Inspiration for your Yoga Practice: Functional Yoga with a Block
A guest article by Mireia
What is the point of being able to do Malasana (also called "yogi squat") if we then have pain in our daily activities like picking up things from the floor? Paying attention to the function of the asanas in our yoga practice can definitely help us in daily life (when something is "functional" it means that we can transfer and apply it to several situations) for reducing injuries and pain. Focusing on the alignment and function of the asanas during our practice will also help us with posture and therefore better breathing.
Active support by blocks
One of the principles of functional yoga is to prioritise the active range of motion over passive stretching so that we can protect our joints and ligaments and get stronger and more flexible at the same time. We work a lot with blocks (almost in every class!), because they can give feedback to your body and therefore improve your proprioception, make the asanas more accessible (they ba-sically bring the floor nearer to your hands), or more challenging.
01 Table top with block feedback behind the neck
Start in a table top position and place a block behind your neck. Try to bring the neck in line with your spine and hold, this will make you engage the neck flexors, which are usually pretty weak in everyone. As a challenge you can add some movements with your arms and legs. Every time you are in table top position imagine you have that block on your neck!
02 Table top with block on pelvis + hip extension
Now place the block on top of your sacrum (the final flat surface at lower end of your spine). We want to keep the pelvis steady and still, but mobilize the hip. Level 1: Extend one leg back. Level 2: Extend the leg back and bend the knee. Make circles with that hip. Make sure that the block doesn’t fall, which means that you have tipped at your pelvis!
03 External rotation of the shoulders
In the yoga practice is very common to have internal rotation of the shoulder, and that’s good. However, we rarely include external rotation which is as important for a balanced shoulder! Lay on the right side (in a full side plank or with knees down) and grab a block with your left hand. Bend the left elbow and place it near your torso. Now open the left hand towards the left, creating a 90 de-gree angle with your elbow all the time. Repeat the same on the other side.
04 Low Lunge holding a block
Come into a low lunge, both of your knees at 90 degrees and the back knee on the floor. Place a block between your palms, don’t grab it with your hands. Extend your arms forward and squeeze the block so it doesn’t fall. For an extra challenge bring your arms straight overhead.
05 Goddess with block on belly
This will help you release your lower back. Come into a goddess pose: feet are wide and the knees are tracking over (in line with) your toes. Squeeze the sit bones together and engage your glutes. Grab the block with both hands and place it on your belly. Push slightly towards your belly bringing it in and up. You can adjust the pressure you want to apply as you need.
06 Runner Stretch
We usually sink into this stretch, but to strengthen and lengthen your hamstrings I suggest an active version with the blocks. Place each block on one side and your hands on top. Step the right foot back and bend both knees. Keep them bent and try to bring your left hip back in space, so that your front left knee might extend. If you already feel the pulling at the back of your legs, keep both knees bent all the time.
Disclaimer: These exercises are designated for a population without any health issues. If you have any restrictions or injuries please consult with a doctor or a specialist. There is no guarantee that these exercises are correctly performed without the supervision of a certified yoga teacher or movement specialist.
Mireia is a yoga teacher in Berlin. After several sports injuries, she discovered her passion for yoga and anatomy and completed two yoga teacher trainings, one of them on Functional resp. LYT Yoga. Mireia is passionate about anatomy and functional movement and loves to just roll out the mat, let her creativity run free and always learn something new about our bodies.