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Yoga Sequences for Abs and Core

10 “Blockasanas” to Strengthen Your Core

Find creative ways these common props can boost your core strength and enhance your practice.

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Maybe you are reading this because you are already in a committed relationship with your yoga blocks and want to take that connection to the next level. Maybe you want nothing to do with blocks, but you are still curious about how they might enhance your practice. If you have made it this far, why not give these classic props a fair shot? 

My experience teaching and practicing yoga shows me, day after day, that it is time to give blocks more props for all they can do. So for the love of blocks, I decided to bring you: Blockasanas. 

Feeling Blocked Around Using Blocks? 

If you are like me, then your yoga journey probably began with the notion that blocks aren’t sexy. When I first started as a student, I couldn’t bear to be someone who needed a block. To me, those were for “beginners,” and while I was, in fact, brand new to the practice, I sure didn’t want everyone else to know. The funny thing is, almost a decade later, I use blocks regularly throughout my personal practice and in the classes I teach. 

Once I was able to bench my ego, I started learning the value of blocks. After all, the practice of yoga extends beyond shifting our bodies from Point A to Point B; it also encompasses moving our minds in new directions, outside of linear bounds. Let this sequence be a building block to expand your yoga practice. We’ll explore block variations in common yoga postures that will support, deepen, and challenge your practice. 

There are endless blockabilities, but this should be a good start! May you always want to practice with blocks by your side (just in case). I hope that the core-focused sequence that follows sets you on a journey to a long-lasting relationship with your yoga blocks. 

Sequence: 

 

 Photo by Renee Choi

 

Tabletop, variation

Overall Pose Benefits: 

Strengthens wrists, arms, and shoulders 

Strengthens back muscles and spine 

Stretches wrists

Block Between Thighs (Knees Hover)

How to:

  • Come to all fours on your hands and knees, stacking your shoulders over your wrists and your hips over your knees.
  • Place the block between thighs, on its narrowest setting, high up towards your pubic bone
  • Start by maintaining a neutral spine with the short edges of the block pointing straight forward and back.
  • Hug the block up towards your pubis, engaging through your inner thighs.
  • Tuck your toes, and lift your knees to hover a few inches from the mat.
  • Avoid collapsing in your shoulders by pressing straight down through the hands and lifting the back of your heart towards the sky.
  • Keep your gaze down and the back of your neck long (as an extension of the rest of the spine.)
  • Draw your navel up and in.
  • Hold for 5-10 breaths.

Block Benefits:

  • Block helps to keep knees and thighs parallel.
  • Block helps to neutralize pelvis and stabilize the deep core muscles Block helps to direct the direction of the tailbone through its orientation.

 

Photo: Renee Choi

Cow Pose, variation

How to:

  • Come to all fours on your hands and knees, stacking your shoulders over your wrists and your hips over your knees.
  • Place the block between thighs, on its narrowest setting, high up towards your pubic bone.
  • Start by maintaining a neutral spine with the short edges of the block pointing straight forward and back.
  • Hug the block up towards your pubis, engaging through your inner thighs.
  • On an inhale, begin to soften your belly towards the mat.
  • Lift through the tailbone and broaden across your chest and collar bones.
  • Keep pressing through your palms so that your shoulders move away from your ears and the shoulder blades are not collapsing in towards one another.
  • Keep the back of the neck long as you lift your gaze to maintain a natural curve in the spine. Continue to the hug block up towards pubis and slightly back, rolling the tops of the thighs inward slightly.

Block Benefits:

  • Block helps to keep knees and thighs parallel
  • Block helps to stabilize the deep core muscles
  • Block helps to direct the direction of the tailbone through its orientation
Photo: Renee Choi

Cat Pose, variation

How to:

  • Come to all fours on your hands and knees, stacking your shoulders over your wrists and your hips over your knees.
  • Place the block between thighs, on its narrowest setting, high up towards your pubic bone.
  • Start by maintaining a neutral spine with the short edges of the block pointing straight forward and back.
  • Hug the block up towards your pubis, engaging through your inner thighs.
  • On an exhale, begin pressing your palms straight down, like you are trying to push the floor away from you. Start to curl through your spine.
  • Create as much space between your shoulder blades as you can (shoulder protraction)
  • Lengthen tailbone down towards the backs of the knees and draw the navel in towards the spine.
  • Allow your chin to release towards the sternum (towards the heart).
  • Notice if your weight shifts forward or back (you want to try to maintain shoulders over wrists). Continue to hug block up towards pubis and slightly forward.

Block Benefits:

  • Block helps to keep knees and thighs parallel
  • Block helps to stabilize the deep core muscles
  • Block helps to direct the direction of the tailbone through its orientation
Photo: Renee Choi

Plank Pose, variations

Overall Pose Benefits:

Tones abdomen, chest and back 

Strengthens arms, wrists and shoulders 

Stretches toes and wrists

Option 1: Block Between Thighs

How to:

  • Start in Downward Dog with the block on the skinniest setting between the upper thighs.
  • Roll your weight forward until your shoulders stack over your wrists and your heels stack over the balls of your feet.
  • Squeeze the block up towards your pubis and lengthen your tailbone down towards your heels.
  • If your hips are tucking or arching too much, you will see that the block will move up and down; let it be your guide.
  • Extend the crown of your head forward as you reach back through your heels; imagine your heels are pressing into a wall behind you.
  • Draw your shoulders down and back, creating space in the between the shoulder blades.
  • Imagine you were trying to split the mat in half with your hands by pulling the sides of the mat away from one another; the mat and hands will not move, but the chest muscles will broaden and engage.
  • Scoop your low belly up and in.

Block Benefits:

  • Block helps to neutralize your pelvis by informing us with the direction of the thighs and tailbone.
  • Block helps us to firm and engage through the thighs, taking pressure out of the low back.
Photo: Renee Choi

Option 2: Flying Plank (Block Under Shoulders)

How to:

  • Start in a Tabletop position with blocks lengthwise on medium height in front of the fingertips. Start to bend through the elbows as if you were moving into knees, chest and chin
  • Place tops of shoulders on blocks, then lift the knees and start to walk the feet back behind you. Stop once your legs are fully extended behind you, similar to Plank Pose.
  • Keep your feet hips-width distance apart and parallel. 
  • Release one hand at a time from the mat and extend your arms out by your sides, hugging them in towards the body.
  • Gaze towards the top of the mat.
  • Firm through your thighs to take weight out of your low back.
  • Draw your tailbone down towards your heels.
  • Draw your navel into the spine.

Block Benefits:

  • Block offers a more challenging position than a traditional plank because you need to rely more on the core muscles and muscles of the legs to avoid collapsing in the spine
Photo: Renee Choi

Purvottanasana, variation (Upward Plank Pose)

How to:

  • Start in Dandasana with two blocks, lengthwise, behind your sitting bones (blocks should be just outside the width of the hips).
  • Place your hands on the blocks behind you with your fingers pointing forwards towards your hips.
  • Start to press through your hands as you straighten through your arms.
  • Reach the soles of the feet down towards the mat with an emphasis on driving your big toes down. 
  • Roll the tops of your thighs in slightly to your narrow hip points and create space in your low back.
  • Ascend your chest and hips up towards the sky.
  • Broaden through the chest, soften through gluteal muscles and firm your abdomen.

Block Benefits:

  • Block extends the length of your arms, making it easier to get the soles of the feet down towards the mat.
  • If you have wrist pain, slant blocks against a wall to decrease the angle of wrist flexion in this pose.

Chaturanga Dandasana, variations (Four-Limbed Staff Pose)

Overall Pose Benefits:

Strengthens arms, wrists, shoulders and chest 

Tones abdominals

Prepares you for more advanced postures (great prep for a lot of arm balances)

Photo: Renee Choi

Option 1: Block Under Chest

How to:

  • Start in Plank with a block on the tallest setting just in front of your fingertips.
  • Spread wide through your fingers and ground down through all ten knuckles.
  • Make sure your index finger is pointing forward, and your wrists are parallel to the top of the mat so that elbows go straight back later on.
  • Start to shift weight forward on to your tiptoes so that your chest hovers over the block.
  • Bend at the elbows and hug them into the sides of the ribs as they bend, leaving little to no space between your elbows and body.
  • Stop when the chest meets the block; shoulders should be about the same height as elbows.
  • If your hips are piked or collapsing towards the mat, lengthen your tailbone down to your heels and drive your heels back as your chest extends forward.
  • Check in with your elbows; they should stack over the wrists.
  • Most commonly, elbows tend to fall back behind the wrists, causing strain in the rotator cuff.
  • Gaze towards the top of the mat in front of you.
  • You can modify this by taking Chaturanga on your knees.

Block Benefits:

  • Block helps to keep your chest from dropping too low by acting as a reference point. 
  • It also reminds us to shift weight forward to stack elbows over wrists.
Photo: Renee Choi

Option 2: Blocks Under Thighs

How to:

  • Place two blocks lengthwise across the middle of your mat on their medium height.
  • Come into a Plank and walk the tops of your thighs over blocks. 
  • Spread wide through your fingers and ground down through all ten knuckles.
  • Start to come into your Chaturanga, same directional cues as before, and stop when the top of the thighs meet the blocks.
  • If your hips are piked or collapsing towards the mat, lengthen your tailbone down to your heels and drive your heels back as your chest extends forward.
  • Broaden through your chest and draw your shoulder blades down your back.
  • Draw your front ribs up and in.
  • Gaze towards the top of the mat in front of you.

Block Benefits:

  • Blocks help to keep your hips from dropping too low, causing the low back to collapse.
  • Blocks support lower body so we can work on alignment in the upper body more closely.

Navasana, variations (Boat Pose)

Overall Pose Benefits:

Strengthens abdomen, hip flexors, and spine 

Stimulates kidneys

Improves digestion

 

Photo: Renee Choi

Option 1: Block Between Thighs

How to:

  • Start seated with your feet together in front of you, knees pointing towards the sky.
  • Place a block between your upper thighs on the narrowest width.
  • Grab the backs of your thighs and use bicep strength to pull the top of the sternum upwards as you roll your shoulder blades down the back.
  • Roll weight forward on your tailbone.
  • Without changing the shape of your spine, try to lift the shins parallel to the mat.
  • Squeeze the block in towards your pubic bone as you lengthen up through your spine.
  • Sometimes leaning back more can help you to find a longer spine
  • Eventually work towards decreasing the angle in the hip crease
  • Option: extend arms alongside your shins.
  • Option: straighten both legs.
  • Work the head of the thigh bones towards the mat and lengthen the back of your neck by lifting your chin slightly away from your chest

Block Benefits:

  • Block helps to stabilize your pelvis and core
  • Block helps to firm through your legs and inner thighs
  • Block helps to keep your knees and thighs parallel to one another
Photo: Renee Choi

Option 2: Block Between Hands (Boat Rows)

How to:

  • Start in Boat Pose.
  • Place a block between the hands on its widest width.
  • Squeeze the block between your hands to draw your shoulder blades down your back and broaden through your chest and collar bones.
  • Twist through the thoracic spine (the middle of your back) so that your left elbow is drawing down toward the mat behind you.
  • Try to avoid moving the knees out of their parallel position by isolating the lower body as you find the twisting motion in the middle and upper spine.
  • You may need to lesson the twist if your right knee moves forward past the left.
  • Come back to center and repeat on the opposite side
  • You should be inhaling when you move into the center and exhaling as you twist.
  • Repeat ten times on each side.

Block Benefits:

  • Block helps to stabilize the pelvis and core.
  • Block helps to firm through the legs and inner thighs.
  • Block helps to keep knees and thighs parallel to one another.