Teaching Yoga: It’s Okay to Use Blocks & Props

By Samara Manges

teaching yoga - caribbean yoga - it's okay to use props and blocks

As yoga teachers, it is our job to encourage our students and  to create a space where it’s okay to use blocks and other props.

With all the descriptions that yoga studios provide there is still always a moment of uncertainty when you walk into a class. You may show up to a beginner vinyasa flow but five minutes in and your legs are shaking and sweat is already dripping off your nose. This is part of a problem with having such a wide variety of classes and a wide variety of teachers.

It also complicates our job as a teacher. Part of our job is to try make a class accessible to a variety of students yet this means that in one class you can have a first time yogi standing next a seasoned practitioner. This puts a lot of pressure on the beginner to catch up when maybe they’re not ready.

Nothing is more stressful as a teacher than watching a beginner put themselves in danger to get into a deeper variation of an asana. Sometimes I find myself wanting to yell “It’s ok to use the block!” Yelling, however, is not very yogic, and at the end of the day it’s up to the student to make decisions about their body.

When I first started teaching I threw everything into the class, kitchen sink included. I wanted to prove to my students that I had the knowledge to actually teach a class not just instruct a class. I quickly found out that by stuffing as many moves into a class as I could end up alienating people. Once I learned this, and once students were kind enough to give me honest feedback, I started to change my approach.

The beauty of yoga is that you can always go deeper. So instead of throwing a myriad of asanas into my class, I now offer less poses but deeper versions. Many of these deeper variations often need blocks. Before class starts, I always let students know that it is suggested to grab two blocks to have by their mat. This way students who may be hesitant to use blocks might just be encouraged to use the assistance.

teaching yoga- it's okay to use blocks - yoga loft cabarete

This is great in theory. Can’t reach your hands to the floor in Uttanasana (standing forward fold)? It’s okay to use blocks. The problem is that some students won’t use the assistance even when it’s right next to them. As a relatively new teacher I’ve seen this many times already, and to be honest I’m still figuring out what to do about it. There are only so many verbal cues you can use to let students know that there needs to be contact under the hands to enter safely into a pose.

I also never want to assume that if a student who needs a block didn’t use one, it’s not because they didn’t hear me, maybe they really just don’t want to use a block.

So here is my protocol for this particular situation.

  1. Always demonstrate the posture with the block first and then move into demonstrating the deeper variation
  2. Give one on one verbal cues
  3. Cue alternative variations or options that are less intense and don’t need a block
  4. Add a restorative posture into the sequencing so that everyone uses a block. This helps beginners not feel singled out for using a block and it helps advanced students remember that there is always “feel good asana” worth taking the time to do.

Part of the reason I love teaching yoga is because I am constantly learning from my students. Everybody and every body is different and I am constantly humbled by how powerful it can be to just watch and listen to your students. As a teacher I just want everyone to be safe and enjoy their practice. As a student if you don’t want to use a block that’s totally up to you. I won’t push you on it, but just remember not to push yourself too far either.