Why is it a good idea to let babies play with blocks? It’s a mostly neurological one. Stacking blocks, creating new shapes, seeing how gravity works; this all adds variety to the baby’s world and fuels development of their interactions in it.
Toys allow babies to develop their motor control. Playing with objects increases their proprioceptive awareness, which is the ability to sense where our bodies are in space. This touching of things is the basis for strengthening all three components of motor control: action, perception, and cognition.
All of this happens early and quickly. Within four months, infants will stop grasping for objects as they move if the object is too far away. It takes just 15 weeks for our brains to figure out where we are and where things are.
We should then ask a second question: Why did we stop playing with blocks? There is enough lip-service to being child-like. However, from an early age we deemed toys and activities to be “for babies;” blocks became rudimentary, then simple games, then creative play altogether. Most of us have carried that into adulthood.
We use terms like “building blocks” to talk about establishing foundations in our skill sets, whether they are mental or physical. As someone who uses actual blocks to approach movement, I see no reason why it can’t be literal.
Using props in yoga class can add these benefits back into our life. When yogis experience how it feels to stand on blocks, or when we develop a tactile sense of them on our skin, we are adding variation of action, perception, and cognition. Using props fully utilizes our ranges of movement, so we’re more adaptable in the real world. It’s been a while since I was a baby, but I imagine this feels just as gratifying as stacking blocks on top of one another.
For kids, blocks can represent anything. The same thing can happen in a yoga practice. Props are there to enrich our practice in many ways. My 300-hour training includes nine different uses of props.
Props can be used to makes poses easier or more difficult, support the body, and create strength and balance challenges. And one of the most interesting ways to use props is the way babies use their toys: to develop sensitivity and accuracy in action, perception, and cognition. I’d like to think that I was able to come up with so many different ways to use props because I’m a big baby. Try a class and you can be a big baby too.
Photo: “Dos piezas” by Raúl Hernández González used under a CC 2.0 license