Yoga bolsters are used for support in sitting and reclining poses. They come in two shapes – round (log shaped) and rectangular (slightly flattened). They are denser and heavier than a cushion or pillow, giving them the properties required to provide support without losing their shape under pressure from the body.
Bolsters are used under the back in reclining poses, both lengthways and across the body, as well as behind the knees in seated poses such as Virasana. If you are not tall, the lower height of a rectangular bolster can be helpful for reclining poses. Both can be used for sitting and are more effective than a single block or cushion: they are wider and give better support to the outer thighs and hips.
Bolsters are traditionally filled a dense material. They may have an inner filling such as kapok, poly-fill stuffing, Recron Fibrefill or buckwheat. It’s such an important piece of your kit that we strongly recommend trying a few different versions before investing in a bolster.
When used for longer holds in recuperative postures, meditation, relaxation and remedial work, your bolster comes into its own.
Support: recuperative work often requires the head and chest to be supported away from the floor. Placed lengthways under the spine, the bolster gives a firm, stable support for your trunk and head. In seated postures, where there is stiffness in the hips, the extra height from a bolster can relieve your hips and knees and help you to stay in the pose for longer periods. If your sacrum and spine tend to drop in sitting poses, the extra height helps to support the sacrum and relieve strain in your lower back.
Extension: used across the mat, underneath the body with a separate support for the head, the bolster gives added lift and opening for the chest area. You can also put one bolster across another (cross bolsters) to give an effective and recuperative lift for postures like Viparita Dandasana.
Relaxation: Savasana (Corpse pose) can be much more comfortable with a lift under your spine. Adding a bolster under your hips in Sukhasana (Easy Cross Legs) allows your legs to relax while your spine lifts. Forward bends become much more accessible if we have a bolster onto which we can ‘descend’ the front body.
Rehabilitation: if there is difficulty or pain, the bolster provides a firm but soft surface from which to work. Where we need to limit movement, a bolster will comfortably fill the void, and allow us to rebuild confidence in the joints and muscles as they recover.
Supta Baddakonasana: place the bolster lengthways on your mat with a folded blanket at the far end for your head. Sit with the bolster behind you and bring the soles of your feet together.
Have your belt in a big loop – as big as it will go – draw it over your head, down your back and onto your hips. Draw it over your sacrum, between your knees (very important – not outside your knees!) and around the outer edges of your feet. Draw the tab towards you to tighten it.
If your back is touching the bolster, move your hips slightly towards your feet to make space for your lumbar spine to lengthen down. Lift your chest and lie back on to the bolster. Draw the blanket under your head and neck, to touch your shoulders. Relax your thighs and lift your chest. Some people feel the need for support under the thighs – you can use a couple of blocks, bricks or cushions if you feel you need this.
Supta Virasana: once you can sit comfortably on the floor in Virasana (Hero Pose) and you have begun to enjoy the intense stretch in your thighs, you can progress to this reclining version. Place the bolster lengthways on your mat. Sit in Virasana and lifting your hips very slightly if necessary, lie back over the bolster, keeping your knees in contact with the mat. Although this looks like a resting pose, there is some work to be done, extending your front thighs up away from the knees, lifting your chest, releasing your arms and shoulders. If you enjoy the stretch, hold your elbows and take your arms overhead for a short period.
Supta Pad 11: in order to learn where we need to release, sometimes we need to hold a pose for longer than we can comfortably manage.
In this pose, the bolster gives support to the heaviest part of the pose – the extended leg – so we can learn to release across the groins and pubic bone to keep the opposite side of the body in the correct position on the floor.
Viparita Dandasana on a chair for people with bad necks: place a four-fold mat on the chair with a bolster lengthways on the seat. Sit through the chair and slide your tailbone right to the edge of the bolster, then lie back and down. You should find your head is supported on the other end of the bolster. As you extend your legs and thread your arms through to hold the back legs of the chair, you will feel the bolster tucking into the back of your neck, allowing you to release your head back safely. Again, the bolster is providing a feeling of safety and support so you can progress further into the pose without feeling vulnerable.
A common feature in Indian households, bolsters have been around for centuries. They provide more support than a cushion and their firm filling allows them to keep their shape. They were familiar in Europe during the Middle Ages. They were used across the head of the bed to support a pillow, or down the middle to keep unmarried occupants apart, and were so highly prized that a feather or woollen bolster and mattress would be passed down the generations.
Read more: yogamatters.com