The vital role of yoga blocks

Supporting cancer patients and survivors to move safely in an active yoga practice is fundamental to Oncology Yoga. To do this, using yoga blocks or other household items can ensure the practice is both effective AND safe.

Blocks or block towers can provide accessibility for people who lack experience or have physical challenges. The number of blocks used is based on the an individual’s specific physical needs or constraints, but all participants use them. Teachers provide guidance on how and when to use blocks throughout the practice. A cornerstone of that guidance is the ‘Block Test’.

The Block Test

The ‘Block Test’ determines how many yoga blocks an individual needs. It is important to provide careful instructions to ensure participants are comfortable and supported. Ultimately, it will encourage participants to be more active both in a yoga practice and in life.

How to do the Block Test:

  1. Start with one block on either side of the mat at its highest level – See Fig A.
  2. Stand with feet hip distance apart, in between blocks (never behind).
  3. While standing tall and looking forward exhale and bend the knees. Reach hands to the top of the blocks.
  4. Do the palms of the hands rest comfortably on the block (evaluate yes or no)?
  5. Inhale to come to stand.
  6. If only the tips of the fingers are able to touch the blocks, more blocks are needed.
  7. Build a block tower to the height needed. See Fig A, B and C.
  8. Repeat, looking forward on an exhale bend the knees reaching hands to top of the blocks.
  9. Inhale to stand. If the block towers are the right size, then practice can follow.
There are three safe options:

  • One block on each side (Fig A)
  • Two blocks on each side (Fig B)
  • Three blocks on each side (Fig C)

All participants – even the most flexible – must use blocks in a yoga4cancer Class. There are other physical and emotional benefits to using blocks that are specific for cancer survivors, including:

  • Using blocks encourages effective lymphatic flow as the participants are able to keep their ‘heart in front of nose’.
  • Bone weakness and fractures is a common and debilitating side effect of cancer treatments. Blocks can prevent damage to the spine by keeping the spine neutral and elongated instead of rounding forward to reach for the floor.
  • Blocks make all active or standing poses accessible for anyone. This is vital to achieving the recommended 150 minutes of movement.
  • Using blocks builds confidence in yoga practice and in daily functioning.
  • The universal use of blocks by all participants in class creates community.