use since they don’t become dented or warped over time.”
Even very dense cork blocks are softer and more porous than wood, and they will absorb sweat and any moisture. If your cork blocks repeatedly get wet, the edges and corners might begin to break down slightly.
- Durable and sturdy
- Mid-range affordability
- Won’t get slippery due to sweat
- Cheaper cork can break down over time
- Might be too heavy or hard for some
- Not the best travel option
- Hardest to keep clean
How to Buy a Yoga Block
Yoga blocks are best in a set. “I highly recommend getting two yoga blocks instead of one,” says Kennedy. “It’s easy to find a set of two, and is often not much more expensive than just buying one. Many poses involve placing both hands on blocks, so having a pair of them available is best.”
Saunders likes to go big or go home. “If you can purchase three, a whole world of poses will open up.” In splits, you can use one block under the front thigh, then the other two for your hands.
The standard size yoga block is 4 inches x 6 inches x 9 inches, though other sizes are available. Kennedy likes some of the half-size blocks, which “can be helpful when you need something between one and two blocks.” You might also see blocks with curved edges, designed to mimic the curve of the spine and relieve pressure on the wrists.
You’ll also want to learn how to clean yoga blocks. Read the manufacturer’s instructions, or follow these general guidelines: At home, wipe down foam blocks with dish soap diluted in water. At a studio, use an antiseptic wipe before and after class. Wood and cork blocks should be lightly wiped with soap and water and allowed to dry thoroughly.
- Yoga blocks are a versatile and affordable piece of yoga equipment that newbies and advanced yogis can use at home or in a studio.
- They can be used to maintain alignment and to make poses easier or harder.
- Yoga blocks come in foam, cork, and wood varieties, which all have their pros and cons.
- Yoga blocks are best in pairs, so grab a couple before your next practice.