Yoga props and their benefits can be compared to the making of a sandwich.
Bear with me here, this will all make sense soon.
A sandwich consists of a protein which is the foundation of the meal. One would then add their favorite cheese, veggies, and condiments to enhance the flavor, texture, and overall experience.
Are you still with me?
In yoga, the protein is the actual posture being performed. To enhance the posture and truly reap its benefits, one should add their favorite props – bolster, blocks, strap, etc. As props are added to the yoga practice, the overall experience will become deeper and clearer, resulting in each posture making a little more sense.
On that note, let’s focus on a super juicy and relaxing prop – a bolster.
A yoga bolster is like a body pillow but firmer and either rectangular or circular in shape. It’s main purpose is to create relaxation, help soften a posture, or aid in opening the body.
A bolster is commonly used in prenatal, restorative, and Iyengar based classes. It does make an appearance in other classes based on the teacher’s objective and the studio’s prop inventory. Regardless of the class style or if a yoga studio uses props, it’s always recommended to integrate them into your home practice.
If the idea of a home practice is foreign, check out the article – How to Create a Home Yoga Space. Then get your butt back here to finish reading this one! Okay so without further ado, I’ll stop my rambling and explanationing.
Below are seven ways to use a bolster in your yoga practice!
1. Savasana – final resting posture
Savasana is arguably one of the most important and loved postures of the practice. It’s a time to find stillness and let the body and mind completely relax. It’s where we integrate the movement of the practice and our being into one. But what if lying on a hard, flat surface is completely uncomfortable and stillness is nowhere in sight? The solution – A BOLSTER! This is a great way to lengthen and create space in the lower back region, allowing the back body to relax and soften down into the ground.
- Place the bolster directly under your knees and let the legs and feet float freely.
- Take a deep breath and exhale everything out of the body.
- Let all the muscles relax. Imagine they are melting down into the ground.
- Let all thoughts come and go, not holding or grasping onto them.
- Stay and enjoy for 5 – 10 minutes.
2. Supported Backbend
This is an amazing way to start or finish your practice. It’s an immediate heart opener that allows the shoulders, chest, and abdomen to open and relax, while the head, neck, and back are fully supported. It also aids in creating space in the lower back region and eases compression.
- Place bolster vertically behind you, lining the short end directly with the low back.
- Be sure to snug the bolster as close to the body as possible, then slowly lie back over it.
- If the body is too tall, place a block or pillow at the end to support the head.
- Keep length in the back of the neck by slightly tucking the chin.
- Let arms drape out to the side, opening palms up to the sky, and relaxing shoulders down.
- Legs can be straight out or in supta baddha konasana (as shown above).
- Stay and relax for 3 – 5 minutes.
3. Supported Forward Fold – Paschimottanasana
Forward folds are a beautiful way to lengthen and stretch the muscles. It can be strengthening or relaxing depending on each person’s goal. A seated forward fold has a multitude of benefits, including: stretches the hamstrings, low-back, and spine while calming the mind and reducing stress and anxiety.
Who doesn’t love all of that?
- Stretch both legs out in front of the body and place the bolster directly on top of the legs.
- Root down through the sitting bones while lengthening the trunk of the body to the sky.
- Inhale the arms overhead and then exhale to lay the chest onto the bolster.
- Keep flexion in the feet allowing the legs to stay active.
- Find a comfortable place to rest the head – forehead or side of the face.
- Gently close the eyes and relax for 3 -5 minutes.
4. Wide Seated Forward Bend – Upavistha Konasana
Flexibility is one of the many benefits that comes from a consistent yoga practice BUT it can be a long, hard road to get there. Lots of clenched teeth, scrunched foreheads, and heavy breathing go into some of the more flexible postures and that’s totally okay! A bolster can help loosen that jaw, soften the forehead, and smooth out the breathing so that deeper postures are bearable and dare I say, enjoyable!
- Stretch both legs out as wide as the body is comfortable. Make sure the body is being challenged but not overstretched.
- Root down through the sitting bones, feeling the connection between body and the earth.
- Keep flexion in the feet and the quads active, this is to protect the hamstrings.
- Place the bolster in front of the pubic bone, lining up with the trunk of the body.
- Inhale to lengthen up and exhale to fold over the bolster.
- Continue to send the sitting bones down into the earth while keeping the legs active.
Gently close the eyes and relax into the supported stretch for 3 – 5 minutes.
5. Supported Sukhasana – Easy Pose
The name eludes that this posture is easy but for someone who sits at a desk or doesn’t regularly stretch, it can be far from easy. As a society, we rarely sit on the ground in a cross-legged position, it’s just not normal for us (or not normal anymore). This is a classic yoga posture that is practiced during meditation, before and after class, and generally how one would sit during yoga workshops and trainings. It can be very tiresome to sit like this for an extended period of time, so alas, the bolster saves the day!
- Find a comfortable cross-legged position on top of the bolster – ankles stacked in front of one another, half lotus, or full lotus position.
- Rest the knees on the ground, letting the pelvis tilt forward which allows the spine to naturally lengthen.
- Gently engage the core to support the low back.
- Roll the shoulders onto the back and bring hands to a comfortable position.
- Relax and settle into the stillness, recognizing and releasing all thoughts that float through the mind.
- Stay for 3 – 5 minutes.
6. Supported Camel Pose – Ustrasana
Camel pose is an intermediate to advanced backbending posture that can easily cause low back pain. Students will twist and turn to reach the heels often compressing into the low back and defeating the purpose of the posture. It’s imperative to send the hips forward as the sternum lengthens to the sky and the heart opens. With a consistent practice – one will reach the full expression but there’s never any rush!
- Place the bolster against a wall in a vertical position. Place a blanket or yoga mat underneath the bolster for the knees to rest on.
- Bring the body directly up to the bolster, feeling the connection between pubic bone and the prop.
- As you lengthen the chest towards the sky, continue to push the hips and thighs into the bolster, keeping a constant connection between them.
- If comfortable, let the head relax back and breathe into the entire body.
- Stay for 5 inhalations and exhalations.
- Slowly come out of the posture and take child’s pose with knees together – letting the low back release.
7. Supported King Pigeon – Eka Pada Rajakapotasana
I still remember my first time seeing someone do this posture in a yoga class, here’s what went through my mind: confusion, curiosity, jealousy, and then defeat. This posture felt as though it lived in faraway lands, lands that I would never travel to. Fast forward three years into my yoga journey, and now king pigeon is part of my daily practice.
As a famous yogi once said, “Practice and all is coming.” While this pose works extremely deep into the hips and the back, one can start working towards it with the amazing bolster.
- Place the bolster vertically against a wall. Again placing a blanket or yoga underneath for extra cushion.
- Come into pigeon posture with the back leg bent up against the bolster – see the picture above.
- If this posture is completely new to you, please do the following:
- Bring blocks to either side of you and press hands firmly into them as you extend the chest up and open
- If the front hip can rest on the ground, start to reach for the back foot.
- This is a great place to use a strap looped around the back foot to find the connection
- Once you reach your edge in the posture, breath for 5 deep breaths.
- Slowly come out of the posture and take child’s pose with knees together, releasing the low back.
Enjoy yogi friends!