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Poses for Your Back

Unlock Your Backbends With Yoga Blocks 

Stretch away back tension and build core strength with these eight poses—all assisted with a yoga block.

Anyone who has ever struggled with a seemingly simple asana knows: Basic doesn’t mean easy, particularly when it comes to yoga poses. That’s where yoga props such as blocks come in handy. They can help you attune to your body in different ways and find connections a prop-free practice might not offer. 

The following sequence by yoga teacher Jenny Clise shows you how to use blocks in foundational backbends to release back tension, build strength and stability, and prepare you for more challenging poses, particularly deeper backbends. 

Setu Bandha Sarvangasana, variations (Bridge Pose) 

A woman performs Setu Bandha Sarvangasana, variations (Bridge Pose) in yoga
Photo: Renee Choi

Option 1: Block under sacrum

How to:

  • Start by lying on your back with your feet on the ground and knees up.
  • Keep your feet and knees parallel to one another.
  • Press through the inner edges of your feet to lift your hips.
  • Place a block on its tall, medium, or low height underneath your sacrum.
  • Roll inner thighs down and relax through your gluteals. You can lift heels to create more space in the low back.
  • Lift your chin away from your chest slightly and soften through the muscles of your neck and throat.
  • Stretch through your belly as you engage through your back and hamstrings. One way to engage your hamstrings is to press down through your heels.
  • Hold for 5–10 breaths. 
  • To come down, remove the block from underneath you and gently lower, one vertebra at a time.

Block benefit:

  • Releases hip flexors and low back
  • Supports extension of the spine

Overall pose benefits:

  • Stretches chest, neck, & spine
  • Stimulates thyroid
  • Lowers blood pressure
  • Strengthens legs
A woman performs a variation of Setu Bandha Sarvangasana (Bridge Pose) with a block
Photo: Renee Choi

Option 2: Block between thighs 

How to:

  • Start on your back with your feet on the ground and knees up.
  • Feet and knees should be parallel to one another.
  • Place a block on the narrowest setting between the inner thighs, as close to the pubis as is comfortable.
  • Drive the heels of the feet into the mat to tuck the tailbone toward your feet, scooping the low belly in and sealing your low back on the mat.
  • Squeeze block between your thighs as you lift the hips.
  • Roll your inner thighs down and lengthen the tailbone toward the backs of the knees.
  • Reach your knees forward, contracting your thighs and softening your gluteals a little.
  • Draw your heels back simultaneously, engaging your hamstrings. Try lifting your heels to create more space in the low back.
  • Flex your toes toward your shins while keeping the soles of your feet grounded to contract your shins up toward your kneecaps.
  • You can try grabbing the outside edges of the mat for support, place your hands down on the mat, or interlace your fingers under your low back, creating a shoulder shelf for the heart and chest to rest on.
  • Draw your chest toward your chin, and your chin away from chest.
  • Hold for 5–10 breaths. 
  • To come down, gently lower, one vertebra at a time.

Block benefit:

  • Helps to create more space in the lower back
  • Helps to keep legs parallel and engaged
A woman performs a variation of Setu Bandha Sarvangasana (Bridge Pose) with a block
Photo: Renee Choi

Option 3: Block between thighs (lifted leg variation)

How to:

  • Repeat the previous instructions, then extend one leg forward reaching through the heel of the foot.
  • Squeeze the block to keep knees and thighs parallel and avoid rolling the flexed elevated foot in or out.
  • Lengthen tailbone toward heel of the extended leg.
  • Hold for 5–10 breaths. 

Block benefit:

  • Provides an added challenge in the leg, hip, and back muscles
  • Keeps thighs in one line, neutralizing the pelvis
A woman performs a variation of Setu Bandha Sarvangasana (Bridge Pose) with a block under her sacrum
Photo: Renee Choi

Option 4: Blocks under sacrum (extended leg variation) 

How to:

  • Start in Restorative Bridge (the first pose in this sequence). 
  • Begin to extend both legs out long in front of you on the mat.
  • Let your hip flexors spill over the blocks.
  • Take deep breathes into your belly, low back, and hips.
  • Roll your inner thighs down and relax through the gluteals.
  • Let the chest roll open and your shoulders down the back.
  • If you are on the lowest setting, try drawing one knee in toward the armpit, hold for 5 breaths, then switch sides.

Block benefit:

  • Releases hip flexors and low back
  • Supports extension of the spine
  • Restorative stretch for the deep muscles of the psoas and abdomen
  • Stretches through the fronts of the thighs
A woman performs a variation of Urdhva Mukha Svanasana (Upward Facing Dog Pose) with blocks
Photo: Renee Choi

Urdhva Mukha Svanasana (Upward Facing Dog Pose)

Option 1: Blocks under hands

How to:

  • Start in Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog Pose) with your palms on the blocks. Shift your weight forward into a high Plank Pose.
  • Start to lower your hips down toward the mat as you lift your chest and gaze to point toward the front of the room.
  • If accessible, untuck toes and come to the tops of the feet.
  • Press your hands down as if they were trying to press through the blocks.
  • Broaden across your chest and collar bones.
  • Draw your shoulders down your back, away from your ears.
  • Hug your front lower ribs in and lengthen your tailbone down toward your heels to take pressure out of the low back.
  • Roll upward slightly through your inner thighs to narrow your frontal hip points and create space in your low back.
  • Contract through your front thighs as if you were trying to lift them away from the mat.
  • Hold for 5–10 breaths. 

Block benefit:

  • Blocks teach us to lift our knees off of the mat in Upward Dog. Contracting through the quadriceps and lifting knees off the mat protects the lumbar spine.
  • Blocks give the spine more space in the backbend so that we are not moving the bend into the upper or lower back. Blocks target the thoracic spine, which is your middle back.

Overall pose benefits: 

  • Strengthens spine, arms, wrists, and thighs
  • Stretches chest, lungs, shoulders, and abdominals
  • Firms buttocks

Uttana Shishosana (Extended Puppy Pose)

A woman performs Uttana Shishosana (Extended Puppy Pose) variation with block
Photo: Renee Choi

Option 1: Block under forehead 

How to:

  • Start in a Tabletop position with your wrists under your shoulders and your knees under your hips. 
  • Walk your hands forward, keeping your hips over your knees, and your thighs relatively perpendicular to the mat.
  • When you reach your stopping point and cannot walk any farther without shifting hips in front of knees, start to melt your chest toward the mat.
  • As you do so, continue wrapping your upper arms down toward the mat, creating space in your upper back.
  • Place a block on the lowest setting, underneath your forehead, relaxing the neck and facial muscles.
  • Over time, the forehead may work its way to the mat; or your forearms and chin will release to the mat eventually. 
  • Roll your inner thighs slightly inward toward the back of the room while also hugging them up toward your pubis.
  • Take deep breaths into the belly, inflating it like a balloon that’s trying to kiss the mat.
  • Let every exhale soften your belly back in to help you deepen the stretch through your chest.
  • Hold for 5–20 breaths. 

Block benefit:

  • Brings the floor closer to your forehead
  • Allows head and neck to rest, reducing strain and tension
A woman performs Uttana Shishosana (Extended Puppy Pose) variation with blocks
Photo: Renee Choi

Option 2: Blocks under elbows 

How to:

  • Start in Tabletop with two blocks in front of your hands, with the long edges of the blocks running parallel to the long edges of the mat.
  • You can place a blanket over the blocks for comfort if you prefer.
  • Bring your elbows on to the blocks and walk your knees back until hips are directly over your knees.
  • Bring hands together in prayer and bend at your elbows, working your hands to the upper back between the shoulder blades.
  • Descend the chest toward the mat.
  • Imagine you are wrapping your shoulders down and back toward your side bodies, to keep the shoulder blades from collapsing together.
  • Breathe horizontally across your chest and back, stretching through your intercostal muscles, which are the muscles between your ribs.
  • Optionally, you can press down through your elbows on the inhale and release on the exhale to deepen the range of motion.
  • Hold for 5–20 breaths. 

Block benefit:

  • Blocks create a deeper chest and heart opener.
  • They offer more space to wrap the shoulders externally.
  • Blocks help you to get hands closer to back of the heart.
A woman performs Uttana Shishosana (Extended Puppy Pose) variation with blocks
Photo: Renee Choi

Option 3: Blocks under hands 

How to:

  • Start in Tabletop position, with hands on blocks. Start with the lowest height, and work your way up a higher setting over time.
  • Walk your knees back until they stack underneath the hips.
  • Start to melt the chest toward the mat.
  • As you do so, continue to your wrap your upper arms down toward the mat, creating space in your upper back.
  • Inhale and press your hands firmly down into the blocks, revolving the armpits in toward each other.
  • Exhale and stop the pressing action and release the chest deeper toward the mat
  • Think about descending the head, neck, and chest below the height of the arms
  • Roll the inner thighs slightly inward toward the back of the room while also hugging them up toward the pubis.
  • Hold for 5–20 breaths. 

Block benefit:

  • Creates a deeper stretch.
  • Facilitates a deeper range of motion.

Overall pose benefits:

  • Opens chest & backside of arms (and front of neck if chin is on the ground)
  • Lengthens side bodies & stretches intercostals
  • Prepares you for deeper, arms-over-head, backbends

Jenny Clise has been teaching yoga since 2012. Her classes are inspired by many schools of yoga, and her favorite style of yoga to teach is alignment based flows. She is an avid traveler, leading retreats around the world, and author of the yoga e-book BLOCKASANAS. To learn more about Jenny, her classes, or upcoming events, check out her website JennyClise.com or Instagram @jennyclise_.