I did not buy myself a yoga bolster until several years into my practice because the yoga studio that I practiced at had them available to use and when practicing at home, I simply used a few sturdy pillows which at the time did the trick.
After teaching yoga for several years, especially when I began teaching virtually from home, I realized how important it would be for me to have a proper bolster so I could demonstrate with it and provide even more options for the students who attend my classes, and boy, was it an upgrade! And not only for them, but for my own practice.
In this article, I will share with you all about yoga bolsters and how to use them, not only for restorative practices, but for other styles of asana as well.
- What is a Yoga Bolster and Do You Need one?
- Ways to Use a Yoga Bolster for Release and Relaxation
- Creative Ways to Use a Bolster
- Using Pillows as a Yoga Bolster Alternative
What is a Yoga Bolster?
A yoga bolster is a prop used in several styles of yoga in order to provide support and comfort in certain yoga postures, often allowing for deeper stretching and more release. It looks like a very large pillow.
Yoga bolsters, blocks, straps, and other props were made popular in the 1960s by B.K.S Iyengar, who began to incorporate them in his teachings in order to help his devoted students find better alignment in certain shapes that were otherwise inaccessible to them.
Yoga bolsters are most commonly utilized in Restorative and Yin Yoga practices, yet many yoga teachers incorporate them in creative ways in all styles of yoga to simply enhance, support, and allow more space for exploration.
Types of Yoga Bolster
There are different types of bolster to choose from made in different shapes; rectangular or round being the most popular. They are also made with different cover materials and fillings, hence changing texture, density, and malleability of the bolster.
If you’re in the market for your first yoga bolster, take time to ask yourself how you will be using it most, and choose one accordingly.
There isn’t such thing as a one-size-fits-all yoga bolster, yet the rectangular ones tend to be the most versatile.
Ways to Use a Yoga Bolster for Release and Relaxation
If you’re looking for ultimate relaxation, a yoga bolster will be your new best friend. There are several yoga postures in which a bolster may be used, here are a few of my favorite asanas that you can hold for a few breaths, or even a few minutes, and find release and relaxation.
1. Child’s Pose
Child’s pose is a great posture if you’re looking to stretch your low back, hips, thighs, knees and ankles, and also an antidote to fatigue. It assists in calming mind and body, and it’s known for being a resting pose.
Oftentimes, in child’s pose (Balasana) folks either get their hips resting on their heels, or they get their forehead to the ground; doing both at the same time, even if that’s a cue frequently given by yoga teachers, can be quite inaccessible.If you’re dealing with tightness of the hips, knee pain, or low back pain, consider using a yoga bolster right between the knees, resting your torso on top of the bolster; bringing the floor up to you, and allowing you to let go a bit more and relax.
If you’re struggling to fall asleep or want to take a quick break during your day, legs up the wall (Viparita Karani) is one of the best, most simple asanas you can try.
You can of course bring your hips to the wall and stretch your legs up, but another variation of the posture involves sliding your bolster underneath your hips, whether you’re near the wall or in the middle of a room, and then extend your legs up.
It creates a steeper inversion, increasing some of its benefits and often bringing forth different, unexplored sensations.
3. Seated Wide-Legged Forward Fold
Upavishta Konasana is a great posture to stretch your hamstrings and inner thighs as well as open your hips and your low back while strengthening your spine and stimulating the internal organs.
To practice it with a yoga bolster, come into Dandasana, Staff Pose, and bring your legs out wide, only as wide as you’d like, and your knees can even be bent!
Grab your yoga bolster and bring it right in front of you, close to your hips.
With your spine long, begin to hinge at your hips until your upper body is resting on the bolster.
TIP: if the bolster is still a bit too far and you feel your back rounding, consider adding blocks below the bolster or a folded blanket on top until you get the desired height.
Settle in, relax, breathe.
4. Plow Pose
Another great shape that can bring a considerable amount of release to the spine, is plow pose (Halasana).
It can be practiced without any props, but when looking for true release and less effort or tension, give using your trusty new yoga bolster a try.
Instead of letting your feet dangle over your head when they don’t reach the floor creating constriction in your body and breath, try placing your bolster above your head, and allowing your feet to rest there as your hands remain on your low back to continue assisting the shape.
5. Supported Bharadvaja Twist Pose
The Bharadvaja twist is a wonderful shape that can be included in more grounding and Restorative practices in order to decompress the spine in a gentle way, massaging the internal organs, and helping you relax and release.
To practice this posture with a yoga bolster, come to sit on your mat and bring the prop right by your left hip. Begin to slowly take your upper body over the bolster, and eventually bring your ear down to the prop and your arms around it, just like a pillow!
For a deeper twist, consider taking your opposite ear to the yoga bolster.
Readjust your legs to stack or stagger depending on how much sensation you want in your legs/lower body, close your eyes, and breathe!
Come out of the posture, and do it all again on the other side.
The ultimate relaxation posture, most often placed at the end of the asana practice, is Savasana.
Yet many find it challenging to lay completely flat on a hard surface (no matter how fancy the yoga mat you’re on may be). Not only does the mind begin to wander sometimes, but if we are uncomfortable it can be quite hard to relax.
Try using your bolster underneath your knees, providing a release to the low back and allowing you to let go.
Creative Ways to Use A Bolster
As mentioned above, a yoga bolster can be used for traditional restorative postures and supporting the body in the experience, but it can also be used to access postures that can be deemed as more advanced in a safe and more supportive way.
1. Crow Pose (Bakasana)
I love practicing Crow with a bolster because it can be used in two different ways; you can use it as an “oh sh*t pillow” to fall upon if you tip forward too far, or it can be utilized underneath the feet, to help you lift your hips higher and have more space to take your knees to your triceps.
When used underneath the feet, it can also provide an opportunity to feel the posture fully, yet safely; without ever having to lift off the ground.
Remember to always look far forward to avoid toppling over!
When learning inversions, especially headstand and handstand, one of the most difficult yet fundamental things is stacking the hips over the shoulders before ever lifting your feet up. That ensures proper alignment to protect the neck and the whole spine.
When placing a bolster underneath the feet, the angle changes, and it assists the core in stacking the spine with more awareness before SLOWLY bringing the feet closer, and eventually floating (never jumping!) up.
Eight angle pose is an arm balance that, practiced without any props or assistance, can be quite impossible at first, and to many.
It’s a posture that requires strength, core activation, proper alignment, and a certain amount of flexibility. If this asana tickles your fancy, yet you’re not sure you have all the components of strength, flexibility and alignment, consider approaching it with your bolster first.
When placing the large pillow under your chest, you’ll be able to understand the shape a bit better while being supported and using your strength with more awareness.
Using Pillows as a Yoga Bolster Alternative
Having a yoga bolster that was designed and built for the specific practice is great. Yet if for whatever reason you’re not able to obtain your own at this time, consider exploring what you already have.
Are there any pillows laying around your home that have a similar shape or consistency?
Can you use a couple of them stacked together and even put them inside the same large pillowcase?
The important thing here is to learn to get creative with your practice. Using what you have at hand, and exploring, whether by yourself or with an experienced teacher.
Make your yoga practice fit you; use all the props, rest when you need to, and just breathe.